Public Schools And Values
Sam A. Gonzales

The Problem

Time and time again we are greeted on the evening news with another incident of a child bringing a weapon to school with the intent of using it on a fellow classmate or a teacher. Each time this occurs we ask ourselves, “What are we doing wrong? How does this happen?” More to the point, the question that needs to be answered is, “Is there anything we can do to stop these incidents from occurring?”

Currently, the United States has enacted laws that outlaw religion in public schools. Our reasoning for such laws stems from the fact that our country was, at least in part, founded as a result of religious persecution in Europe. Our forefathers fled Europe so they could enjoy, not only religious freedom, but also a government that was not tied to religion. Separation of state and religion is one of the cornerstones of our constitution. Hence, today, we have all this arguing over whether we should or should not have prayer in the public school system.

Parochial schools, of course, do not have to deal with these issues, as they are private and inherently religious. Religion is taught daily in grades K through 12. This religious training is one of the major reasons (there are others of course) that parents send their children to these schools. Parents want their kids to have a religious education throughout their formative years. They want religious people to teach their children, on a daily basis, Godliness and goodness. The hopes are that, in addition to learning doctrine, their children will grow up to be good and decent young adults.

The United States does not have a monopoly on teaching religion in its schools. Religion is taught in the schools of other countries also. The religion taught might be Buddhism, Islam, Christianity or some other religion, but religion is taught nonetheless. Also, it can be said that parents in these countries, for the most part, want their children to have this religious education. The reasons and hopes of these parents are identical to those of parents here in the USA. That is, they want their kids to grow up to be good and decent human beings.

The point is that a big reason parents put their children in parochial schools is because they believe that religious education teaches good morals and behavior. No matter which religious education you pick (weird cults excluded), good morals and principles of good behavior are a key part of that education. Children that have learned such goodness lessons have some basis to judge the events of the world against. These rules of conduct allow them to determine whether someone is treating them with kindness or meanness. These lessons teach kids what they should do, how they should act, and how they should treat each other. Children learn how to deal with their emotions.

Kids that perform acts of violence, like those we see in our schools and on television, do not practice a fundamental set of goodness principles. How are our children able to grow through their formative years without learning and practicing good behavior?

Today’s families range from the old standard consisting of children and their two biological parents to the equally common blended families with step and half siblings and parents, along with uncles, aunts and grandparents. Regardless of which of these family categories a child is from, too many kids come from families that are not teaching good morals and proper behavior. In severely dysfunctional cases, children are actually being taught bad morals and bad behavior. Some children come from a home environment where the parents are physically and mentally abusive while, in other cases, kids are being reared in environments where the parents are just plain apathetic toward them. The result can be children that act badly in general and, in severe cases, end up on national television for some act of violence in the school. Apart from the cases that garner national attention, children from bad home environments display other behavioral traits such as disrupting class, demanding excessive attention while at school, having low esteem, being unable to pay attention in class to mention a few. (Conveniently, society has invented a whole list of deficiencies and labels for kids who do not perform well in school. Some of these deficiencies are even treated with drugs.)

Morally speaking, the bottom line is that too many of our kids are not getting what they need from the home. In the worse cases, some of our kids are being taught negative behavior at home; they are being taught revenge and meanness. If this is all they ever see, if they are not presented with alternatives that teach goodness, they will grow up to be vengeful and mean. In turn, they end up being on the evening news.

A Solution, Part I: Philosophy

Many of these troubled kids, if given an alternative that teaches goodness, would choose to follow the alternative and not be so mean, so hateful. If their home life is full of abuse and negative influence, then any alternative environment must be constant – always there for them. If we can give our kids a regular dose of morals and goodness we can go along way to getting their photos off the evening news, not to mention moving humanity to a higher level.

One place that is always there for our children is the school system. In parochial schools, the goodness is taught daily as part of religious education. Why can’t the public schools accomplish the same thing? The basic premise of not mixing religion and state is still valid but this does not mean that we cannot teach morals and goodness in the public school system.

