A Case for Teaching Objective
by John Heenan
For some time there have been calls for schools
to teach values. Indeed, the purpose of the March 1998, UNESCO "Values
in Education Summit" was to encourage schools to review their charters
in terms of values education. While the calls have been timely,
few have attempted to define "values" or to explain why schools
should teach them.
For these reasons, even though some of the
calls come from prominent and influential New Zealanders, they are
likely to be overlooked or seen as little more than another demand
Such a reaction would be unfortunate, because
"values" can be defined and a compelling case made for having values
education a central goal of schooling.
Our problem is largely one of language. The
word values, in terms of moral beliefs and attitudes, has two distinctive
meanings; personal preferences and objective principles.
Preferences and principles are opposites. Preferences
are subjective while principles are objective. Values, that are
preferences, are something "to have," but values that are principles,
are something "to be."
The confusion over the use of the word values,
in the context of moral beliefs and attitudes, is not surprising,
given the comparatively short period it has been used in that sense.
Just over one hundred years ago the German philosopher,
Friedrich Vilhem Nietzsche began to speak of values in a new
way. He used values not as a verb, meaning to value or esteem
something; nor as a singular noun, meaning the measure of something
(the economic value of money, labour or property); but in the
plural, meaning the moral beliefs and attitudes of society.
Neitzsche used the word consciously and
repeatedly to signify what he believed to be the most profound
event in human history. His invention of "values" was to be
the final revolution against virtues. "Values" would be the
death of morality and truth. There would be no good or evil,
no virtue or vice. There would only be "values." His purpose
was to degrade virtues into "values" and to create a new set
of "values" for his "new man."
The Father of "Values"
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche 1844-1900
Shortly after Nietzsche's death, the sociologist
Max Weber borrowed the word "values." and used it matter-of-factly,
as if it were part of the accepted vocabulary. Because it seemed so
familiar and unthreatening it was absorbed unconsciously and without
resistance into the vocabulary and ethos of modern society.
The new meaning of "values" brought with it the
assumptions that all moral ideas are:
Subjective and relative
Mere custom and convention
Peculiar to individuals and societies
Values became whatever the individual subjectively
considers, at the time and in the circumstances, to be right or important.
Over time this understanding had a powerful influence
on school curricula and gradually replaced the traditional objective
values (virtues) with the ideology of subjective values or moral relativism.
What Nietzsche and his followers failed to understand
was that objective values (principles or virtues) transcend time,
space, and culture. That, they are consistent, universal and transcultural,
and that they inform and direct our behaviour.
These objective values include, but are not limited
to, eight cornerstone values.
Honesty and truthfulness
These universal values build character, which
produces behaviour that is beneficial for the individual, others
and the community. They enhance the wellbeing of all; prevent harm
to both the individual and society; are the essence of healthy relationships
and are essential for the conduct and preservation of a democratic
Consideration and concern for others
Democracy, government by the people, is dependent
upon citizens who must, at least in a minimal sense, be responsible
and good. People who are committed to the moral foundations of democracy:
respect the right of others, respect the law, are concerned for
the common good, and have a regard for truth and justice.
Historically, schools had two major goals;
to help young people to be smart, in terms of literacy and numeracy,
and to help them become good.
Wise societies, since the time of Plato made
character education, demoted over recent decades to values education,
a deliberate aim of schooling. Indeed, New Zealand schools, until
the later decades of this century, placed a high priority on what
was called, character training.
There was a sound reason why earlier generations
rated character training so highly. They understood the connection
between objective values (virtues) and good character.
Objective values have three parts: moral knowing,
moral feeling and moral behaviour. To possess the objective value
of honesty, for example, I must first understand what honesty is
and what honesty requires of me in my relationship with others (moral
I must also care about honesty - be emotionally
committed to it, have the capacity for appropriate guilt when I
behave dishonestly, and be capable of moral indignation when I see
others victims of dishonesty (moral feeling).
Finally, I must practice honesty - acting honestly
in my personal relationships and commercial transactions and carrying
out my obligations as a citizen to help built an honest and just
society (moral behaviour).
Schools, in order to help students become good
people, must help them develop good character. This involves a process
of helping them to know what objective values are, to appreciate
their importance and want to process and practice them in their
Good character, like objective values, comprises
three parts: knowing the good, desiring the good and doing the good
- habits of the mind, habits of the heart, and habits of conduct
and behaviour. All three are essential for good character and moral
It is not enough to know the good without desiring
and attempting to do it.
When parents and schools think about the kind
of character that they want for their young people, three aspects
of character become clear.
The ability to judge what is right
Understanding the connection between the three
parts of an objective value; moral knowing, moral feeling and moral
behaviour, and the three components of good character; knowing the
good, desiring the good, and doing the good, is essential when developing
a comprehensive values education programme.
To care deeply about what is right
To do what they believe to be right - even in the face of pressure
from without or temptation from within.
Good character is the set of objective values
that a person possesses and practices.
There are compelling reasons why a progressive
school would want to implement effective comprehensive values education.
It would help to:
Become more civil and caring communities
Many can remember a teacher who influenced
their live in an enduring way. The research on resilient children
indicates that one significant adult - someone who bonds with a
child and builds confidence, character, and hope - can help a child
rise above adversities such as dysfunctional families, abuse, poverty,
Reduce negative student behaviour
Improve academic performance
Prepare young people to be responsible citizens and productive
members of society
When calling on schools to teach values it
is important to offer hope of what communities and schools could
be. And to remind schools that they can have an impact and strengthen
their effectiveness and skills in the process.
Himmelfrab, Gertude, The Demoralization of Society, Institute
of Economic Affairs, London, 1995
Thomas Lickona, Educating for Character: The School's Highest
Calling, Georgia Humanities Council, !997 Lecture
Thomas Lickona, Educating for Character - How Our Schools Can
Teach Respect and Responsibility, Bantam Books, 1992
Heenan, John, Cornerstone values - A Values Education Curriculum,
New Zealand Foundation for values Education, 1996
Published with permission of John Heenan,
The New Zealand Foundation for Values Education Inc.