Let us now examine the recent developments in moral education. How good have we been in recent years at transmitting morals and ethics to our young people? We will analyze here certain trends in the education system of the United States as they tend to influence many parts of the world.

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The collapse of traditional values

In the 1960s, the West witnessed the collapse of the values ​​traditionally promoted by education. It was the time of the sexual revolution and drug culture when young people began to contest any form of authority. The concept that values ​​are absolute and immutable was rejected and replaced by a moral relativism in which there was no longer any clear distinction between what is right and what is wrong. Everything was left open for discussion. Soon selfish individualism became fashionable. The rights of the individual became more important than personal responsibility to society. Values ​​such as sacrifice and self-denial were considered a stupid approach to life. These views were encouraged by popular culture.

These cultural changes had a strong impact on education. Many educators began to adopt a “neutral view of values”, arguing that they had no right to “impose” their value systems on students. Each person’s point of view had to be respected, no matter what it was. At the same time there was a general decline in the influence of religion and its moral teachings. Distrust of authority extended to the school by reducing the role of teachers from examples and moral guides to that of people who facilitate the learning process.

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These cultural factors influenced the adoption of numerous educational methodologies such as the “clarification of values”. This new approach to values ​​in schools made its debut in 1966 with the publication Values ​​and Teaching(Values ​​and Teaching) by Professor Louis Raths of New York University. According to his thinking, students should no longer be guided towards a specific moral choice, but encouraged to “clarify” their position on any particular issue. Regardless of its merits, one position was as good as another. The idea that adults should indirectly educate children about right and wrong, or even try to influence students’ “value positions” was explicitly rejected. In this way ethical and moral choices became preferences – neither right nor wrong, simply different.

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The following hypothetical example illustrates how value clarification worked in practice. The teacher asks a student: “Luisa, what is your opinion on sex before marriage?” Luisa replies: “I believe that marriage is sacred and that men and women must refrain from having sexual relations until they get married. They must be loyal to each other, maintaining a commitment that lasts a lifetime ”. “Very well, Luisa”, says the teacher. “Now you, Giovanni, what is your opinion?” John says: “I think people should be free to experiment. Being tied to one person is too limiting “. The teacher replies: “Very well, John, you have clarified your values”.

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By teaching respect for all values, American schools have in fact taught none, producing graduates who have great difficulty distinguishing between right and wrong.

The Philosophical Roots of the Clarification of Values

The clarification of values ​​had its roots in American humanistic psychology. Carl Rogers introduced a new approach to psychological counseling which he called “client-centered” therapy. In this approach the therapist does not give advice but reflects the patient’s thoughts and feelings as objectively as possible. The aim is for patients to recognize solutions to problems within themselves by bringing out their deeper values, desires and purposes. This awareness can serve to motivate adults to clarify or change their attitudes and behaviors. Applying this approach to children, as Rogers recommended, assumes that children have the innate ability to develop as moral agents on their own, without learning the moral code of society. 1

The Rogerian approach to learning has its roots in Romanticism, the philosophy founded by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. According to Romanticism, children are inherently good and it is society that corrupts them. If children were allowed to grow in a natural state, their natural virtues would blossom.

The result of this approach is to relativize traditional moral teachings, which tend to be presented as antiquated and unrealistic for modern times or as authoritarian intrusions into personal choice. This approach also tends to undermine parental authority and the important role they must play in a child’s upbringing. Students are encouraged to question the views of all figures in authority, including their parents.

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We can understand why a methodology like that of the clarification of values ​​was so tempting when it was first adopted in the 1960s, in a climate where all authority was challenged. It was a much more interactive approach than the old teaching method and encouraged student participation. He encouraged students to think critically and challenge prevailing traditions or opinions. He seemed to tolerate and encourage a wide variety of opinions and points of view, leading to lively discussions on many topical issues.

Indeed, this type of methodology seems more appropriate for the modern era than the old style of direct education. In today’s democratic societies, young people expect – and so are expected of them – to add their voice to the discussion around them. This approach recognizes that they should be the agents in their own learning and not simply information fed. To be effective and profitable, this approach must be placed in a moral context, otherwise it can cause disaster when there is no clear moral standard and any view, however antisocial, is considered equally valid.

Learning through dialogue

Non-directive methods of education are as old as Socrates and Confucius. Socratic dialogue is a method of asking questions designed to bring out students’ values. Confucius continually asked his disciples questions and encouraged them to express their ideas. He observed: “Only those who are bursting with a burning desire do I instruct; only those who overflow with enthusiasm I enlighten. If I hold a corner and one man can’t come back to me with the other three, I won’t continue the lesson ”.

A crucial part of Confucius’ non-directive method was evaluation; he discussed his students’ responses and compared them to a moral standard.

Socrates did not apply his teaching method to students under the age of thirty. Such methods continue to be useful for positive moral education when conclusions are examined and evaluated in relation to moral values.


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