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Should Schools Teach Values or is that the Parents� Responsibility?

By Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

 I never let my schooling interfere with my education.

--Mark Twain

Parents just took another unfair hit from people who don't understand education and the role schools play in education.

A few days ago in the Huffington post Tim Elmore reported that “According to Joan McVitte, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, “to instill values and responsibility” now has to be a top priority. The Harvard Graduate School of Education shared a recent poll indicating that 70 percent of public school parents want schools to teach "strict standards of right and wrong," and 85 percent want schools to teach values.” And used this as a launching pad for an article entitled “Teachers: Your Job Just Got More Important.”

Seriously? Teacher’s jobs have suddenly changed? Teachers have to work harder because parents have fallen down on their job? There was a time when teachers didn’t have to teach morality, values and “behavior?” That’s like saying that there was a time when car manufacturers didn’t have to worry about wheels but that now research shows people want their cars to come direct from the factory with wheels.

How have teachers done without values and morality all this time? Teachers that expect they won’t have to teach “behavior” don’t understand their job. You can’t teach another person anything without teaching the whole person. Teaching morality and values is done in the process of building a relationship with students, not as a separate “add on,” and certainly not as a special course or program in the school.

Moreover, the culture of the school, itself, is the main vehicle for teaching young people how to behave—at least as important as the home or the church. Church may preach morality and values, and the home wires kids’ brains to be predisposed to a set of behaviors and values, kids planningbut school culture is necessarily the primary delivery system, and any teacher who does not understand that is not an educator, but a mere pedant.

There was no time when an educator didn’t have to teach the whole child, and yes, values have always been very important. In fact educating social intelligence has always been the most important value-added of a teacher. Who-I-am has always been the main take-away of any teacher. I would never hire a teacher who didn’t understand that.

Any good teacher starts off the year by going over the behavioral expectations of a class, and the smart ones ask the students themselves to help generate a list of the disciplines required to create environment conducive to learning. Together they generate a list of behaviors that will help everyone maximize learning. Depending on the age of the students the list may look something like:

Listen when others are talking

Speak up, but don’t talk too much

Help others out

Wait your turn

Take turns

Look out for each other


This is how educators “teach” responsibility and respect. Educators know that students already have a sense of what respectful and responsible behavior looks like, and know that the class will be a year-long program in practicing and getting better and better at taking responsibility and being respectful of others.

What’s this baloney about how teachers have one more thing to do that they never had to do before? Whoever entertains that notion doesn’t understand education, and whoever talks that way is perpetuating an antiquated notion of schooling that never was an education in the first place.

Posted on August 25, 2013 by Rick Ackerly, Ed.M.

Rick Ackerly, M Ed is a nationally recognized educator and speaker with forty-five years of experience working in schools. He has served as head of four independent schools, speaks to parent and school groups across the country and presents at numerous education conferences. Rick is the author of The Genius in Every Child: Encouraging Character, Curiosity and Creativity in Children and lives in Decatur, Illinois. Visit his blog, The Genius in Children, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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