Saturday, February 10, 2007

Morals and values assemblies

P#2 (son) came home, yesterday, and announced that they'd had an assembly. The assembly was about "morals and values." Strangely enough, there was no notification to the parents. Apparently, the program consisted of a bunch of clips from movies and cartoons that were then evaluated as moral or immoral behaviors. The second half of the assembly was, basically, a pep rally for "good values." There wasn't any real overt mention of God,...if there was, P#2 didn't really absorb it. But, there was a heavy-handed, "Good-v-Evil" based on Christian morals and values message. And, of course, the message was not followed up with "you don't have to be a Christian or theist to be moral or have values."

This raises the question: Do schools have the authority to teach a set of morals and values? I think there are arguments to be made on both sides. Personally, I'm not offended that they're trying to pass along the message of "be nice to each other" or "use good judgement." My beef is that I'm not sure this is the job of public schools. And, I think that -if they're going to have these assemblies- there should be an opportunity, for the parents, to attend or evaluate the materials.

So...side discussion: P#1 and P#2 were talking about this "morals and values" lesson and P#2 says, "They showed us a clip from some movies of girls we shouldn't marry and how we're not grown up enough for relationships." Um. P#2 is in fifth grade. WHY ARE THEY DISCUSSING MARRIAGE AND RELATIONSHIPS (dating, sexual, whatever)? These kids are 9 and 10 years old. Furthermore, why is the school telling my son who he should and should not date? I'm the parent...it's my job to throw around the rules. Dammit- I think (adds it up) 71 hours of labor entitles ME to decide whether the girl with the tongue piercing is acceptable (the school says she's not).

P#1 and P#2 asked me what *I* thought should be the determinant factor in a relationship. It was like a final Jeopardy moment. I could hear the music. I suggested that a good relationship might be based on a number of things; chief amongst those things...someone who was on your level, intellectually. Because she's a smart-ass, P#1 said, "You had me at prokaryote." Now...I'm not that quick, so I said, "HUH?!" She said, ""Hello" just wouldn't be enough to turn my head. He'd have to say prokaryote or ataxia-telangiectasia!" Ah...Jerry Maguire references. So....maybe clips from movies HAVE become the currency of moral discussions. Damn.

28 comments:

Cascadia Girl said...

I'm having flashbacks of "Pleasantville". This is a public school?!

Atheist in a mini van. said...

I'm having flashbacks of "Pleasantville". This is a public school?!

Yeah.
I, actually, complained last year about a similar assembly. I'm guessing that's why there was "no notice" this year.
Last year, they had a group that dispersed testemonial material after the assembly. And, I was a bit pissed off that they used school funds to pay for, essentially, a sermon.

This year, they used some other program...but, it was the same thing, minus the literature. I really don't get it. I may have to go backpack diving, later, and see if there was a handout.

phats said...

It sounds an awful lot a like a Principal Skinner "Don't do what Donnie Doesn't Does" moment :)

I wouldn't be too hard on the school; many of my friends lost their virginity at 13, and most of the papers I read (I am training to be a doctor) put the mean age at about 16.5yrs for Australia and NZ. Many adults do a sort of doublethink and forget that half of the bell curve is before that mean...

As for morals / ethics in schools? I do some teaching, and I've met quite a few parents who aren't up to the task of teaching values to their own kids; school is as good a substitute as I can think of. Would be nice, though, if they could do it without a Christian bent..

Paul [silentsanta]

Atheist in a mini van. said...

As for morals / ethics in schools? I do some teaching, and I've met quite a few parents who aren't up to the task of teaching values to their own kids; school is as good a substitute as I can think of.

Yeah...I think there are definitely some kids who benefit from assemblies like this. But, has it really become necessary to hold an entire freakin' assembly just to say, "Be nice. Try to be a decent human being."? Shouldn't that just be part of the whole "respect others", classroom rule set?

It just seems like it's having assembly to check off the "morals" and "character" box. And, if they don't have that Socratic, "treat others as you wish to be treated" mentality by the age of eleven...I'd say they're pretty much screwed. But...beyond that: I just can't get behind the idea of them telling young boys and girls what to look for in a "good relationsip". Let me rephrase: I can't get behind the "...you wouldn't want a girl with a piercing or a tattoo." and/or "Look for someone who cares about their appearance." mentality. It reminds my of the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 skits that they'd do on film from the 1950's. P#2 said something with regard to, "We shouldn't use bad words because it's unattractive.", and then he proceeded to state the obvious: they're just words. I mean, I don't want my kids running around with sailor mouth, but I'm not going to tell them that they'll lose all credibility or respect for saying "shit" or "damn", once in a very great while. ;)

phats said...

