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Published On: Fri, Nov 14th, 2014

Teaching children values: The conservative-liberal debate

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Children from single- parent homes are more at risk of falling victim to drug use, delinquency, emotional problems, and unwanted pregnancies. Having said this, we do not deny that children from all families are capable of healthy psychological adjustment. The British psychiatrist D. W Winnicott once coined the phrase “good-enough mother;’ meaning that for a child to develop a healthy self, the mother must be a “good-enough mother” who relates to the child with “primary maternal preoccupation:’ This applies to fathers and mothers too in both single- and two-parent families. A caring parent in a Single-parent family can indeed do a better job of raising children than uncaring parents in a two-parent family. Furthermore, if a single parent has extended family members helping out and a very family-friendly workplace (should s/he work), may do a better job of parenting than an ignorant parent of a two-parent family. (We discussed single parents earlier in this chapter). The myth of the “pure secular family” as the best example to follow.

In the Hebrew, Roman, and Greek civilizations of the past, and even in America durin] the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, tlu idea of the sanctity of the home was the rule not the exception. Many rituals or scripture readings took place in the home. Home life was linked to something larger than itself, to a larger vision and purpose. This twin vision of the family as being sacred in itself, and a:set within a larger sacred framework, gav! added authority to parents, and adder strength to family bonds.

Families that have the loyalty of their children manage to convey a sense that they arengaged in important work: in continuing faith, a tradition, a craft, philosophy, or a vision of the way things ought to be. Unfortunately, many families today do not stand for anything. Neither “little churches” nor “little governments;’ they are more like “little hote land restaurants”: places where one stays ternporarily with no particular sense of commitment. In essence, the values and ethics have been trivialized and marginalized to the extent that “everything goes” and nothing matters!

What changed the family from a community suing his or her own fulfillment? Many modern American psychologists can be blamed.

Their emphasis has not been on family or marriage, but rather on separation and individualism. Alfred Adler, considered the father of the optimistic American strand of psychology, called his theory “individual psychology” (the humanistic study of drives, feelings, emotions, and memory in the context of the individual’s overall life plan). Dr. Sardar Tanveer (professor of education at the University of

Cincinnati) states that the concepts of “I” and “myself” are strongly advocated in classrooms, where teachers tell students: “you decide, not your parents;’ “you do what you like:’ For example, a girl told her grandmother, “You can’t give me orders, you are not even my mother:’ The grandmother responded, “But I am the mother of your mother:’ (Seminar at ADAMS Center, 1997)

In a spiritual environment, children do not “take orders” from parents, rather, all the family members draw from God as they understand God’s commands in the sacred books.

The presence of positive and clear religious rules showing right and wrong behavior makes religious parenting more authoritative than parenting by non-religious parents.

Religious patterns are more common in Eastern cultures, which have a strong sense of family and family ritual. Not much of tradition is left in American families, where the only daily ritual practiced regularly is the ritual of watching television. This is satirized by the opening credits of the television program called The Simpsons, which is, ironically, a television program. However, it would be a mistake to generalize and assert that Eastern cultures are better than Western cultures.

Family bonds in the United States have been weakened by the emergence of a “social contract” model of the family, where rational self-interest replaces absolute obligation. Our view is that these families do not work if their members regard them as a joint stock company, formed for their utility rather than being based on ties of duty and love. Raising children or making a marriage work over a lifetime requires personal sacrifices that may look irrational, if regarded from a cost -benefit basis.

The American Christian family with a firm religious commitment says grace before meals, and performs nightly devotions and regular family liturgies, which follow the Church’s liturgical calendar. These actions give a sense of purpose and mission. The center of religious life is the home, which becomes a sacred place, and the priority is the children’s moral and spiritual development.

Great emphasis is placed on respect for parents and older relatives, such as grandparents, uncles, and aunts. Close contact is maintained with relatives, and major religious holidays are occasions for happy reunions. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that although practicing Orthodox Jewish groups live in densely populated urban areas, their children are remarkably free of drugs, violence, and irresponsible sex, evils from which other urban children suffer. Similar observations apply to American Muslim families.

LESSONS FROM THE COLUMBINE HIGH SCHOOL MASSACRE

The Columbine High School massacre of April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colorado, resulted in 15 people dead, 26 injured, and hundreds traumatized. Several other violent incidents took place at schools in Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Virginia afterwards. The late Professor Dilnawaz Siddiqui focused on the problem of bad character. Some analysts blamed the shattered family system, others spoke of too much violence in the media, while others faulted the easy accessibility of guns and anti-personnel weapons similar to cluster bombs. Yet something significant was missing from the analysis, namely, personal responsibility and accountability for one’s actions. Beliefs, intentions, and attitudes, as well as our words have consequences. We may summarize Siddiqui’s advice to parents as follows: • Human communication, education, and interactions must promote proper values.

