Can Schools Teach Values?


by Harold Howe II - 1987

While the family is the main agency for helping young people develop the ideas, attitudes, and behavior of successful citizenship and work, schools can enrich the teacher-student relationship to the point that values rub off. (Source: ERIC)

Although a large proportion of American youngsters grow up and assume adult responsibilities in admirable fashion, an increasing number do not. There appears to be greater alienation of youth from the norms of adult society accompanied by a failure of more and more of them to become the workers and citizens we would like them to be. Consider the following points that support these assertions:


Between 1960 and 1980 delinquency rates of youngsters ten to seventeen years of age increased by 130 percent.


Between 1972 and 1979 the proportion of our country’s youth using drugs more than doubled and the number of alcohol users increased by more than 50 percent.


The number of births among unwed teenage women has increased radically since 1960, as have accompanying problems of venereal disease.


Violent deaths from motor accidents, homicide, and suicide increased steadily among teenagers from 1960 to 1980.


The number of school dropouts decreased rapidly from 1960 into the early 1970s and then started to increase again.


Unemployment has burgeoned among youth and particularly among minority youth, in spite of numerous initiatives to reverse this trend.


Evidence of this kind about youth has become commonplace, and there seems little reason to challenge it, although it is important to remember that many young people avoid or are not permanently harmed by such difficulties. Still, the magnitude of the changes over a short period of time has awakened everyone concerned with young people, from parents to social and behavioral scientists. The chorus of concern is filled out by religious leaders, youth-serving agencies, and business leaders troubled about the future of the work force. A national debate is emerging about what caused such changes and what to do about them.


Much of the discussion on this subject has focused on what my colleague Perry London calls “damage control”—shoring up the institutions and agencies that serve youth to improve their capacity to deal with young people’s problems. A medical analogy might be working toward better cures for diseases as opposed to finding ways to prevent their occurrence. There has been attention also to seeking basic causes and to designing longer term efforts for prevention. Some school reformers are advocating basic structural changes in schools to make children more successful with more meaningful kinds of learning, and some efforts to address the problems of drugs and alcohol reach back to the basic motivations that influenced youngsters to become involved with these substances in the first place. Such efforts frequently include the strategy of trying to change the value systems of young people to help them protect themselves against negative influences that threaten to invade their lives; many public leaders seek prevention by calling for the teaching of moral values in the schools.

FAMILY, SCHOOL, AND RELIGION: THEIR PLACE IN DEVELOPING MORAL VALUES


Should the schools help young people to internalize values that will guide them to more constructive lives? It should not be necessary to ask this question. Of course they should. Whether schools like it or not, they are bound to affect the values youngsters develop, and schools have an obligation to consciously plan what they do in the realm of value development. I will have more to say on this subject, but first it is important to recognize that the family is the main source of value development for most young people. Special cases can be found in which the school or the church or some other agency supersedes the family in this all-important function, but they are exceptions. Frequently the school will become an important testing ground for family-developed values.


Some will argue that religion has the primary place in the development and transmission of values, but as I see it, the important role that religion can play in this matter for children and youth is given most of its leverage by the family. Formal religion is significant in many families, but less important in others, and both kinds of families clearly have the capacity to nurture children and youth in constructive ways. The diversity of religious belief and practice in this country defies description, and our fundamental law recognizes the right of each of us to engage in religion or not as we see fit. To argue in such circumstances that young people cannot develop their values without participating in religious observances seems to me insupportable. I recognize that many people will not agree with this view.


In effect, family, church, and school constitute a triangle of influence on children, with the family at the peak and church and school separated by a dotted line at the base. There are solid lines in this triangle from the family to both church and school, but those who would transform the dotted line to a solid line are working against a fundamental principle of our society and government. Many of them are well-motivated people, who do not understand the historical experiences that led our forefathers to draw that dotted line and our Supreme Court to maintain it. Perhaps the schools are partly at fault for not teaching young people the origins of their freedom.