Why not teach philosophy, as a requirement, in our public schools? Philosophy: love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline. There is no mention of religion in this definition. Religion sans the doctrine, if you will. Let’s take the greatest religions and the greatest philosophers of the world and extract the goodness of their teachings and teach our kids philosophy in our public schools. Call it “The Great Philosophies of the World Curricula”. As is done in parochial schools, these classes would be taught from grade K through 12 on a daily basis. Course content would be written to the grade level.

The intent is not to teach the religious doctrines of the various denominations, but to extract the “goodness” from all of these great philosophies and develop a course of study that explores all the great virtues therein. (Of course, if the law would allow, especially in high school, it would be very beneficial to have a course on the great religions of the world as long as they all had equal time.) For example, typical teachings might be “love your neighbor as you love yourself” or “treat others as you would like to be treated yourself”. An example of what would NOT be taught might be “the Catholic Church believes that the Pope is infallible in regards to church matters”. Aesop’s fables would be excellent to teach to young children while some of the ideas of Henry David Thoreau might be appropriate for a senior in high school.

If one concedes that morals are learned, as opposed to being innate, then someone must teach these morals to our children. In most cases our kids are not going to learn morals by themselves. Traditionally, this task lies with the child’s family and begins as soon as the child becomes cognizant. The family is the foundation against which a child measures everything. But do not discount other influences that may rival the family. These other influences are the other kids and adults that our children meet as they grow up. Since our children spend most of their formative years in school, this is where they become acquainted with many of these other children and adults in the form of classmates and teachers, respectively. The influence of this set of individuals can be very significant.

In the extreme case, the case of a child who is being mentally and/or physically abused at home, the child brings this baggage with him to school. In fact, school may be the only refuge available to the child. For children with these types of scars, everyday can be a battle just to see if they make it to the next day with a minimum amount of abuse. While at school, this trauma is manifested in all sorts of behavior. To these kids, anything is better than being at home. Certainly, at home, they are learning the ugly side of humanity. Many, many of these kids come to school looking for an alternative way of living and thinking. They know other kids do not live the way they do. They hope some adults will treat them with decency. They want someone to help them, pay attention to them, and show them the humane side of life. Even if they do not yearn for this other kind of life, teachers have an opportunity to open these children’s eyes to another way of thinking and living. Many teachers care deeply for these at risk kids and want to, in some way, helps them overcome their problems. Boys and girls from these types of homes are being taught to act inhumanely. Some of these kids grow up acting this way and believe that anyone that behaves otherwise is a fool. If these kids are to learn honor and character and other positive traits, there is no better place for these ideals to be taught than at school. Logistically, it is the most logical and efficient way to do this. There is a great opportunity for the public school system to begin the process of righting the wrongs of what society is producing and reducing the number of lost and extremely deviant children that are being produced in the world today. Optimistically, if such a curricula were started in the public schools, who knows what greatness would lie ahead for the country that pursues this sort of excellence. The alternative is the eventual decay of the societies that do not take care of these social problems. Hasn’t history shown this to be true? If the United States hopes to continue to be the shinning light for the world, then we had better come up with some solution to the absence of morals so many of our families and kids are growing up with. Shouldn’t we lead the way? These lessons in ethics need to be taught from a very early age. If our children are not getting this education at home and we don’t teach it at school, where will our kids get this education?

Good morals and behavior have nothing to do with what how educated or intelligent a person might be. There are too many intelligent people out there committing acts of violence. The most important thing that we should be teaching is, in fact, the philosophy of kindness toward our neighbor. Academic and physical education fall to a distant second and third. Teaching principles of goodness in the public school is only a single suggestion aimed at solving the problem. Of course there are others perhaps better ideas. It is clear that, if we are to turn the course of our future, we must address the problem in some way. We must fill in the gaps. That is, what the kids do not get from the home must be supplied somewhere else. The fact that our society does not want to take responsibility for these issues or that they only deal with the problem after the fact, when we imprison someone, is the problem. As long as we claim that these are not issues of the state, the state will continue to decay until another state takes its place.

