Today, more than ever before, the American education system seems more interested in nurturing students’ attitudes than on what can realistically and ideally be called real teaching. This strategy of learning, mainly touted as ‘affective education,’ treats issues of self-esteem and personality development as the ultimate objective of education, eliciting feelings of misgivings and doubt among parents and guardians keen on the type of education given to their children (Lindslay para. 1).
It may, however, mesmerize many educational pundits and parents when the knowledge of the origins and development of this particular system of education is availed to them. Affective education draws its origins from an earlier trend of education known as values education (Hardin 23).
It is, therefore, the purpose of this paper to critically evaluate values education in terms of attempting to understand its origins, theoretical orientations, usage, and its influence in the American education system.
Before engaging in the analysis, it is imperative to note that the American education system, especially in the public sector, has been influenced by a wide allay of trends that are introduced or evolve to cope with particular situations (Tauber 20).
For instance, pundits argue that both affective and proactive approaches to education arose when teachers were desperately in need of mechanisms and strategies to control issues of discipline in the classroom (Tauber 23). These trends, though heavily criticized in some quarters for deviating attention to issues of student independence and morality at the expense of learning, are indeed working to maintain discipline, both at the classroom and societal level.
Supporters of these strategies argue that for real learning to take place, an enabling environment must be created in the classroom, and teachers are at the center of creating such an environment by acting as facilitators rather than controllers (Johnston et al 58). This line of thinking influenced, to a large extent, the evolution of values education in American education system during the 1970’s.
Values Education: Definition and Origin
According to Thapar, “…values education is education in values and education towards the inculcation of values” either in school or non-school settings (para. 1). Values education draws largely from character education, which is inarguably thought to be as old as mankind, precisely because civilizations the world over becomes unsustainable in the absence of character (Tauber 23).
Historically, generations have transferred their social, cultural, educational, and political values to subsequent generations to ensure preservation. Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers of all times, presumptuously argued that the demonstration of good behavior habits and ingrained virtues by an individual represented good character (Rogers 7). As such, it can only be argued that development of outstanding character was at the core of values education curriculum in the US during the 1970’s.
It is worth noting that American institutions of learning are firmly grounded in the tradition of transmitting fundamental values from one generation to the other. It is indeed notable that Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the nation, rooted for an enlarged and vibrant arrangement of public education to convey American democratic virtues to future generations (Johnstone 18). The emphasis of this paper, however, is to trace the origins of values education in American schools.
Educational historians and other theorists suggest that values education was conceived and grounded in the ideas and concepts of character education, an educational trend that disappeared from the American education limelight in the 1950’s (Johnstone 21). Before its disappearance, character education had been adopted by almost every public school in the US at the onset of the 20th century.
The decade of the 1950s was an era of conformity in many American institutions, including public schools. Character education took a back seat as parents, schools, the church, and society took a more conservative approach known as inculcating and modeling of character (Poulou 104).
American public schools, in particular, were on more than one occasion accused of undermining the role of character education by taking it for granted. For instance, character education in American schools in the 1950’s was limited to requesting students to be neat, punctual, polite, and to work exceedingly hard to attain success.
According to educational analysts, however, students were being given a small portion of what character education entailed, with the rest of the time being devoted to developing their intellectual capacities at the expense of moral development (Poulou 105).
By any standards, the decade of the 1960’s was marked with tumultuous and almost riotous reorganizations and reinventions in the U.S., and traditional roles and values became subject to mockery and rejection by the younger generation. As people demanded for more power and independence, the status of students, women and members of minority groups changed spectacularly in what was perceived as one of the greatest social revolutions ever to be witnessed in the history of mankind (Rogers 27).
New attitudes and value systems emerged, and individuals, including students, started to experiment with a wide allay of activities such as homosexuality, drug use, new religious orientations, new career options, and enigmatic lifestyles in the name of presuming greater authority and control over their own individual lives. Cases of indiscipline and teenage pregnancies escalated in American schools, culminating to the reintroduction of character education in the 1970s under the broad based all-inclusive name of values education
The Philosophy of Values Education
Some educational analysts, to date, believe that values education as introduced in American education system in the 1970’s was an original replica of character education, which dominated the education system in the decades of the 1930s and 1940s (Hardin 15).
It’s imperative to note that the decline of character education in schools across the U.S. was also unequivocally related to wide recognition and approval of scientific thinking among the members of the teaching fraternity. Logical positivism was popularized in 20th Century America at the expense of Morality-based education, which was personalized and accused of being subjective as it could not be proven using scientific methods (Lickona 7).