Looking at this triangle more closely, one perceives that the main values received from schools are of two kinds: those that constitute the central core of our democratic heritage and those that make up the commonly shared ethical values of all people, such as honesty. Sometimes these two value emphases, which are properly on the school’s agenda, find themselves in conflict with the teaching of home or church, creating a dilemma for schools that is illustrated in today’s conflicts over what books should be read or not read.


Other tensions grow because churches and homes occasionally join forces to transplant religious elements into school practice. Those who want to mix definitive religious practices with education have the privilege of setting up private schools to do that, a privilege that is widely used and open to all. Some families choose to use such schools even though they are not particularly interested in the religion. That is fine. What does not work is encouraging religious practices in public schools. The argument that values cannot be taught without a religious base appears to me flawed, most of it introduced to support a well-meant but mistaken notion about prayer in public schools.

WHY THE SCHOOL IS INVOLVED


If the family is the main social agency for helping young people develop the combination of ideas, attitudes, and behavior that will move them toward successful citizenship and work, why is it that many public leaders are calling on the schools to get into this values education business? I think there are two basic answers to this question. The first is the somewhat dubious model the adult world provides to children and youth; the second involves a number of changes that have occurred in our society and that reduce the possibility of a constructive relationship between adults and young people.


Young people tend to emulate adults whom they encounter at home, in schools, in their communities, and through the media. It seems almost unnecessary to document the point that today’s youth are overexposed to negative models purveyed mostly by adults. Dishonesty, drug abuse, indifference to the needs of others, blatantly discriminating behavior, irresponsibility about obligations, abuses of sexuality, and all the other foibles of adult society are paraded before youngsters every day of their lives. The contrast between what adults do and what they tell their children to do is immense. In the face of such pressures, it is small wonder that thoughtful leaders are attempting to enlist the school along with ‘family, church, and community agencies in the cause of building positive values in young people. The school is the place where more adults spend more time with children and youth than any other.


There is nothing new about this imbalance in the messages young people receive from the adult world. It has always been so. There are powerful forces for decency in the adult world also, and most families find the way to embrace them. But we are living in a time of significant social change that affects the family’s capacity to muster the forces of decency on behalf of children and youth, especially and most importantly change in the nature of work, change in the working habits of women, and the growth of single-parent families.

CHANGE IN THE NATURE OF WORK


The nature of a person’s work is a major factor in that person’s self-esteem as well as in his or her standing among friends and within a community. In a society based on the work ethic, work helps to define each one of us. To the extent that we do something useful in society, we gain a feeling of belonging and contributing that sustains us even when the work we do is difficult or dull. I want to argue that youth has been progressively denied the opportunity to be engaged in work that is important to others, and therefore denied the rewards such work produces. I think that some of the negative tendencies of youth today can be traced to this situation.


Many young people have part-time jobs while in high school, and if that is so, why make such a point about their missing out on the values to be gained through work? The answer is that this part-time work is a real plus for some youth. They handle it well along with their studies and pick up useful working skills and attitudes as well as fruitful adult associations. This positive result does not, however, characterize the experience of all youth. Entirely too many are working in dead-end jobs that bring few rewarding adult contacts and that seriously diminish school performance. Reliable studies show that more than fifteen to twenty hours a week of work for high school students is damaging to school performance, and the youngsters who have the greatest need for upgrading their schoolwork are more often than not the very ones working full-time on tasks that adults see as “kid’s work.” This is not a value-building experience, and it is one that frequently leads to dropping out of school.


In 1875 most agriculture and some manufacturing and service businesses provided jobs to teenagers that allowed them to grow in skill and responsibility and to feel that they were contributors to adult enterprises. Most of them left school after the eighth grade or even earlier. Boys understood what their fathers did and frequently found work alongside them; girls mainly learned homemaking skills from their mothers or learned about work through moving into low-paying jobs their mothers found near home.


