Teaching the golden rule

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"You can walk anywhere in our school and see evidence that we are teaching values here," said Charles Hauss, assistant principal of Lakeland Middle School, in Baltimore.

"We teach values each day, starting with the homeroom period, and then we build on it throughout the day," he continued proudly.

"And it's not just in the curriculum. We try to reinforce those lessons in every contact we have with the children -- from the school administrators to the cafeteria worker. We even try to teach those values in every contact the children have between each other. It is a very holistic approach."

Mr. Hauss is not exaggerating.

The focal point, the symbol, of Lakeland's values program is the star, and everywhere you go throughout the school, you will find a veritable constellation.

Two steps past the front door at Lakeland is a star-covered bulletin board beneath the legend, "Everybody is a star!" Inside each star is the signature of a Lakeland student.

"The kids try to be cool about it," chuckled Mr. Hauss, "but you can see them peeking over there each day, just to make sure their star is still up there."

On the stairwell are more stars and the message: "Your teachers do care. Their goal, your success!"

And the students in Stephanie Avery's sixth grade class interrupt their lessons to define the meaning of the STAR acronym: "Stop," they recite with very little prompting, "Think. Act. Review."

"The great thing is, they are not just reciting from memory," said ++ Mr. Hauss. "You can see the children putting the STAR process into effect every day in the way they resolve their own conflicts."

It wasn't too long ago that a public school administrator such as Mr. Hauss would have hesitated to admit that any part of his school's curriculum was value-laden.

During the 1960s and 1970s, public schools attempted a values-free approach, now known (with a shudder) among educators as "values clarification." Under this approach, teachers would not make value judgments for their children, but raise ethical questions and then teach students the skills that would help them determine right and wrong for themselves.

But, to put it gently, the doctrine of "values clarification" has been all but dumped.

School systems in the Baltimore area, in Maryland and throughout the country, have decided they have both the right and the responsibility to teach values to young people -- such fundamental precepts as the difference between "good" and "bad," "right" and "wrong," "fair" and "unfair."

What has surprised many educators, however, is that school systems have been able to find a universal, common "core" of moral values with neither controversy nor acrimony.

Schools chose the values clarification approach of the 1970s, for instance, in part because of fears that the religious and economic values of the power elite would otherwise be imposed on minority groups.

In fact, a process that educators feared would divide a community has brought various groups closer together.

"I was involved in setting up a sex education curriculum, and as you know, we had a terrible time," said Mary Ellen Saterlie, a former associate superintendent of Baltimore County schools.

"But this [values education] has just been embraced by almost everybody."

In retrospect, the real surprise now is that educators feared that identifying and teaching a moral code in the schools would be so hard.

"I don't know of any time in the history of education when values were not being taught in the schools," said Richard Bavaria, a spokesman for Baltimore County schools. "But it is true that in the 1960s and 1970s, the vogue was to pretend otherwise. But we now know it is impossible to be an adult and not teach values.

"I was a classroom teacher for 20 years," Dr. Bavaria continued, "and I know it was impossible for me to discuss a novel such as 'To Kill a Mockingbird' without a discussion of the values inherent in the story. We have a responsibility to teach our children what it is that our community respects."

In one sense, then, the move toward values education can be considered a back-to-basics movement.

"The very strong trend nationwide is toward more explicit identification of the values to be taught and the more explicit teaching of those values," said Diane G. Berreth, deputy executive director of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, in Alexandria, Va.

"You'll find the same pattern in urban, suburban and rural school systems," she said.

Representing some 160,000 members worldwide, ASCD published an issue's paper on moral education last year.

Mrs. Berreth added that the movement has been spurred as much by concern over the behavior of adults as over the behavior of children.

"One of the things that happened is that the public became very dissatisfied with the behavior of both government officials and business leaders," said Mrs. Berreth.

"All of us, as citizens, were horrified by incidents such as those on Wall Street or the scandals in government, and what institutions do we have to turn to, to institute change, other than the schools?"

In 1983, the Maryland Governor's Commission on Values Education voiced similar sentiments in its final report:

"There is a growing concern among Americans that a nation that sees itself composed of good, honest, hard-working, respectable people has somehow lost its moral compass and that our leaders have failed us."

The commission cited national surveys that found that Americans rank honesty as the number one desirable trait in a leader. Yet, "on a scale of one to ten, Americans rated their leaders at five or below."

But public distress hasn't been focused exclusively on signs of moral decay at the top. Teen-age problems such as pregnancy, drug abuse, suicide and violence and crime also have fueled cries for more moral direction.

In searching for that moral direction, schools have found, perhaps to their surprise, that there is a core set of universal values around which everyone can rally.

Baltimore County is frequently cited as a trailblazer in this area, one of the first school systems to have found the key. The list of values developed by the county has been adopted by schools throughout the state and the county.

Dr. Saterlie, a former associate superintendent in Baltimore County, who chaired the county's values task force in the early 1980s, says one important factor in the county's success was that it deliberately included a wide and diverse range of opinion.