Some will say teaching philosophy to kindergartners is absurd. Aesop’s fables are philosophical. Would teaching these wonderful tales to our young children be absurd? How could this be bad? How does this not fall under the realm of education? Does it matter that some of the greatest teachings come from religion? Does it really matter that other great lessons have nothing to do with religion? Let’s focus on the teaching and the underlying message. Let’s teach principles of goodness, wherever they come from. Let’s not get bogged down with who owns the good message.

Can this kind of philosophy really be taught in public schools? Absolutely. Will it be a good thing? Absolutely. Will society be better for it? Absolutely. So, what will it take to make this happen? Enlightened leaders. Very, very enlightened people could eventually make this happen. Does the United States have this kind of leadership? Let’s hope so. Somewhere, sometime. Hopefully sooner than later. Does anybody care? We better! And if we don’t agree with teaching principles of goodness, this kind of philosophy, in our public schools, we’d better come up with some other idea to curb the violence in our kids and in our society. The violent kids of today become the inmates of tomorrow. Certainly we are paying for these societal problems even as we speak with our prison systems and other remedial activities. Why not spend the money in a proactive fashion teaching philosophy in the public schools rather than spending bee-zillions of dollars indicting, bringing to trial and incarcerating criminals. There is no guarantee that instituting a K-12 grade philosophy program in the public schools will alleviate violence and crime. But, what we are doing now is not nearly enough. We can do better than this.

Certainly this type of curricula would help produce well-rounded better educated children. Perhaps this education would help all of us understand our neighbors around the world better. Hopefully these teachings would give our troubled children, who are searching for guidance outside the home, an alternative to violence and bad behavior. Perhaps, in the long run, all this would help curb violence in society. Our children might find themselves somewhere in these great teachings and not have to turn to gangs as an alternative. If nothing else, SAT scores should go up!

We must do something to reach these at risk kids and turn their life path in another direction, albeit ever so slightly. Doing so, would truly be the beginning of an enlightened society. If we do nothing, things will escalate negatively. Incidents of violence in schools will be routine and perhaps one day, even accepted just like we accept crime in the streets. “Oh, we always have a couple of kids shot every year in our school district. But, it happens everywhere.” Ho-hum.

If it is true that the religious education taught in parochial schools helps curb violence and disruptive behavior in our children, and if the character and morals that these schools teach helps produce more humane humans, then we must teach our children morals and character on a daily basis. The proposal is to teach these lessons in our public school systems. Parochial schools only touch the minority of the people in the United States. To have the greatest impact on society, to improve society to the greatest extent, we must do something in the public schools.

The violence in schools, and in society for that matter, stems from a small quantity, percentage-wise, of humanity. Most people do not commit viscous acts of physical or mental violence. But the number of people, specifically kids, that do, is too large to be ignored or given casual concern. If we can curb, decrease, minimize the quantity of children, and in turn adults, in this group we become successful.

Our future is in good hands with the set of kids we are rearing today. Most of these kids, although they may look and dress a little differently, will be fine citizens of the United States as adults. But, why not move the bell curve up a notch or two. Let’s advance that lower portion of the bell curve up a few percentage points. Let’s work toward decreasing the number of at risk kids and multiplying the number of productive young United States citizens.

A Solution, Part II: Educational Organization Psychologists

Now that we have the public school philosophy program in place in our public schools, we must install the second part of the program: creating the position of Educational Organization Psychologist (EOP). Each campus from K through 12th grade will have at least one. The school psychologist might be considered the campus “momma” or “daddy”. In fact, these professionals could be hired in male and female pairs for each campus. So, for example, there would be a high school “daddy” or a “middle school “momma”. This would actually become a new college degree and professional career. These people would be professional “mothers” or “fathers” in education, employed by our public school systems. They are not your normal ministers, principles, or teachers. Every level of the public school system would have professional E. O. Psychologists on staff. Basically, they perform the roll of parents only they do it at school and as a paid position. The purpose of the psychologist is to augment the real parents of the kids and, in fact, fill in the gaps.