One hundred years later, about 90 percent of teenagers were in school. Seventy-five percent graduated. Many of them had no clear notion of what their fathers’ work was like, and their mothers were rapidly moving into jobs like those of their fathers. They had little sense of being valued by the adult world, and they saw much less of the adults in their families than had their earlier counterparts. A recent study reports that typical teenagers spend five minutes a day with fathers, half of it watching television, and forty minutes with their mothers, most of it not very productive in terms of moral stimulation.1 A good case can also be made that we have put our youth into institutions called high schools that convey the message that the adult world does not value them but will someday if they work hard. Is it surprising that a good many young people become alienated or that they tend to develop their own youth culture, one that to many adults seems appalling?


This oversimplified interpretation of how changes in work changed the lives of young people is well presented in the report of a commission on youth in the 1970s, chaired by James Coleman.2 There have been only sporadic responses to this general view of youth’s situation in society. One of them is found in Ernest Boyer’s recent book High School, which suggests work in the community for all youth and school credit awarded for it.3 For purposes of my argument about the school’s role, the main point here is to suggest that the influence of changes in the nature of work on relationships in the family have been important in involving the school in the parental function and legitimating its role there.


There is some tendency today to think that youth’s unconstructive tendencies can be reversed simply by restoring the family relationships that once existed, and there is considerable moral suasion on this point from various self-appointed saviors. This brief excursion into how changes in the nature of work have affected the family’s leverage on its children should make it clear that things are not that simple. We have to find a way to help youngsters move into adulthood that fits the economic realities of today. Among those economic realities is the change in the work habits of women.

CHANGE IN THE WORK HABITS OF WOMEN


Many mothers with infants and school-age children are working, and more of them are joining the work force every day. In the last twenty years the middle-class families of this country have maintained their economic position by having both parents at work. The notion that this trend can be reversed is naive, even though it raises serious problems for parents’ roles in raising children, as well as for parental relationships with schools. The answers to those problems lie in new public policies to support families and in changes in the roles of both men and women in families to provide the adult support children and youth require. A partial answer may also be found in enhancing what schools do to take responsibility for character and value development among children and youth.

SINGLE-PARENT FAMILIES


The third major social change is the growth in single-parent families. Estimates based on recent changes in the divorce rate suggest that almost 50 percent of America’s children will experience family disruption by age sixteen, most through divorce and the remainder through birth to an unmarried mother. The causes for these events lie deep in our social fabric and not all of them are negative. The new economic, social, and political freedom of women probably has some influence on the divorce rate. Who can assert that those aspects of the women’s movement should be turned back? There may be ways that our society can work toward greater family stability, but many of them cannot be legislated. In the meantime, we have millions of children who are denied the ideal of close support from a loving father and mother, and we must deal with them in schools and elsewhere. As we do so, we must be constantly aware that some single-parent families work very well, much better than a family torn by tensions between its adult members. There is little question, however, that providing adequate support to children in a one-parent family is more difficult than in a two-parent family and is frequently less effective. Hence we encounter growing demands on schools, churches, and community agencies to assist young people with the processes of maturing in a healthy fashion. In the case of schools this need for assistance reaches beyond the schools’ main business of teaching skills and knowledge into dealing with attitudes and values and social behavior.

CAN SCHOOLS TEACH VALUES?


With all of the above as background, I turn now to the question of whether schools can teach values. As already implied, they cannot help teaching values. Youngsters simply cannot spend six hours a day in an institution for thirteen of the most impressionable years of their lives and not be influenced in their attitudes and behavior by what goes on there. Educators who write about these matters use the word socialize, by which they mean that schools try to elicit from youngsters behavior and attitudes that are acceptable and useful in society.


The problem is that schools sometimes, without being entirely aware of it, can teach both negative and positive values. The complex nature of the many activities and relationships in a school will help to determine whether a student cheats, whether respect or suspicion characterizes attitudes toward schoolmates, whether destructive behavior is encouraged or denigrated by the culture of the school. So the real question becomes “How do schools teach values that are useful?”


