Teaching values in public schools is advantageous as long as the values don't infringe on religious or personal beliefs. Some values, such as honesty and fairness, are universal, but others are specific to an individual's personal beliefs and aren't appropriate for the classroom. Character education is beneficial as long as teachers focus on civil liberties, integrity and fairness without allowing their own religious preferences and moral standards to dictate classroom standards.
Pro: Positive Habits
Teaching values in school helps students learn and practice healthy attitudes and behavior, such as respect, honesty and kindness. Teachers reinforce these attitudes by modeling them for their students and encouraging students to behave in the same way. Even though students still make their own choices, teaching values encourages them to not cheat, lie or steal but, rather, to treat others as they want to be treated. Character education helps students develop good habits and virtues, according to Steve Johnson, director of character education at Santa Clara University in California.
Pro: Classroom Management
Character education helps with classroom management because students know what's expected and learn to abide by those standards. It's easier to teach children who know how to exercise self-control, show patience and work hard, according to teacher, education expert and author Jessica Lahey in a May 2013 article in "The Atlantic." By instilling values, teachers set the bar for the class so students know what's permissible and what isn't. Character education reinforces acceptable behavior, so students have little room to misbehave or make learning difficult for teachers and peers.
Con: Varied Standards
Teaching values in public schools poses difficulties for school administrators and teachers because not all standards of behavior are the same. Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and religious upbringings, and parents often have different values and expectations than those of the teacher or teachers in their child's school. Conflicts arise when teachers' views of right and wrong don't line up with parents' values. For example, a parent might not mind if his child wears a T-shirt with a slogan that might be considered offensive, but the teacher might feel that it's inappropriate for the classroom.
Con: Limited Influence
Even though character education has some influence on children, most kids learn values, such as honesty and respect, before they start kindergarten. Because they already know important values, many children and adolescents feel patronized when their teacher lectures them on such topics, according to Richard Weissbourd, child and family psychologist and faculty member at Harvard University. Weissbourd expressed his views in an article in the university's January-February 2012 edition of the "Harvard Education Letter," which summarizes new research in prekindergarten through grade 12 education. Students might disregard classroom values out of rebellion or frustration because they feel it's being forced on them, he wrote.
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