• Children must learn beliefs and standards of right and wrong.

• Relativistic interpretations of what is truth result in chaos in society. A relativist claims that what is right and wrong depends on the circumstances (not on eternal principles).

• A healthy child must learn core universal values (such as truth, honesty, justice, and peace).

• Good and evil ought not to have an equal chance to prosper anywhere.

We must teach children positive beliefs and help eradicate negative ones as much as we can.

Instead of defending criminals as victims of society, we ought to hold everyone accountable for their actions. We should evaluate our actions in comparison with our principles. We should not assert that anybody else in our situation would behave in the same way or probably worse. Unless and until proper parenting occurs, we can expect these violent crimes to continue, if not rise.

TEACHING CHILDREN VALUES: THE CONSERVATIVE-LIBERAL DEBATE

In an article ‘Only Way to Teach Values: Help Kids Discover Them’ (Chicago Tribune 1998)

Eric Zorn asserts that: “the only way to teach values is to help children discover them. The social conservatives emphasize the development of virtue, ethical thinking, and moral behavior. Children do not magically acquire these qualities any more than they magically learn math. Placing all hopes in character education outside the school has turned out to be naive in an era of fractured, busy families and value-light popular culture:’

Eric Zorn supports character education in schools. He notes that the left has resisted the reintroduction of character education in schools because it might suggest unthinking conformity, narrow-mindedness, and intolerance. However, children who grow up without a good moral education are disadvantaged just as much as children who grow up poor, sick, homeless, or abused.

Children, Calculus, and Ethics

Zorn quotes Larry Nucci: “The emerging compromise position recognizes that children cannot be spoon-fed the truth. They have to be engaged to think hard and discover it. But at the same time, however, they are not adults, and there is a definite role for educators to play in guiding them. Society must have shared values as a starting point – it is not just a free-for-all:’ How to do this without turning character education into simply “a collection of exhortations and extrinsic inducements designed to make children work harder and do what they are told” remains a problem according to Alfie Kohn. Kohn argued that the carrot-and-stick approach to moral education (now the dominant form), leaves children with a primitive understanding of virtue as “uncritical acceptance of readymade truths:’

This type of understanding does not really take root in a person’s character, and does not lead to empathy, skepticism, and other morally sophisticated qualities. Introducing character education in schools is a good and necessary idea, it is certainly better than no character education at all! The middle ground seems to be: Do not force values on children, but do not leave them alone either, for they are young and need guidance. Parents have the responsibility to guide and help children to discover values themselves whenever possible.

Families in Muslim Countries vs. the United States

Our human knowledge is limited, it is not absolute. There are many challenges that families face no matter where they live. Yet some families face more serious problems than others.

Urbanization, industrialization, and secularization have a great impact on families living in the city. Some of the problems in big cities in the United States are listed below:

• Non-marital sex is made inviting, attractive, and available, resulting in greater sexual promiscuity.

• Mixed dancing, mixed swimming, and arousing sex-oriented music are widespread.

• Dating, which entails physical contact (kissing, necking, pecking), is the approved system for men and women to get to know one another, and it is taught by parents to children as the acceptable norm.

• Nakedness in public locker rooms and bathrooms is common. Toilets may not have doors in some schools; privacy is

lost in the bathroom.

• Abstinence before marriage is not emphasized enough. Condoms are distributed by some schools and even churches to unmarried young people.

• Some teachers tell children to “do as you like and feel” without moral restrictions, and that lust and desire should be let out and not suppressed.

They also learn that the individual, not God, is the ultimate authority.

• Drinking alcohol is common and tolerated, and it is encouraged.

• Drug abuse is rampant. Guns and violence are common in schools and among children in public places. Television shows promote violence.

• Abortion is practiced widely. The family size is getting smaller, tending toward the nuclear family in contrast with the extended family.

• Many men wear tight clothing, and women wear make-up and perfume to become sexually attractive. Many people cover less of their bodies to be more tempting. Early marriage is not encouraged, resulting in irresponsible sexual practices.

• The divorce rate is high and singleparent – families are increasing rapidly.

• Children having children is becoming more common, and since teen mar-riages are discouraged, the result is more unwed mothers. Professor Olasky states that 85 percent of teenage mothers in the 1950S were married by the time their babies were born (Olasky 1994).

• Homosexuality is becoming an accepted, normal – and legal – practice. More states are legalizing same-sex. marriage.

• More senior citizens are kept in nursing homes, rather than staying with their children and grandchildren.

• Virginity before marriage is rare. A virgin lady in her 20’S may be considered unattractive and unwanted. The majority practice sex before marriage;

 

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