This person is not a teacher, but rather, is a staff member. A fundamental role of this professional is to listen to any and all problems and questions that students might have to deal with in their lives. These problems might be related to school or not. Already, in today’s schools, many teachers fill this role to a degree anyway. Unfortunately sometimes this can only be accomplished in the teacher’s spare time or on their personal time off. But the school psychologist is there full time, everyday, to help those kids that are bothered by something in their life.

Understand that the psychologist must have an open door policy. That is, kids can come and discuss matters as needed. Kids can be recommended by staff or others to the psychologist or the children may ask to see the “momma or daddy” on their own. The professional momma or daddy is there for all the kids all the time and, like real parents, there will be times when the “momma or daddy” will approach a child that may not want to talk to them. There should not be any “identification of children in need” program. This is not the type of program where only “officially identified or labeled children” can see the psychologist.

Let it also be clear that this position is not that of the typical psychologist. It is not a listen and take notes, come see me in a week, you’re done now, kind of job. (Please, no offense to psychologists intended.) The work of this staff person should be interactive and proactive as required by the individual child. The psychologist must constantly ask himself or herself, “What would a real mother or father do in this case?”

Finally, this individual helps in recommending further care for kids as needed. The recommendations from the EOP will take into account all that he or she has learned about the child in question. This may be outside therapy or activities. But it may also be recommending that the child does not belong in mainstream schools as well. It may be recommending that a child be sent to military school or any progression in between. (This is the part of the story where we build public, tax funded, boot camps for wayward children and send them there from our mainstream programs. But that discussion will be saved for a later time.)

Conclusion

There are no guarantees that the proposals in this paper will work. There are no promises as to what this program will cost the tax payers.

What should be apparent is that we need to do something different and we cannot sit by and hope that the problem will go away. It will not. There are children out there that need help. In their own way, they are asking for help while they are at school. We just need to be paying attention and have a system and method in place to help these kids. These children are going to come to school everyday (figuratively speaking). We try and teach them reading, writing and arithmetic. We try to train their bodies with physical education. We also need to help them become better people. A child may be the smartest, strongest kid at a school, but if the child is not a decent person, we have taught that child nothing. The public school system is the best, if not only place, where we can have a positive influence on the majority of children in the country on a daily basis. Let’s add programs in our public schools that teach the kids how to be decent human beings.

Financially speaking, this program will cost the taxpayers money. But perhaps we will save more money by not having to build as many prisons and house long term criminals with state and federal funds.

In addition, this program creates jobs. The Educational Organization Psychologist will become a new degree plan at universities. There will also be new degree plans for those that want to develop the new school philosophy departments. The public school system will add new staff for the new philosophy curricula and the new positions of campus “momma and daddy”. Publishers will have to publish new books for the new curricula and writers and editors will have to develop the texts.

To some this will seem like a far-fetched idea. On the other hand, some of these ideas are not new at all. Hopefully, this dissertation will lend support to those that have labored hard for education reforms along these lines. If not this plan, then let’s try another. But let’s do something. Let’s do something that is positive, something that is different.

Society and humanity will not change unless we change it. Will the enlightened leaders, please stand up? Let’s start at the beginning, with the small children, and raise the bar. It is past time to take the next step toward becoming more enlightened human beings.

About the author...
Sam Gonzales holds a BS and MS in engineering, a field in which he has worked for 25 years, in both industry and in consulting. He is currently studying Spanish Literature at the University of Houston. In his free time, he enjoys mentoring mathematics students and volunteering to teach English as a second language to adult immigrants.

He has spent a long time thinking about issues concerning the education and behavior of youth. He welcomes e-mails responding to his essay, which he hopes will provoke fresh thought on the subject.

 

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