Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Values based education and religion

Determination of the goals of public schooling with respect to values education is a clear issue that needs to be resolved in WA education.

Students are reaching senior school and approaching graduation without considering the questions of 'where am I going' and 'what is the 'purpose of life'. Outside culture promotes the 'me' generation where income, fame and status are the measures of success. As we all learn in later life, family, continuity of generational values and the selfless acts of greatness/goodness are far more important in generating a vibrant and healthy society than current media constructs.

Having a focus outside of the dollar opens students to vocations that may better suit their personalities and provide them with opportunities to find like minded people to work with.

Religious schools have a far stronger grasp on values education than does the public sector. Goals such as 'going to heaven' make sense to a child in a way that hides good actions behind self interest. As children progress through the religious systems, the fear of not going to heaven recedes and for many selfless acts become a part of the nature of students and they are given a strong sense of what is right, wrong and humane through the 'witness' of staff and the community. They seek to understand what is right and develop principles that they believe in to live by.

Public schools lack this selflessness to some degree. Students are protective of each other, but more in a mob sense than in a selfless sense. Students have a sense of what right is, but no real reason to do so other than the rules dictate certain actions. The biggest consequence of not doing right at present in public schools is suspension (seen as holidays by many students). The exceptions are the students with parents guiding them with clear value systems. Unfortunately these parent/student pairings can be few and far between. Forming in our schools is a religious underground, where students know that if they talk about their spirituality they will be subject to teasing and ridicule from staff and students.

Another topic that springs to mind is that if a student has no real goal in life and limited self worth, it reduces their motivation to achieve excellence and seek capabilities in knowledge and skills for when opportunities arise. This lack of focus raises the difficulties of teaching and opens questions of the relevance of education by our youth.

Currently one measure to address the development of values in public schools, is to make students commit to community service hours to receive their graduation certificate. I have always been against compulsory community service for the negative connotation it permanently attaches to voluntary services, students see community service as a chore at best and record a bunch of lies at worst. It takes a special person to develop a community service programme for students, and all too often it is place on someone who is under load teaching and has little interest in the development of values in students. Rarely are the coordinators given the time to create the community connections and develop the support of parents to ensure that promises of service are available and completed. To my mind it is more a community development/youth work role and should not be handled by teachers.

Definitely a topic that requires more thought.

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