My wife, who has worked as a guidance counselor in several schools attended by what are known as “problem youth,” told me as I was preparing to write this article, “Remember that you can’t preach to kids. Either they won’t listen, or if they do, they won’t believe you.” I am inclined to agree with her. In my opinion there is a limited return on the direct teaching of ethical principles. Moreover, it seems to me that the content of courses, regardless of the information or skill they may purvey, cannot do as much to build constructive attitudes as can the association with a teacher who is skillful in developing rapport with students. Unless there is some friendliness, warmth, and respect between teachers and learners, not even the most significant lessons will prove much, and it is quite possible to teach ethics, or for that matter the Bible, in a fashion that will result in unethical behavior. Providing information about the perils of drugs and alcohol or about how to drive safely will not necessarily produce the intended behavior. The high insurance rates charged drivers under twenty-five years of age, even after taking driver training at school, bear witness to this assertion.


Knowing what is good or bad probably makes some difference in behavior, but learning it in a way that includes some spark of personal interest and sense of common concern between student and teacher is likely to make more. This is what good teaching is all about, and it is an art rather than a science. Some children really do think, when they are tempted to decorate the walls of the school’s washroom, “Mrs. Jones wouldn’t want me to do that”—and then they do not do it, not because they respect Mrs. Jones but because she respects them.


It is possible in schools to examine value issues through a case-study method, which if skillfully taught can have a considerable impact on a youngster’s feelings and beliefs. Whether this kind of exercise has a permanent payoff in terms of behavior, I simply do not know, but I suspect that it does. Like anything else that is well taught and gets students involved, this method certainly brings them into contact with an adult who cares about them and probably one who deals with them more as colleagues in exploring an interesting set of issues than as a judge of their performance.


These observations lead me to what I consider the most effective instrument in schools for implanting ideas and attitudes that can affect student behavior, both in school and outside of it, which is the real test. As someone once said, “Character is measured by how one behaves among strangers.” The effective instrument I refer to is the human relationship between students and teachers in the school.


This relationship starts with a very simple base, knowing each other’s names. This point may seem to stretch the obvious, but in many secondary schools where a teacher sees 150 different students each day in five separate classes, it takes a long time to learn the names and longer to learn the attributes, interests, family concerns, and personal learning problems of the youngsters hiding in the back row. Small wonder that our secondary schools develop more failure and behavior problems than our elementary schools, where a teacher works with a group of 25 children for an entire year and gets to know them well. I think that the structure of our secondary schools could not have been better arranged to defeat the kind of rapport between teachers and students that will allow mutual interest and mutual respect and understanding to develop. When those important intangibles have been established, there is a chance for teachers to influence students as people, not just as names that take tests on a subject.


A favorite way of defining this special relationship of adults and students engaged in teaching and learning together is to call the teacher or principal a “role model.” If teachers and principals are going to be role models for children, there is an aspect of that responsibility that needs more attention than it is getting these days. I refer to the presence in schools of more principals, counselors, and teachers who are attuned to and part of the cultural experience of children. It is not necessary that all black or Hispanic children have black or Hispanic teachers, principals, and counselors, but it is necessary for youngsters to get the impression that people like them can occupy the prestige roles in the school. The same distinctions apply for students who are girls and young women. We have too few secondary school principals who are black, Hispanic, and female. We are sadly lacking in minority group counselors who are black and Hispanic. New immigrant groups entering our schools find few if any teachers there who seem familiar. In other words, we must revive the cause of affirmative action in schools if we really believe in helping youngsters through providing role models. Unless we do this, the students will recognize that we are again saying one thing and doing another.


One of the major needs of students in schools is a sense of self-confidence, a belief that one can succeed there. This sense may well be the fundamental value perception, particularly for the student whose baggage brought to school includes a difficult home situation that can range across a wide spectrum of possibilities. These possibilities can and often do lead young people to consider suicide, to neglect school work in favor of attention to younger siblings at home, to reject school entirely and become dropouts, or to fall for the attractions of selling dope on the street corner. What such youngsters need is a friend, not a lecture on morality. Thousands are rescued yearly because some teacher or counselor becomes that friend. Thousands of others are not rescued because no one knows them well enough to find out about their problems and offer support in dealing with them.