I share your distaste for the rather flimsy partner suggestions they're throwing around... and I'm not quite sure what qualifications they feel they have on that front.
When we all look at children in relationships, we often think "they're much too young to be worrying about that", but as I grow older I've become aware that a horrifying proportion of adults still don't seem to know what they're doing. Relationships are hard. If the school thinks it has so many answers then maybe it should be offering classes to adults as well.. :)

Paul (silentsanta)

phats said...

Of course, that would open them up to public ridicule, wouldn't it?

* wait a minute... :)

Ernst Hot said...

Wow.. If a public school here in Denmark had made statements about choice of partner, people would be furious. Heads would roll. Not to mention that their "recommendations" would seriously limit your selection :)

This, of course, just goes to show how depraved old Europe has become, right?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Sorry, but, yes schools have an obligation to teach moral values.

Do not cheat.

Cite your work - do not plaigarize.

Do not beat up on other students.

Do not take things from other students that belong to them.

Do not destroy school property or the property of other students.

Do not lie or bear false witness.

Clearly, it would be absurd for any school to say that the teaching of values must be left entirely up to the discretion of the students - that the school, for example, should not question the parent who tells his child that blacks are inferior and any black guy who hangs around with a white girl deserves to be lynched (for example).

Schools also have an obligation to help parents to develop good habits. Eat healthy food. Get Exercise. Do not get into a stranger's car. Study and learn.

Or, let me put it another way, good parents have reason to request that the schools help them in establishing good habits.

I learned my best lessons about the value of avoiding smoking and drugs in the 5th grade - much better than I got at home, simply because the school had access to better information.

Indeed, actually, if you think about it, every moment in school is devoted to teaching values of some kind or another. Whether the student is sitting quietly with his hand raised waiting for a chance to speak, or listening to a lecture on how to do long division, the student is acquiring values.

The question is not, and can never be, over whether to teach values in school, but about which values to teach.

Atheist in Louisiana said...

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Sorry, but, yes schools have an obligation to teach moral values.

Do not cheat.

Cite your work - do not plaigarize.

Do not beat up on other students.

Do not take things from other students that belong to them.

Do not destroy school property or the property of other students.

Do not lie or bear false witness.


I'm pretty sure that all of those things except for 'cite your work' fall under the parents' responsibilities.

The obligation of the school is to educate children, and some values will flow over from the material. But I don't think it is as many as you suggest.

Boss Foxx said...

Sounds like an assembly that definitely could have used some kind of "heads up" to parents and guardians. A publicly funded school telling kids what "right and wrong" are all about is one thing, but to start dishing out dating prerequisites to pre-teens raises an eyebrow.

Perhaps a friendly request to the school asking to provide a transcript or outline of what all was lectured would be in order for concerned guardians.

R Nicolas said...

I have been wrestling with this subject myself. I too see a need for some sort of right vs wrong debate in school, but don't like the manner in which it is generally delivered.

However, I feel that phats' remark about classes being offered to parents would be the best option, because while schools have some influence, it is the parents that guide a child toward or away from certain behaviors.

Just my opinion, which along with five bucks will get you a triple shot vanilla latte at Starbucks. That reminds me--gotta go.

Paul said...

uh, my 'suggestion' was actually intended as sarcasm.. perhaps I miscommunicated there.

Paul [silentsanta]

Kathryn said...

They SHOULD be taught by parents.

My kids were getting these "values assemblies" here in northern Cal several years ago. DD's a senior now, and she had them probably in 5th and 6th grades. They would concentrate on different traits each month, like Friendship, Trustworthiness, Respect, and have an assembly each month and kids would get certificates if their teacher put their name in for being good at this trait. THAT was the weird part for me, as it seemed random - and by the end of each year, OF COURSE every kid was mentioned for SOMETHING.

I think some parents WANT the schools to pick up the slack from their own laziness. Sad. My kids just treated it like fund raiser assemblies - a waste of time.

Kathryn said...

r nicolas, while I like your intentions, simply OFFERING classes to parents won't work - the parents that NEED the classes will NOT be there.

