GENERATION X AND TRENDS TOWARD VALUE CLARIFICATION:

THE POSTMODERN CULTURE—A CULTURE WHICH PROPOSES ETHICS WITHOUT VIRTUE

 

                        Most students do not spend their time reading the classics, learning mathematics or studying the physical sciences.  They are perhaps attending photography workshops, keeping journals, learning about carpentry, or attending moral education classes.  But these classes are not designed to acquaint students with classical Judaeo-Christian moral tradition.  Postmodern educationalists have found Christian ethics wanting and have devised an alternative.  They are convinced that classical middle-class morality is at best, useless, and at worst, pernicious.  In 1970 Theodore Sizer, then the Dean of the Harvard School of Education, co-edited a book with his wife, Nancy, entitled, Moral Education.  The preface of the work set the tone by condemning the morality of the “Christian gentleman”, the American prairie”, and The McGuffey Reader.  According to the Sizers, all of the authors in the anthology agree that “the old morality can and should be scrapped.”  The new courses in moral education are called “value clarification”, or “cognitive moral development”; teachers are “value processors”, “value facilitators”, or “reflective-active listeners”; lessons in moral reasoning are “sensitivity modules”; volunteer work in the community is as “an action module”; and teachers “dialogue” with students and to help them discover their own system of values.  Can there be ethics without virtue?  (See William Bennett’s work, Virtue and Values).

 

                        In these dialogues, the teacher avoids discussing “old bags of virtues”,  such as wisdom, courage, compassion and “proper behavior”, because any attempt to instill these would be to indoctrinate the student.  Many leaders of the new moral reform movement advise teachers that effective moral education cannot take place in the “authoritarian” atmosphere of the average American high school (cf. also homes and churches).  The teacher ought to democratize the classroom, turning it into a “just community” where the student and teacher have an equal say.  Furthermore, the student who takes a normative ethics course in college will likely encounter a teacher who also has a principled aversion to the inculcation of moral precepts and who will confine classroom discussion to such issues of social concern as recombinant DNA research, or the moral responsibilities of corporations, the Bosnian conflict, euthanasia, etc..  The result is a system of moral education that is silent about virtue.  The teaching of virtue is not viewed as a politically correct aim of a moral education, but there is no dearth of alternative approaches.  Since the 1960’s morals education revolution, there has been an enormous number of books, articles, films, doctoral dissertations, journals, advanced degree programs, and entire institutions dedicated exclusively to moral pedagogy.

 

                        At present two opposing ideologies dominate moral education:  the Value Clarification Movement and the Cognitive Moral Development Movement, whose chief spokesperson is Lawrence Kohlberg, a professor of psychology and education and director of the Center for Moral Education at Harvard University.  The essence of Value Clarification is based on the premise that none of us has the “right” set of values to pass on to other peoples’ children.  Its methods are meant to help students to get at “their own f feeling, their own ideas, their own beliefs, so that choices and decisions they make are conscious and deliberate, based on their own value system.”  The success of the Values Clarification Movement has been phenomenal.  In 1975 a study from the Hoover Institute referred to “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of school programs that employ the Clarification Methodology” and reported that ten states have officially adopted Values Clarification as a model for their moral education program.  (Note, The Journal of Moral Education for constant attention to this phenomena.  Note also the works of the gurus Sidney Simons, Lawrence Kohlberg, S. Piaget, Ralph Mosher, the project at Brookline, MA, Carnegie-Mellon Foundation, Hasting Institute for the Study of Ethical Issues.)

 

                        The new interest in applied ethics is in itself a phenomenon to be welcomed.  Anyone interested in responsible understanding of topical issues is to be affirmed.  One of the positive results of this movement has been to shake a student’s confidence in moral relativism; yet the entire movement has little or nothing to say about matters of individual morals.  The shift has been from individual morals to an almost exclusive preoccupation with the morality of institutional policies.  The purpose of the new development is to address questions of social policy.  A strong ethical curriculum is a good thing, but a curriculum of ethics without virtue is a cause for concern.  Normative ethics is not a preoccupation of the morals revolution.  Classical moral discussions (e.g., Aristotle, Aquinas, Mill, Kant, etc.) are not concerned with social issues, but only with the virtuous individual.  However, the cultural revolution of the 1960s to 2004 demands social concern, not individual morality.  The ultimate issues center on at least these issues:  (1)  Can there be value without virtue?  (2)  Are relativistic ethical foundations a basis for creating the “good society”?  (3) Can there be a ‘good society’ and Global Village without moral foundations within its individual morality?  (4)  Is neutrality possible?  If not, what and whose value?

 

                        This moral maze presents one of the most crucial challenges and opportunities to address the Moral Maze of Generation X in our postmodern Christian culture.  Trends and Triage and The New Morals Revolution are certainly an issue to be addressed by Christians in 2004.

 

                                                                                                                                                Dr. James Strauss

                                                                                                                                                Professor Emeritus

                                                                                                                                                Lincoln Christian Seminary

                                                                                                                                                Lincoln, IL 62656