The positivist educators were of the opinion that they could structure a learning process and curriculum that was objective, credible, and beyond the sway of individual values. A value-based curriculum, according to them, was impossible since values were considered as shifting in objectives, situational in nature, and relative in ensuring equity.
Character education, therefore, was perceived by positivist educators as individualized, and dependent upon subjective value judgments (Lickona 7). As such, it was doomed as unfit for educational institutions in the U.S to Convey.
But the tumultuous events of the 1960’s made stakeholders in the education sector to rethink their strategies as cases of school indiscipline among students in American schools more than doubled (Hardin 18). This saw the reintroduction of character education in the 1970s, this time under the auspices of values education.
The philosophy governing this trend changed dramatically, with educators laying emphasis on individual values development rather than abiding by values set by the society as was traditionally the case. Under the new system of values education, teachers were now encouraged, not only to assist learners clarify their individual values, but also develop an enabling school environment which could facilitate students to learn the skills of moral reasoning and value analysis (Superka 38).
Teachers, however, were counseled against instilling their own perceptions of values and morals on the students, implying that the educator’s role was severely limited to facilitating the students to internalize and develop their own value systems, the teachers’ beliefs notwithstanding. Many educators of the 21st century firmly believe that affective education, which is widely gaining acceptance in American education system, has its roots in values education of the 1970s.
Teachers, according to the proponents of this new trend of education, were not allowed to impose their own values on the students since the American society had become largely pluralistic (Superka 40). A better curriculum according to this new form of imparting skills was one that would facilitate the learners to learn adequate skills of moral reasoning, not to mention the fact that such a curriculum was also intended to sharpen the students’ decision making capacities to enable them cope with the immense life challenges after school.
Specifically, this system of education not only put emphasis on the role of education in enabling students to have personal gratification in life, but also enjoy social relations outside the education system that were both constructive and productive (Hardin 23). This, however, does not mean that the system was weak in imparting the skills needed in line with the main objective of attending school.
Contrary to popular belief, values education as a trend in American education was largely holistic, assisting the students to nurture their own values for real learning to take place. According to Tauber, values education acted as the liberating philosophy of the 1970s and early 1980s (85).
The trend, however, was largely phased out in 1980s as academic performance took the center stage at the expense of values development. Students were, once again, being encouraged to take academic performance and competition more seriously than the development of individual values.
Education analysts are of the opinion that the abandonment of values education triggered an upsurge of immoral activities in the U.S. such as drug abuse, teen pregnancy, increase in school dropouts, and disintegration of the social fabric, including family breakups (Poulou 106).
Other notable incidences witnessed in the 1990s, and which were directly related to a breakdown in values education in American schools, included high instances of teen suicide, unparalleled number of political and social scandals, and high-level cases of school indiscipline.
It is imperative to mention that these and other isolated incidences led parents and educators to reconsider their earlier stand on values education, with a significant proportion of education stakeholders requesting schools across the U.S. to revert back to educating students about values and moral reasoning.
Foundations of Values Education
Many new and past trends in American education have always found delight in specific educational or psychological theories seeking to explain their existence. Values education is no exception. Many of the concepts guiding values education are founded on William Glasser’s Reality Model. The psychologist is best remembered for popularizing the three Rs approach – Right, Responsible, and Respect – in counseling students and maintaining classroom discipline (Johnstone et al 102).
For Glasser, values and morals can be taught to students of any age if the sole purpose is to reinforce their character to be able to live a more fulfilling life upon disengaging with school activities. Glasser, however, identifies the teaching of responsibility as one of the foremost tasks that a teacher should engage in as this variable determines the kind of classroom environment that will be set for effective learning to take place.
According to the Reality Model, the student is endowed with the responsibility to choose and make rational decisions. Consequently, the model argues that behavior entails an individual’s choice to meet their own needs (Tauber 83).
The Reality Model further postulates that educators must always focus on the present student behavior, and should not, in any way, focus on past behavior. For Glasser, behavior is fundamental for values development, and therefore, educators must also demonstrate caring, loving, supportive, and empathic attitudes when interacting with students to boost behavior development (Tauber 84).
According to the model, it is indeed the function of educators to assist students make proper value judgments by frequently questioning whether the students’ behaviors are working for them, and what they really want to attain in life.
Values education is also based on value-clarification approach, a model developed by a team of American educators and policy makers in the 1970s. This approach presupposes that, “…everyday, every one of us meets life situations which call for thought, opinion-making, decision-making, and action. Some of our experiences are familiar, some novel; some are casual, some of extreme importance.