Until we start requiring prospective parents to take some kind of eligibility test, we will continue dealing with these issues.

:)

And of course that ain't never gonna happen.

alisonm said...

It's true that parents should be the ones teaching these values, but it's also true that far too many parents are not. In some cases, it's the opposite. In my former school district, two boys were actually expelled because their parents taught them the behavior that got them expelled. One told the teacher that she couldn't make him do anything he didn't want him to, his mom told him that, and his dad said he'd beat up the teacher if she gave him any trouble. The second didn't get that kind of overt training, but he was just like a little carbon-copy of his parents, using foul language, verbally harassing teachers and students, getting into fights - his final straw came when he told the principal in his last conference that he was a f'in a-hole and he'd beat the s**t out of him.

Extreme examples, but I was in a middle to lower class district, and it was clear that a lot of parents had no clue how to deal with their children once they became more than little bundles of joy. There were many more examples of good kids doing stupid things, and good kids turning into scary kids by the end of middle school. As a parent who's very hands-on and involved with my kids, who's been pretty straightforward about ethics, morals, and facts of life from day one, I'm not worried that my own kids would pick up something I didn't agree with from a lecture. They'd be more like your son, laughing it off as an amusing anecdote. While I think that it sounds like they went a bit over the line, I'd probably be fairly lax about protesting, since it wouldn't have much of an impact on my own kids. If it went way over the line and brought in something strictly religious, I'd have to say something because then it goes into anti-constitutional area, and when it infringes on legal rights, protest teaches everyone something - like, say, that they HAVE rights and should stand up for them before they're completely whittled away.

Margaret said...

Values? In grade school? The values that were drummed into me in the 8 years of hell called grade school included
* don't ask questions
* don't think
* do what you're told no matter how stupid
* quit expecting to be treated fairly because you don't have any rights
* it doesn't matter whether something is actually true or not, the "right" answer is whatever the teacher says it is

SaraS-P said...

I just found your site through a link on Babes in Blogland. I love that your site exists! I am currently struggling with infertility, but I hope to become an atheist mama myself.

In my Louisiana public schools (eighties and early 90's), we had assemblies that actually mentioned Christ and the bible. Worse yet, in kindergarten, in public school, we went to "Church" class once a week. Parents could choose between Catholic and Baptist for their kids. Those that chose "neither" were whispered about as they sat behind as the other kinds went off to learn about morals.

I feel that teaching basic manners is ok, but no need to push the limits. I think of the movie Donnie Darko, where the gym teacher played motivational video tapes during class.

Let's keep schools for academics!

Berlzebub said...

Margaret said:
Values? In grade school? The values that were drummed into me in the 8 years of hell called grade school included
* don't ask questions
* don't think
* do what you're told no matter how stupid
* quit expecting to be treated fairly because you don't have any rights
* it doesn't matter whether something is actually true or not, the "right" answer is whatever the teacher says it is


Well said Margaret. While it's unfortunate that most children are not being taught values by their parents, that still does not give the schools the right to do so. Especially, when doing so is of a religious nature, whether overt or subtle.

P-Momma:
WHY ARE THEY DISCUSSING MARRIAGE AND RELATIONSHIPS (dating, sexual, whatever)? These kids are 9 and 10 years old. Furthermore, why is the school telling my son who he should and should not date?

Ironically, at least when I was growing up, they based this sort of things on stereotypes. Nevermind that in the next sentence they would say that stereotyping wasn't "nice". Later on, I found out that the "bad girls" normally only had the reputation because of how they looked. The "good girls" were the ones that knew the entire football team.

-Berlzebub

Christine said...

Holy cow, they actually taught the kids that they should reject a girl solely because she has a piercing? I would hit the freaking roof and be all over the administration for that crap. They probably have separate classes where kids are taught, "Don't judge a book by its cover," too.

Not to mention there is an increasing probability that a kid's *mother* has an unconventional piercing or a tattoo. I guess the school wants to teach such kids that their parents are worthless trash.

I can see teaching some very basic values issues that relate to how to get along at school, such as not cheating and not hitting people, but I think this really strays into territory parents should control!

Atheist in a mini van. said...

I can see teaching some very basic values issues that relate to how to get along at school, such as not cheating and not hitting people, but I think this really strays into territory parents should control!


