Teaching the golden rule

January 03, 1991|By Wiley Hall 3rd

"You can walk anywhere in our school and see evidence that we are teaching values here," said Charles Hauss, assistant principal of Lakeland Middle School, in Baltimore.

"We teach values each day, starting with the homeroom period, and then we build on it throughout the day," he continued proudly.

"And it's not just in the curriculum. We try to reinforce those lessons in every contact we have with the children -- from the school administrators to the cafeteria worker. We even try to teach those values in every contact the children have between each other. It is a very holistic approach."

Mr. Hauss is not exaggerating.

The focal point, the symbol, of Lakeland's values program is the star, and everywhere you go throughout the school, you will find a veritable constellation.

Two steps past the front door at Lakeland is a star-covered bulletin board beneath the legend, "Everybody is a star!" Inside each star is the signature of a Lakeland student.

"The kids try to be cool about it," chuckled Mr. Hauss, "but you can see them peeking over there each day, just to make sure their star is still up there."

On the stairwell are more stars and the message: "Your teachers do care. Their goal, your success!"

And the students in Stephanie Avery's sixth grade class interrupt their lessons to define the meaning of the STAR acronym: "Stop," they recite with very little prompting, "Think. Act. Review."

"The great thing is, they are not just reciting from memory," said ++ Mr. Hauss. "You can see the children putting the STAR process into effect every day in the way they resolve their own conflicts."

It wasn't too long ago that a public school administrator such as Mr. Hauss would have hesitated to admit that any part of his school's curriculum was value-laden.

During the 1960s and 1970s, public schools attempted a values-free approach, now known (with a shudder) among educators as "values clarification." Under this approach, teachers would not make value judgments for their children, but raise ethical questions and then teach students the skills that would help them determine right and wrong for themselves.

But, to put it gently, the doctrine of "values clarification" has been all but dumped.

School systems in the Baltimore area, in Maryland and throughout the country, have decided they have both the right and the responsibility to teach values to young people -- such fundamental precepts as the difference between "good" and "bad," "right" and "wrong," "fair" and "unfair."

What has surprised many educators, however, is that school systems have been able to find a universal, common "core" of moral values with neither controversy nor acrimony.

Schools chose the values clarification approach of the 1970s, for instance, in part because of fears that the religious and economic values of the power elite would otherwise be imposed on minority groups.

In fact, a process that educators feared would divide a community has brought various groups closer together.

"I was involved in setting up a sex education curriculum, and as you know, we had a terrible time," said Mary Ellen Saterlie, a former associate superintendent of Baltimore County schools.

"But this [values education] has just been embraced by almost everybody."

In retrospect, the real surprise now is that educators feared that identifying and teaching a moral code in the schools would be so hard.

"I don't know of any time in the history of education when values were not being taught in the schools," said Richard Bavaria, a spokesman for Baltimore County schools. "But it is true that in the 1960s and 1970s, the vogue was to pretend otherwise. But we now know it is impossible to be an adult and not teach values.

"I was a classroom teacher for 20 years," Dr. Bavaria continued, "and I know it was impossible for me to discuss a novel such as 'To Kill a Mockingbird' without a discussion of the values inherent in the story. We have a responsibility to teach our children what it is that our community respects."

In one sense, then, the move toward values education can be considered a back-to-basics movement.

"The very strong trend nationwide is toward more explicit identification of the values to be taught and the more explicit teaching of those values," said Diane G. Berreth, deputy executive director of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, in Alexandria, Va.

"You'll find the same pattern in urban, suburban and rural school systems," she said.

Representing some 160,000 members worldwide, ASCD published an issue's paper on moral education last year.

Mrs. Berreth added that the movement has been spurred as much by concern over the behavior of adults as over the behavior of children.

"One of the things that happened is that the public became very dissatisfied with the behavior of both government officials and business leaders," said Mrs. Berreth.

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