Outsourcing moral values to the state
Dear curriculum, is this morally right? That’s the kind of question that could be posed by the suggestion that parents should pass responsibility for developing moral citizens to schools.
Yesterday, the University of Birmingham published the results of a poll, which suggested that 87 per cent of parents believe schools should play a wider role than simply delivering academic results. This wider role consists of encouraging moral values such as honesty and fairness. Of course, these are principles we would like the next generation to hold. But is this the duty of the state?
The survey may indicate a more general shift of responsibility – away from the home and to the government. Where enlightening youngsters on the ups and downs of sex used to be the role of a parent in that dreaded ‘talk’, it has been partially handed over to schools in sex-education classes for children, sometimes when they are still struggling to learn their times tables. The role of parents seems to be shrinking when it comes to such important moral matters.
Shouldn’t children first look up to their parents for moral guidance, ahead of strangers employed by the government or private institutions to teach them physics or art? This seems to be undermining both the role of parents in their children’s lives as well as children’s view of their parents’ importance.
Furthermore, people may hold different values dearly and it would be difficult to censor the particular values promoted by individual teachers. Where do we draw the line? Suppose a teacher from a religious background encouraged his or her students not to have sexual partners and this was not a view their parents held? If some views are to be censored, this comes uncomfortably close to the government dictating its own moral outlook.
Perhaps even more worrying is the implication that these values are not instilled implicitly in the conduct of teachers already. Are students not already reprimanded when they lie, cheat and steal? Doesn’t the setting of homework and the threat of detention already encourage self-discipline? There is the issue of how explicit this cultivation of characters must be. Simply telling youngsters they must be honest and fair may result in them feeling patronised. Instead, these values should be encouraged by parents or other adults through example. And woe betide us if it isn’t already.
Saira Khan is a student at the University of Oxford and a spiked intern.