Everything we do, every decision we make and course of action we take, is based on our consciously held beliefs, attitudes and values” (Simon & Howe para. 18). The approach, therefore, concedes that young individuals, no less than adults, must contend with daily challenges and struggles in and out of school. Students are particularly faced with challenges in their attempt to develop a standard worldview that will influence their thoughts, beliefs, and behavior patterns.
The value-clarification approach also insinuates that the process of classroom learning lacks in relevance and purpose when compared to the real issues affecting the students’ daily lives such as their day-to-day encounters with family, friends, peers, educators, authority figures, and with the academic assignments that continue to presumptuously batter their egos (Simon & Howe para 19).
The approach assumes that students are in a continuous search for answers to some individual and theoretical questions, with the sole objective of developing capacity to make important decisions in life.
According to the approach, individuals who employ the learned valuing procedures in making important challenges and mitigating challenges will, more often than not, lead more gratifying and socially productive lives, not mentioning the fact that they are bound to perform better in school (Lickona 9).
It is imperative to note that this approach advocates for the inclusion and integration of values education in schools since many students are unable to make important choices in their lives for lack of clear values. This initiates conflicts of interests.
Values Education: Is it Still in Use?
Values education as a trend was largely used in American education in the decade of the 1970’s. This paper has discussed at length about its origins and the reasons behind its application in the 1970s.
In the 1980s, however, values education fell out of favor with educationists and other policy makers as more emphasis was placed on academic performance rather than value development and moral reasoning (Tauber 87). But to the surprise of many, values education only faded away from the limelight.
Indeed, the trend has never been condemned into oblivion as it continues to be used in many American schools, the change of name notwithstanding. Its methods and techniques have been integrated into diverse fields and curricula, and it still makes the same appeal to students and teachers alike – individual development of values to enable students have control over the choices they make in life.
The major focus in the 21st century is still the student and his or her life-coping mechanisms within and outside the classroom (Poulou 104). Though names have been changed to reflect changing times, the basic principles of an education trend such as affective education clearly reveals the remnants of values education.
As it was the case with progressive education, a trend of education that took shape in the U.S. in the late 19th century, values education undertook to deal with the perceived constriction and formalism of competitive academic-based form of education (Tauber 91).
Some traditional forms of education were only concerned with the academic grades that students were able to muster regardless of their capacities to deal with life-time challenges. Some modern education systems are not helpful either as they prefer to lay emphasis on academic achievement through performance rather than undertaking a holistic approach towards students’ education.
To date, this is a major worry to thousands of educators, parents, and other stakeholders who feel that their children are not receiving an all-encompassing education, and some have already began advocating for the return of values education in American education system. Many pundits, however, are of the opinion that this trend of education made a come back during the turn of the century but continues to go by other names such as affective education, pro-active approaches, among others (Lickona 10).
Feelings towards Values Education
I have strong feelings about values education, specifically due to its ability to transform young people into more useful and productive members of the society. In equal measure, I nurture feelings that competitive education via academic achievement cannot, in itself, guarantee a better life to an individual upon termination of education.
Rather, it is a useful component towards completing the whole process of education, but it cannot function alone to guarantee a wholesome individual. Education psychologists are, indeed, gravitating towards developing theories and models that underlines the uptake of values and personality development of students as some of the major facets of education.
It should not escape mention that human behavior and actions are inarguably goal-directed. To develop well-behaved students, therefore, educators and other concerned stakeholders must assist students to inculcate values that will shape and inform their goals and objectives in life.
This way, there may be no need to worry about issues of school discipline. To use Rudolf Dreikurs’ Social Discipline Model, it is evidently clear that human actions and behavior can be full comprehended only in their social significance (Hardin 125).
Without values education, students tend to descend towards what Dreikurs calls mistaken goals, implying that cases of student misbehavior will always be on the increase. As such, I am a firm believer that values education can help to make a great difference in the American education system.
All said and done, it is time that the American education system took that bold step and incorporate values education in the curricula of all disciplines taught in school. It is indeed true that this trend received a lot of criticism during its heydays for lack of focus on students’ results since it was assumed that values education failed to engage the students to meet high academic standards (Hood para. 1).
Critics also argue that values education, not only fail to hold students accountable for their own personal performances, but also fails to hold the complete government-controlled public education system responsible for its performance.
But this is as far as it goes. Various studies and theoretical frameworks have demonstrated that educational performance may mean nothing if proper values are not inculcated into an individual. As such, the way forward is to develop an all-inclusive education system that will impart education in its entirety through focusing on issues of student academic knowledge and achievement, behavior development, emotional development, and finally, values clarification.
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