Precisely. I have to say, I have no piercings or tattoos...they're just not my thing. But, good gravy! For me, that's not a terribly high priority when it comes to choosing a life partner. I did get my hands on an outline for the assembly (teacher friend dropped it by today) and it's just freakin' wierd.

Later on, I found out that the "bad girls" normally only had the reputation because of how they looked. The "good girls" were the ones that knew the entire football team.
Hehehehehe. So true.

Ang said...

Here in the good ol' Bible belt, students still have to endure overt Christian assemblies. Last school year, my 16 year old son came home from school one day and announced that in order to be a Christian, you had to do drugs. Obviously, this assembly was touted as "anti-drug" but every single person "testified" that Jesus and/or God got them off drugs. Of course, my son was also upset that they actually held the final bell for a few minutes so they could finish the assembly. He and his friends were mocking the whole episode (and probably did during it too). I considered complaining to the school, but I have several reasons why I am hesitant to do that. First, we live in rural, small district. My kids are fourth generation students there (yeah, my family has been here for awhile). Second, I work for the county government. Also, the school board still prays before every meeting (I attend once or twice a year). The Bible and prayer and God and all of that stuff still reign pretty supreme. It is often difficult to be open about our non-belief. I don't want to cause my son any undue attention - he gets enough with his long hair and liberal attitudes as it is. I try very hard to "take the high ground" and try to show others that religion is not necessary to be good, productive members of society and I encourage my kids to so the same. Another factor - our good friend is a teacher in the district and also an atheist. He has to sit through prayer and testimony at teacher inservices and there have rumors about his "Satanist" behaviors and dress (he happens to wear black alot, just because he likes it). So, at this time, we basically deal with it by trying to be tolerant.

I recognize that we (atheists) are in the minority here. We cannot escape the religion. We can, however, be good examples to others. I think many who are actually aware of our non-belief are amazed that we don't have horns or engage in debauchery all the time. I try to be diplomatic, but I am concerned that I may have to speak up about these assemblies someday.

Russ said...

P-momma,

Do schools have the authority to teach a set of morals and values?

I laugh to think of public school teachers providing values instruction to children when the teachers themselves so often behave in ways that are contrary to what we would collectively construe as acceptable. I say if you can't model it - which, of course, means you don't endorse it yourself - you shouldn't be trying to impress it onto children.

Take for example teacher behavior during contract negotiations. Having a child read teacher comments in letters to the editor would teach the discrepancy between teacher's words and their actions. Lying to the public is a matter of course for teachers during contract disputes, and yet, they would rarely suggest to their students that lying is acceptable. How about blocking traffic, throwing stones at school board member's vehicles, spitting or shouting profanity at school board members and unsympathetic passersby? Teachers actually do these things, that is, they model these behaviors, so should a child think of them as acceptable? How about the way teaching "professionals" behave toward other teachers who refuse to picket or strike?

How about teachers modeling ignorance of their own employment agreements as acceptable? Ask a teacher sometime about the contents of their employment contract and you will almost always get blank stares. True, most youngsters wouldn't understand the details here - just as most teachers apparently choose not to - but the teachers often make public claims of mistreatment by school administrators based on contracts of which they are completely ignorant.

If you could listen in on the conversations that take place in teacher's lounges, you might be reminded of a line from the very first Star Wars: "you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." Even at the elementary level many of these people are just plain cruel. It would be interesting to play some of this dialogue back for the students themselves as an example of just how meaningless the concept of "spoken values" can sometimes be when compared to "modeled values." One day an enterprising student will bug the lounge and make public some of this reprehensible discourse.

Many teachers endorse specific religious content which directly violates the oath of public office. Recall that public school teachers are civil servants and must therefore vow to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, including the First Amendment. Is it unethical for someone to violate a sworn oath of office? I say it is and I further contend that those who do it should be removed from their office or their teaching postion.

Is it unethical for teachers to present false information to students? Take evolution deniers and holocaust deniers, for example. If they would do that, it's quite plausible that their thinking could be somewhat askew in areas far more open to interpretation, like values.

Regarding choosing partners in relationships, take a divorce poll of the teachers at your school. Teachers are no better at keeping a spouse than the society at large, so they should not be suggesting to students that they have an ideal criteria for selecting or rejecting them.

How would teachers teach a child to understand the situational ethics practiced by essentially every politician? How about the lie, lie, lie political advertising? Should we tell children that the ends always justifies the means?

