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Should schools teach morality? Perhaps it’s now come to that.
Two years ago, my wife and I were visiting in Louisiana when I picked up the New Orleans daily, The Times-Picayune, tore out the op-ed page and stuck it in my briefcase. I kept it because the headline on a particular column, one by André M. Perry, caught my attention. “Why schools must teach morality,” it read.
Well, it’s not up to the schools to teach my children morality, came my first thought. It’s up to my wife and me and our church. Who knows what kind of values a teacher would impart to my kids or grandkids?
But let’s consider the argument of Dr. Perry, associate dean of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of New Orleans and CEO of Capital One-UNO Charter Network.
“Schools will never completely replace community, family and religion in developing good citizens,” he wrote. “However, they can demand fundamental ethical understanding, the same way we demand that students learn to read and write well enough to vote, work and live.”
Perry said that “teachers and school leaders often lack the skills or willingness to teach moral and ethical principles without proselytizing. But students can’t wait for civics class to be taught civility. …”
I’m afraid he’s right. If parents are not teaching their children morals and ethics, then who is? Probably nobody. That means teachers spend much of their time trying to control misbehaving students who have no regard for anybody but themselves. That means some students find it funny to bully their vulnerable classmates, either physically or emotionally, sometimes so unmercifully that the bullied commit suicide. That means some students commit mayhem on society.
While all of this is going on, public school officials are paranoid that some student will mention God in a paper or speech, violating the separation of church and state. So, as school officials are wont to do, they overact. They start editing speeches of valedictorians; they try to prohibit religious clubs’ meetings on school grounds; they tell a second-grader she can’t sing “Awesome God” in an after-school talent show.
What they apparently fail to realize, however, is that under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, “a student can express his or her personal religious beliefs in an assignment or as a valedictorian,” says Nat Hentoff, an authority on the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court is not the enemy. We are our own enemy.
And while school officials are quibbling over what students can and cannot say and write within the law, decorum in and outside the classroom is going to hell in a handbasket.
It just might help, as Perry suggested, if school leaders “develop experts who can teach, test and hold students accountable for their ethics knowledge.” They don’t have to preach. They just have to teach.
My original premise has not changed: It’s still the parents’ job to teach their children what’s moral and what’s not. But if they’re not going to do it — and obviously some of them aren’t — then somebody must.
Phil Hudgins’ column is published in many newspapers around the Southeast.