"We did a good deal of reading beforehand, of course -- Plato, Aristotle, Confucius. And then we brought in a whole range of people from the community: from the president of a department store chain, to the headmasters of private schools, to the director of the American Civil Liberties Union," recalled Dr. Saterlie.

"And everyone agreed that there ought to be values education. But very early in one of our sessions a fundamentalist minister raised what turned out to be the key question. He asked, 'If we are going to have values education, who or what will we use as the moral example?' We hadn't thought about that before.

"In the end," continued Dr. Saterlie, "we decided to use the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights as our moral examples. That kept us out of religious controversy and it provided the basis for a set of core values that were acceptable to the community at large."

Using those documents as a foundation, the county task force eventually identified 24 "core values," including, compassion, courtesy, honesty, human worth and dignity, loyalty, reasoned argument, self-respect, tolerance and truth.

Dr. Saterlie said the process of selecting the values that comprised the final core was not without some debate.

"We battled over patriotism for a while," she remembered. "But in the end, we decided patriotism is OK so long as we are talking about individual rights, those rights guaranteed by the Constitution. None of us defined patriotism as mindless allegiance to the country without some understanding of what that country stood for."

In fact, Maryland schools have been at the forefront of the values education movement.

City and Baltimore County schools instituted formal values education programs as far back as 1984. The State Board of Education adopted a set of values guidelines later that year, recommending that all school systems include the direct, as well as the inherent teaching of values in their curriculums.

In November, the Howard County school board also approved a set of 18 core values that would be specifically injected into the entire school curriculum starting this year.

"What we essentially proposed was that Howard County make explicit and conscious that which had been implicit and unconscious," said Allan Starkey, a member of the county's task force.

"What this will do will give classroom teachers greater comfort in dealing with these values when they occur where they might not have felt that comfort in the past," Mr. Starkey explained.

"There had been so much discussion over the past decade about the invasion of privacy that sometimes teachers did shrink away from addressing anything which could touch on a youngster's personal convictions or belief systems," Mr. Starkey continued. "This is the county's way of going on record on what we, as a community, believe in and support."

Each jurisdiction employs a slightly different approach. In some areas, such as the city, the central office drew up a uniform curriculum that is to be applied in every school. In others, such as Harford and Anne Arundel counties, the school board simply affirmed its support for the 18 core values approved by the state with the idea that teachers and school administrators can articulate these values whenever and however they see fit.

Baltimore County carefully allowed each school to focus on the values it considered most important.

"We felt that that degree of community control was very, very important," said Dr. Saterlie. "And it led to some interesting contrasts. In the affluent areas in the north, for instance, the community put a great emphasis on responsibility. In Dundalk and Sparrows Point, they focused on human worth and dignity and patriotism."

The state school board divided its 18 core values into two categories: "character objectives" and "citizenship objectives," but the values themselves are similar to Baltimore County's.

Character objectives include "self-esteem," defined as recognition of one's potential, and "courage" to express one's convictions. Citizenship objectives, according to the state guidelines, include "allegiance" to the concept of democratic government as opposed to totalitarian rule; and "patriotism," or the love of, respect for and loyalty to the country, and the willingness to correct its imperfections by legal means.

A city task force incorporated the 18 state objectives into its programs, but it also selected a pre-packaged "character education kit" developed by the Thomas Jefferson Research Center in California.

Built around the STAR concept, the city's program puts greater emphasis on specific skills than in the suburban counties. For instance, the STAR acronym -- Stop, Think, Act, Review -- teaches children a way to resolve conflicts peacefully.

The program also emphasizes the importance of attending school every day, of completing homework on time, setting personal goals and resisting peer pressure. Also, the city sets aside 20 minutes at the start of each school day specifically for character education. Most suburban counties specifically rejected that approach.

But, said Sharon Green, a curriculum specialist for the city, "If you match up what we do with what they do, you'll see we're pretty much doing the same thing. Different jurisdictions simply come at the same concepts from different directions."

For all of the current attention school systems are giving to values, however, teachers still find themselves confronted with difficult ethical dilemmas.

Mrs. Berreth, of ASCD, remembered hearing an example of such a dilemma from an elementary school teacher at a national conference.

A child volunteered during show and tell period that he had just gotten a new bicycle, so the teacher encouraged him to talk about it. The child revealed that he and his father had been driving around the night before when they spotted a nice bicycle in somebody else's yard. So they took it.

"This put the teacher on the spot," said Mrs. Berreth. "She felt she had a responsibility not to embarrass the child or teach him to disrespect his father. Respect for the family is very much a value in this society. Yet, obviously, respect for the property of others is too. The teacher was sharing this with scholars as an example of the types of moral dilemmas classroom teachers face every day."

Mrs. Berreth recalled that the scholastic answer to the dilemma was not a satisfactory one, but probably the best available.

"Generally, the panel felt the teacher was right not to violate the family code in that specific case no matter how far it may violate the public's sense of right and wrong," she said.

"What we are saying now, however, is that if a child is involved in theft or dishonesty at the school, teachers and the school and the community at large have a right and a responsibility to teach and reinforce the community's moral code."

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