If teachers are going to address values they should look a child squarely in the face and say, "values are for children, not for adults, not for businesses and not for governments." Lying, cheating, stealing seem quite commonplace outside childhood.

If children are not to lie, why is lying so commonplace among adults? Adults lie to spouses, friends, children, other family, prospective mates, dates, lovers, business associates, employers, neighbors, the IRS, doctors, and civil authorities. Dishonesty seems to be the norm, occurring so frequently that we rarely take notice of it. Of course, not all adults lie all the time, but I'm convinced that all adults lie almost seamlessly when they think the situation warrants it. So, how would a teacher approach teaching values associated with lying?

Specific trades like marketing, selling cars, religion, selling real estate, and psychics, for instance, depend heavily on deceit to make a buck. That is, intentional deception goes with the territory. These are adults using deception, outright lies, and profitable omissions to take advantage of others. Should teachers skip discussing these trades to avoid teaching deception as a virtue?

So, teachers certainly don't practice or model desirable values themselves. That being the case they certainly do not possess criteria for knowing what good values are or where to find them exhibited in our society. Teachers should teach subject matter in which they have demonstrated high levels of expertise. But professionally as well as personally, teachers show themselves not to be ethical paragons, worthy of emulation, but rather moral novices with nothing to add to the values instilled in students by their parents.

SamG said...

I just discovered this blog today, and am captivated. I absolutely had to comment on "You had me at prokaryote."

Hilarious, and insightful. A testament to the power of the mind to grow, and your wisdom in nurturing it.

Russ said...

P-Momma,

It appears as though the values thread has worn through, but I'd like to toss in an idea that I think would be a worthwhile behavioral model that teachers could share with their students. The idea is simple and we often hear parents scream it, and playground monitors utter it to cherubic warring factions. If everyone, adult and child alike, practiced this as a general model of interacting with others, I think the world would be a much more contented place. The idea is this: leave other people and their things alone.

As social creatures it's a very difficult idea to put into practice as in The Great Biscuit Smackdown Incident you mentioned on another thread. It seems that we do not possess the capacity as a species to respect that other's space, possessions, bodies, or even their thoughts, should be left exclusively to them unless we are invited to share.

As human populations continue to rise, I think that human communities would function so much better, if values, virtues and ethics were left as personal and family undertakings, but I also think that a simple behavioral model - unless asked, leave others alone - practiced by children, adults, corporations, churches, etc., would make the world a more pleasant place to live.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

The idea is this: leave other people and their things alone.


I think I see where you coming from, but I don't know if I, exactly, agree with the thought that this would be a great model of behavior. As in the Great Biscuit Smackdown (ha!), there are many possessions (and ideas) for whom the perceived right to ownership is shared. Or, simply, not defined well. Who's biscuit was it? Since it was sitting on a plate, on the counter, I suppose it may have been a first come, first serve mentality. But, really... neither of them *needed* the biscuit. I realize this analogy can only go so far, because the participants in the smackdown are four and two years of age.

Now, on the positive side,... it's something worth exploring more as a model. Once people reach the developmental milestone of the ability to empathize and sympathize, this does become a decent basis for an axiom. And, I can see how this applies to religion, in the sense that people should really leave other people to draw their own conclusion and "own" what is theirs (their belief or lack of belief). However, a person possessing a WRONG belief can make decisions that effect others who don't share their belief. *eyes crossed*

Thank you for making me think, Russ. :) Happy V-day!

angelsdepart said...

How are the christians getting thier ideas into the schools in the first place. Did they forget about seperation of church and state? If my tax money goes to it, the church is not allowed in!!!

Atheist in a mini van. said...

How are the christians getting thier ideas into the schools in the first place. Did they forget about seperation of church and state? If my tax money goes to it, the church is not allowed in!!!


I may make this the topic of a post soon. But, in our area, it's all about the PTA Priests (as I call them). We have this group of moms that rules the Parent Club with iron fists. :/

Anonymous said...

this is disturbing but not surprising. whats really surprising anymore?? and i dont [or shouldnt] have to be an aethist to recognize when our liberties are being trampled.

honestly, im a christian, i believe in God and everything the Bible says, but it doesn't distort my political views. [i felt like i might have been leading a lie had i not said that] but i enjoy reading these blogs because, really, you people have more sense.

i'd love to be able to continue on this blog. i dont really get to share my opinions on much of anything [and christian blogs are too full of damnation] but if this is a strictly aethist thing i can respect that.