One of my quarrels with the school reform movement as it has emerged in the United States in recent years is its failure to adequately recognize human relationships in the school and particularly in the classroom as a paramount element in promoting academic success. There has been some talk about the importance of the school’s climate and about the need for high expectations of all the pupils in schools, including those from poor and minority families, but there has been a great deal more talk about more required courses, more tests, more time in school, and making it harder to succeed.


Academic success and a humane school atmosphere go together. Interwoven, they become a powerful engine for making children and youth successful with the main business of schooling, and children and youth who are successful in school will tend to avoid many of the destructive situations by which they can be tempted as alternatives to school failure. In this sense, academic success itself becomes a positive value, one that is the main business of schools to promote. Today they are partly successful with about 75 percent of students, but of the children who carry the burdens of poverty and who need more personal attention and more understanding as people than they are now getting, schools fail with close to 40 percent.


That this bleak picture exists is only partly the fault of people who work in schools; it is also the fault of those who deny schools the resources they need. Guidance counselors have become expendable in the name of saving money; restructuring schools to seek new formulations for promoting success lags for similar reasons. In some places teacher compensation is improved, but most such improvements are inadequate to attract new levels of expertise to classrooms. Success in school may be among the highest values schools can promote from the point of view of students’ future lives, but it may turn out to be too costly for our taxpayers. If that is so, they are missing a chance for a good investment.


I do not want to leave this discussion of how values are inculcated in the mainstream of teaching and learning in a school without asserting that what is taught and learned can make a difference in the values of students. One of the important functions of a school is to pass on our culture, and if that is done in a shallow or trivial way, both students and society lose. So I heartily endorse the movement to restore history to the curriculum and to encourage wide reading in substantial literature. My point about human relationships in the school is simply that the potential benefits conferred on the lives of students by such studies will not materialize when teaching is unimaginative and dull and when the teacher fails to communicate any enthusiasm for the subject or genuine interest and belief in the capacity of students to master it. It almost goes without saying that these benefits will not materialize either unless the teacher has a substantial knowledge of the subject, an important goal that has been fortified by the school reform movement.

VALUE SOURCES BEYOND TEACHING AND LEARNING


Having said that schools can rescue young people and influence their values by doing well what schools are supposed to do, I now want to qualify that generalization by discussing five points. The first is the need for more recognition by schools of the importance of the alliance between home and school. The second is to recognize the presence of what is called a “hidden curriculum” in the schools, one that can be powerful enough to defeat or at least to diminish the positive influences I have been discussing. Third, I want to argue that a competitive ethic dominates our secondary schools and should be balanced by a cooperative ethic. Fourth, I want to recognize the omission from this entire discussion of the influence of a large number of agencies that serve children and youth and help them to build values. Finally I will venture a few thoughts on the elements of hope and love in young people’s lives.

THE ALLIANCE OF HOME AND SCHOOL


If my assertion at the beginning of these remarks, that the family is the main source of value development in children and youth, has any validity, then it follows that the school will be more effective on the value front if it and the home are allied. Moving from that generalization to doing something about it, however, is not easy. As already noted, parents have less and less time for children, not to mention time to work with teachers and school officials to develop cooperative plans on behalf of children. Teachers likewise lead high-pressure lives filled with new demands for assigning more written work and correcting it and for participating in enhanced staff-development programs. Indeed, the goal teachers are developing of moving toward a higher level of professionalism could become a barrier to working together with parents. A professional is a person who knows the answers and tells lay persons about them rather than seeking help from them.


Each constituent party will have to recognize and deal with this time problem on its own. Perhaps it is possible for some employers to allow parents afternoons off to engage in school-related activities; teachers’ contracts can build in paid time for work with parents. I know of schools where guidance counselors come to work at noon and then work on selected evenings to gain time with parents.


