Our American society has become more tolerant and understanding, of the current diverse population and culture, we are experiencing. Therefore, many changes have been made in order to accommodate the different living styles and traditions each group has brought to the American life; from Hispanic languages to Asian values, as an embracing country we have tried to include their various needs and perspectives in our system.
Schools offer support for foreign language speakers, English free-tuition classes for adults are provided in many public schools, translation and interpreter services are available in government agencies; in addition, important information about health, emergency procedures, weather and other issues are presented in different languages. Laws that protect everyone including those of other ethnicities, family background or race are part of the American values and society rules; which shows that even the judicial system is working to make every aspect of the law fair and equal for all.
However, as we have become more opened towards other people differences, we have also become more careful and cautious about the behavior and views we portray or share with others. Religion does not make part of the public school system; political views are not to be discussed in the classroom; personal statements, even when they are hurtful to others, are not to be corrected or ignored; but, how far can personal opinions go before we are allowed to offer a different perspective?.
In trying to respect freedom of speech and points of view, we have left out values and morals from our educational system, which takes us to analyze how beneficial or harmful has this decision been for our youth. We have to know when is acceptable to draw the line to personal opinions and be able to encourage our students to embrace honesty, fairness, tolerance and responsibility as part of their life; but, more importantly is that we acknowledge individual differences and do so without imposing our own views. The difficult question we are all trying to answer is: How do we promote social values without offending anyone and should we include values as part of our educational system?
In the book The De-Valuing of America by William J. Bennett, the author writes about the importance values and morals have in our society and the many ways they could be included in the classrooms without offending anyone. Bennett, throughout the reading explains how as educators we can approach fairness, equality, discipline, consistency and other values without having to recur to difficult moral dilemmas such as abortion or cloning. Bennett also writes about how American values concern each and every citizen that makes part of the American society, regardless of their origins and traditions, and takes us to analyze the role objectivity and neutral positions play right now in our culture. In the book, Bennett compares the purpose of previous American educational systems such as Common Schools with the rules of our current public school system; in addition, he includes the idea that parents should be able to choose if they want to keep their children in public schools or change them to private or catholic schools that follow their values.
In many ways I agree with Bennett’s writings, nevertheless, is my opinion that is naïve to think that social diversity may not influence our standards and values. Each part of our society shares different beliefs and perspectives of what is morally suitable or not, which makes it difficult to have a set of common acceptable moral rules. Laws determine what is appropriate for our society in terms of behavior but not in terms of belief, and the reasons is because it would defeat its own purpose of equality and fairness; nevertheless, as a society we do have expectations of how people should act and what it would be considered inappropriate, and we want our children to follow certain guidelines yet we do not allow the schools to reinforce those models of behavior. I agree with Bennett that teachers could provide examples of values through their instruction and use certain topics as a way to explain moral behaviors; moreover, I agree that sometimes we try very hard to be fair that we instead become neutral, and that takes us to lose the opportunity of providing a guideline for our students.
Many would agree or disagree with Bennett’s points of view. Throughout the history of education, we have seen many different movements that have gone according to the social circumstances of that particular moment, as we have seen others that have opened a gap in society and promoted inequality among communities. Some of the voices of education are: Horace Mann, John Dewey and Paulo Freire; each one of these characters lived in a particular social environment and had a specific purpose for education. Horace Mann was part of the Common School movement and his main concern was accessibility of education as a way of improving society; John Dewey was part of the Progressivism movement and his main focus was to established students as the priority of an equal educational system; also, Paulo Freire who was part of the critical pedagogy approach and whose main concerns were the social conflicts in Latin America and the influence education has on disadvantaged populations.
I think Horace Mann would have agreed in many ways with William Bennett’s points of view. According to what I have read from both authors, they share the thought of including the teaching of morals in educational system. Even though, Mann was in favor of religious freedom in schools, he always wrote about the importance of having values as part of the education of children in order to improve society; however, he wrote:”every person,…, who endorses another’s character,…, should be held to a rigid accountability” (Cremin, p.52). This statement shows us how he valued teachers been models of moral behavior but thought that society should be responsible as well for making sure social behaviors are indeed appropriate.
I think that John Dewey would have agreed with William Bennett in many ways. First and foremost, Dewey conceived school as part of the community children belong to; he thought that values should be reinforced at school just as they are at home. As Dewey wrote:” I believe that moral education centers upon the conception of the school as a mode of social life, that the best and deepest moral training is precisely that which one gets through having to enter into proper relations with others in an unity of work and thought” (Dworkin, p. 24). I think Dewey wanted to make sure there was a connection between schools and the social behavior society expects from children.
Perhaps Paulo Freire would have disagreed with William Bennett in his view of teaching morals values in schools, not with the intention of allowing individualism but with the notion that students are active learners and could infer acceptable social behavior from their relationships with others. As Freire wrote: “hence, the teacher-student and the students-teachers reflect simultaneously on themselves and the world without dichotomizing this reflection from action, and thus establish an authentic form of thought and action” (Freire, p.83). From Freire’s point of view, both teachers and students are the ones doing the teaching and the learning on an equal level; this would oppose Bennett’s idea of teachers promoting certain standards and being the ones modeling pro-social behavior.
Is my personal belief that schools should reinforce values such as fairness, equality, honesty and discipline which would help children to be positive active members of their community and empower them to succeed in life. However, there is a conflict between what it may be appropriate to some and what it may seem unacceptable to others. A clear example is patriotism; to some is important to honor the flag and love the country above all, in contrast, for some religions this could be a sin because God should be above all; therefore, the line is blurry and biased.
Another reason is the multi-cultures we have in our country; as Bennett wrote: “if we want them to know about persistence in the face of adversity, they should know about the voyages of Columbus” (Bennett, p.60). The truth is that not everyone thinks that Columbus voyages had a purpose other than looking for land to possess and gold to take to the Spaniard Crown; therefore, many would disagree this is a clear example of a model to follow. I ultimately believe that teachers know their own students and from there can know which route would be positive without offending anyone.
Bennett, W. J. (1994). The De-Valuing of America the Fight for Our Culture and Our Children: The Fight for Our Culture and Our Children. Colorado Springs: Focus On The Family Publishing.
Cremin, Lawrence (1979). The Republic and the School: Horace Mann on The Education Of Free Men. 10th Ed. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dworkin, Martin S. (Ed.), (1959). Dewey on Education: Selections. New York: Teachers College Press.
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.