Why Don’t Schools Teach Children Morality and Empathy? | The Atlantic

The pressures of national academic standards have pushed character education out of the classroom.

Source: Why Don’t Schools Teach Children Morality and Empathy? – The Atlantic

“By omission, are U.S. schools teaching their students that character, morality, and ethics aren’t important in becoming productive, successful citizens?”

Most of my reader would at once answer some variation on “sadly, yes” – and we can see many of the bitter fruits of this in our society – but the fact that the question is even being asked is significant. You know the situation is bad when a mainstream, Left-leaning journal like The Atlantic is wondering whether we’re doing a poor job of teaching character, ethics, and morality to our students!

Granted, that is a job that is best done by parents and church, not schools. But like many other once-common life skills (I’m thinking of things like gardening, the use of simple tools, and home economics), ethics, morality, and character are things that many contemporary parents are ill-equipped to teach their sons and daughters, because they’re not too well-versed in them, themselves.

Despite the old tongue-in-cheek adage that “those who can’t do, teach,” you can’t teach what you don’t know, yourself.

What is interesting (though not surprising) to me is that students are hungry for such instruction, or at least discussion and guided exploration:

“‘Do you think you should discuss morality and ethics more often in school?’ I asked the class. The vast majority of heads nodded in agreement. Engaging in this type of discourse, it seemed, was a mostly foreign concept for the kids… As my students seemed to crave more meaningful discussions and instruction relating to character, morality, and ethics, it struck me how invisible these issues have become in many schools.”

This is indicative of an abject failure in our educational system. In an earlier and wiser age, the formation of students into not only good citizens, but good persons, was a primary – perhaps the primary – function of schooling. There may not have been a formal class called “ethics,” but moral lesson permeated the academic ones.

Duty to God and country, respect for duly-constituted authority, and compassion towards others were part of the curriculum: from the Pledge of Allegiance and Lord’s Prayer in the morning, through “reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmatic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick,” throughout the day. Stories (and poems, which tend to be especially memorable) selected for reading, reciting, and expostulating upon in various forms invariably carried a moral message.

That was already starting to go away by the time I got into school, in the early 1970s, and the trend has only accelerated.

Unfortunately, some of what it has been replaced by has been of questionable merit – the starkly utilitarian teaching-to-the-test of “No Child Left Behind,” and its successor, “Common Core” (as the linked essay describes) – or even frankly morally vicious, as in the moral relativism and intentional sidelining of traditional morality that has become the dominant ethos in the contemporary educational establishment over the last four or five decades.

We didn’t get where we are now overnight, and we won’t get back to a place of greater sanity overnight, either; but if reflections like the linked essay can be published in “mainstream” media outlets like The Atlantic, that at least gives some grounds for hope that pendulum may be starting, however slowly, to swing back. God grant it! It needs to.

Author: The Anglophilic Anglican

I am an ordained Anglican clergyman, published writer, former op-ed columnist, and experienced outdoor and informal educator. I am also a traditionalist: religiously, philosophically, politically, and socially. I seek to do my bit to promote and restore the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, in a world which has too-often lost touch with all three, and to help re-weave the connections between God, Nature, and humankind which our techno-industrial civilization has strained and broken.

2 thoughts on “Why Don’t Schools Teach Children Morality and Empathy? | The Atlantic”

  1. To be brief: When I attended primary school, beginning in the mid-60s, every day we would begin by saying the Pledge. We sang ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,’ or similar. We also bowed our heads at our desks, in what was called a ‘moment of silent meditation.’ It could have been used for anything from a prayer, to random thoughts. Nothing was forced; the use of this time was for we children to decide. No one complained. Repeat: no one complained. We know how these traditions ended. Instead of writing the manifesto I feel compelled to write for these topics, I’ll just add this: a Flickr friend recently posted photos from a visit to his grandchild’s primary school, in Cambridge, Mass. (a bastion of liberal lunacy). One photo shows a book case in their library, with featured books displayed prominently on top. The theme was “Pride.” Yes- you guessed it. All of the books were geared towards children, and featured LGBTQ themes (‘Jacob’s New Dress’ and ‘PRIDE! are two that come to mind). There is now a ‘Pride Month,’ and that is being celebrated in the Peoples’ Republic of Cambridge. My point? When we ask why morality, empathy and ethics are glaringly missing from school curricula, this is the reason why. How did we get to a point where the Left completely dominates almost the entire public educational system of the US, including most higher-ed? I’ve been told, point-blank, by liberal friends, that there is no such thing as ‘morality.’ That it’s a made-up concept, created to keep the population down, and prevent people from doing whatever they please. That it’s up to each individual to decide what they consider ‘moral,’ and to act accordingly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. [Addendum: my comment in no way disparages gay people. My point was that, instead of teaching empathy for EVERYONE, many schools are picking and choosing who gets that honour. Very trendy. It’s identity politics, run amok.]

      Liked by 1 person

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