When ways to get together have been established, there is an endless agenda to be jointly explored by parents and teachers. It ranges from agreeing on learning goals for each individual child to reaching agreements about the school’s discipline system. Some schools will want to launch a discussion on corporal punishment, which is still allowed in some states; most will seek ways to involve students in the operation of the school. Parental ideas about homework need ventilating along with teachers’ thoughts on its greatest enemy—television. Community problems faced by youngsters can be reviewed and community organizations ranging from police to family service invited to participate. Once a way of getting together is established, the floodgate of common concern will open up on topics that constitute the warp and woof of healthy values development.

THE HIDDEN CURRICULUM


Our idealized view of schools embraces the notion that they should implant in young people such attitudes as the following:


dedication to democratic processes in reaching decisions

respect for people of all cultures and races

interest in helping fellow students to be successful

willingness to participate in the chores that must be done to keep the school and the classroom and the home going

respect for rules along with the opportunity to question them through agreed-upon due process

developing a concept of what constitutes cheating and why it does

the opportunity to develop a critical capacity to examine what students regard as injustices in the school and community or in society at large


In many schools the so-called hidden curriculum4 stands in the way of achieving these ends. The school, instead of being a place that genuinely seeks the development of free individuals, is turned by its internal mores and culture into an apparatus that emphasizes conformity. In that process many of our ideals for schools and the children in them are compromised.


Where is this hidden curriculum found? It may be in the materials children are asked to read as well as in the fact that they are not allowed to read other materials. I suspect that the main source is in the authority structure of the school and in the nature of the subtle interactions there between children and adults. As children develop into youth they see increasingly the contrasts between what adults say and what adults do.


I have no pat answer on how to deal with the hidden curriculum. I do believe that it is an important idea and deserves attention as we try to make schools places that convey the values we say we believe in. Perhaps the best that can be done is to inject this general concept into the thinking of teachers, principals, and parents as they work to bring their schools and their ideals closer together.


An aspect of the hidden curriculum in any junior high or high school is the subject of sex and sexual relationships, a topic that is strongly connected to values and morality. This is a difficult topic for schools. It is generally thought to belong primarily to the family, and many people see it as laden with religious issues and want the school to stay out of it. But it comes to school with the students, who are maturing and developing persons. Conscientious teachers and principals cannot bear to see young people destroyed by lack of assistance with a complex matter that is more on their minds than most school subjects. Some schools have been successful in bringing this subject out of hiding in both its practical and its moral aspects. The extent to which this can be done in any particular school has to be worked out locally.

HAVE WE OVERDONE THE COMPETITIVE ETHIC?


To question the value of competition is to risk being called either a communist or a wimp by true believers in competition as the only route to excellence. The business world, which loves competition in the abstract but wants protection by the government when things get too tough, is active in school reform, where it seeks to spread competitive values.


Maybe an athletic analogy will help to explain my views. I am in favor of athletic competition as a route to outstanding performance, but I begin to worry about it when attention to the needs of the strongest and the best athletes begins to erode the chances to engage in sport for many who have much to gain from it but are less proficient than the best. I am downright against it when the intensity of competition leads to evading the rules of the game, to the use of artificial stimulants as a way of winning, and to the destruction of academic values in educational institutions. Such abuses appear in other settings too. Bankers launder cash deposits for mobsters to make more money; politicians arrange under-the-table deals to get elected; students cheat on examinations to beat out fellow students—all motivated by competition. If we are serious about morality in schools, we will have to face more directly the tension between honesty and competition.


If there ever was a generalized value that the world needs more of than it has, it is the capacity of people to work together cooperatively. The Darwinian approach to excellence just will not do if we believe what our Declaration of Independence says about being “created equal.” In regard to schools, we need more attention than our present school reform movement gives to the cooperative ethic in education.


In elementary classrooms children typically learn to share, to help each other, and to conduct themselves with consideration for others. By the time they are in secondary school, emphasis has shifted, and most of the cooperative mode of learning has disappeared from their classrooms. Competition with, each other for grades is the order of the day, and, with a few exceptions, competition dominates extracurricular activities. In this process many youngsters get lost and drop out of school. Do we really want secondary schools to function as sorting mechanisms, or do we want them to be places where people help each other to succeed? If we mean business about secondary education for all, we have to rethink the competitive demands of the secondary school.


