The Importance of High School Ethics

I came across an old essay titled, The Values Wasteland, written by one of Wisconsin’s notable journalist, Charles Sykes. It was about youth, education and the lack of a moral compass. As I said before it was old, written back in the early nineties. He highlighted the problems of a society where no one held themselves accountable. He expressed strong opposition towards a curriculum that left character building up to the students. Mr. Sykes suggest that kids needed good role models to emulate. They needed maps to guide them when it comes to scruples, because conscience simply is not hardwired into people at birth.

He aimed most of his blame at the schools doorsteps. He gave for example, schools had this crazy notion that kids should be left to decide what is the right or wrong behaviors from as early as elementary ages. For instance, students in an elementary school were asked, “Who would you choose to save if you had only one choice, a human stranger or the family dog?” He was appalled to discover that a number of the kids chose the dog, but what was worse, was that none of the kids who chose the human mentioned that the others were off beam. “It was as if the word wrong wasn’t even in their vocabulary,” he said. “Most of them responded with something like,  everyone had a right to their opinions, but no one said it was blatantly wrong to regard an animal’s life over a human being.”

So here we are almost twenty years later. Are ethics any better, worse the same and if so what would the author of Dumbing Down our Kids: Why America’s Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write or Add say about the subject of ethics in our schools today. I imagine it would be along the lines of entitlement issues. So many kids today simply feel entitled to say, do and behave as they want and when you ask them about it they look at you like deer in headlights. They have absolutely no idea why they shouldn’t think any other way. Who can blame them though, given the many different tools they have access to these days to avoid the ultimate reason, themselves. They spend most of their free time in fantasy games, on Facebook or texting on their Blackberries. Without face time people have become much more candid and rude. We see the world from our perspectives facing outward through our text messages and have kind of lost sight of humanity.  

Kids need to see value in themselves and others with the same regard. “The golden rule,” if you will, and if for whatever reason they don’t learn this in their homes they must learn it in school in order for society to conduct itself reasonably. Especially in these times of paranoia and technology. Perhaps the best response then is to point them back towards themselves. In other words asking the predictable question, “how would you like to be treated?” When you flip the behaviors back to the individual obvious things happen. They immediately see themselves, whom they value inherently, as the aim of corollary. For moral values to be retained they must be relevant. Schools certainly have the greatest opportunity to resolve this through class time.

Two core principles that can be blended into most any curriculum are regard and responsibility. All we need to do is utilize exemplary role models in literature. Seek out and incorporate opportunities that breed responsible activities in science, math and the electives. Even at-risk kids will respond well to values based curriculum that mirrors their self-respect with a better prospect. One undeniable truth is we all hold ourselves in high regard.