The learning demands of secondary schools, which are sometimes called standards, are dominated by the competitive ethic and by scores on standardized tests. In the light of what we know about the narrow spectrum of attributes measured by such tests, is not there room for rethinking both the structure and the internal relationships of the secondary school, without any damage to standards and with considerable benefit to the values the school conveys?

THE SPECIAL PLACE OF COMMUNITY AGENCIES AND ACTIVITIES


In discussing families, schools, and churches as central to value development among the young, we must not forget the important role of the numerous community agencies that contribute to this purpose. From the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to mental health clinics, these agencies cover a spectrum of youth activities and services to youth that ranges from damage control on the one hand to prevention of social trauma on the other. Some of these agencies are supported by public funds, some by private funds, and some combine the two. A number of them are under religious auspices, but many are nonsectarian. They constitute an extraordinarily rich resource, one that surely has a significant influence on the maturing process of youth. Based on visits to about twenty cities in the last three years for extended discussions with both school people and social agency representatives, I have the following impressions about these institutions:


Links between these agencies and the schools, where the young people who need them are found, exist but are inadequate.


The agencies constitute a somewhat uncoordinated resource, so many children miss the opportunities they offer.


The agencies serve children and youth of all circumstances, but as with the schools, their best services go to children of the more fortunate families.


Many of the services provided to youth have a major emphasis on peer associations; more should be done to build adult/youth relationships.


Rural areas are generally shortchanged by these agencies; central cities are heavily served by them, but the concentration there of youth with problems is so great that agencies are overwhelmed.


To the extent that these observations are correct, they suggest remedies by implication.

HOPE AND LOVE


Finally, we should consider values for children and youth with an emphasis on two elusive elements that have more to do with the development of positive values than anything else: hope and love. To the extent that children experience love from the adults around them, they are likely to become reliable, thoughtful, and self-confident teenagers with considerable capacity to handle the distractions of our increasingly complex world. To the extent that affection is sporadic, unavailable, or contrived, youngsters will be easily thrown off course.


Because, as the saying goes, “home is where the heart is,” the family is the institution mainly responsible for building the strengths of character that depend on love. That is why I asserted at the beginning of these observations that the family is at the center of value development. It can, if it wishes, draw much of its sustenance for this role from religious sources.


The school may or may not provide love, but, as we have seen, it can come close to doing so by bringing young people into regular contact with adults who care about them individually. Smaller schools and smaller classes have potential not just for improving learning but also for enriching the student/teacher relationship to the point that values rub off. Schools can also provide young people with the hope of success. Today too many children become discouraged by strong messages from schools that they are inadequate or unsuccessful.


Linda Darling-Hammond, who does research on education at the Rand Corporation, told me of observing a kindergarten class in which many of the children were in tears because they had failed a basic competency test on which they had been asked to write down consecutive numbers from one to two hundred—a dreadful exercise. She pointed out that reliable research shows that requiring such learning skills at age five is counterproductive. Over the long haul youngsters will achieve much better in school if formal academic skills are required at about age seven. Here, however, very young children were being made to feel inadequate, their horizon of hope diminished, to satisfy the urge for standards on the part of adults. They were also being started down the slippery slope of seeing school as an unfriendly place, a slope on which it is difficult indeed to regain position and which ends in dropping out of school.


Reflecting on what we know about changes in the family, changes in the work habits of adults, the relative isolation of youth from the adult world, and the nature and spirit of new demands on schools, one cannot help wondering whether young people are not being short-changed for both hope and love. In the last five years I must have been to more than one hundred meetings about reforming schools and making kids more successful learners, but I have not heard a word about hope and love. In the light of all these circumstances, I wonder whether the adult world generally and those who lead its services for children and youth in particular should not be thinking more often about the famous line from the comic strip Pogo: ‘We have met the enemy and it is us.” It is perhaps, equally important for adults to remember Paul’s instruction in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians: “And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 89 Number 1, 1987, p. 55-68
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 520, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 6:24:49 PM

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