Education Beyond the Three R’s: It’s Time to Teach Ethics in the Public Schools

By Herman W. Hughes

The celebrated American pollster, George Gallup, says this country is facing a moral and ethical crisis of the first dimension. He cites as examples of the moral decline widespread cheating on taxes which costs the government about $100 billion a year, pilferage costing department stores more than $4 billion a year, defaulting on federal education loans to college students by one student in seven and sexual promiscuity and extra-marital affairs of epidemic proportions.

Newspaper headlines display the looming spectra of gangs and drugs, of murder and mayhem, of corruption in high places. The television news details for us the latest Washington scandal and the sleazy antics of such influential leaders as the “Jiminy triplets,” Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Jim Wright.

Children today are growing up in an environment of moral decay. They are confronted with evil influence on every hand. Their music and video heroes purvey a constant diet of drugs, sex and violence. Even in their schools children face drug abuse, sexual immorality and negative peer pressure. By the fourth grade one out of every four school children in America will have been pressured to use marijuana or alcohol.

Teenage sexual activity has increased 66 percent in the last two decades and teen suicide has skyrocketed 250 percent in that same time period. An NBC television recently challenged America to “See Dick and Jane Lie, Cheat and Steal,” a sobering look at the moral and ethical crisis among America’s youth.

What does the future hold for our children? For America? Where will our children, the leaders of tomorrow, learn their moral and ethical values? Can it be in our public schools which have all but abdicated responsibility for training in morality, character and ethics? The state department of education in one mid-western state has gone so far as to publish a statement claiming that “it is not within the purview of public education to propagate moral values.”

Many teachers today do not believe it is their responsibility to teach morals and values to students and even those who would like to do so believe that such is prohibited by law. Many are unable to articulate a consistent set of values or they are products of the colleges of the 1960s and 1970s which were strongly influenced by a philosophy of “do your own thing” and “situational ethics.”

Educational, political and business leaders alike are decrying the public school’s attitude toward the teaching of ethics and values. Spencer Kagan, professor of education at the University of California, Riverside, says that one of the major problems facing the American educational system today is its failure to socialize students toward pro-social values and behaviors such as respect and care for others. And former Secretary of Education William Bennett asserts that “in our haste to offend no one and satisfy all, we have swept the teaching of values we all share right out of the classroom.”

As much as public education strives to be value neutral it cannot be. As David T. Kearns, head of Xerox Corporation, said in a speech to the Economic Club of Detroit, “Anyone who thinks its possible to have a value-neutral education is dead wrong. Everything is not relative. Exclude values from the schools, and you teach that values are not important.”

Public schools have not always attempted moral neutrality. The curriculum of America’s first public schools was Bible centered and there was general acceptance by educators and the public alike that the public schools should be in the morality teaching business. William McGuffy, author of the famous McGuffy reader which was used almost universally in American elementary schools until this century, once reflected that “the time has gone by when any sensible man will be found to object to the Bible as a school book in a Christian country.”

Not all teachers in the past were Christians, but many were. Those who weren’t professing Christians generally were products of the American middle class which for the most part held Christian values and morals. They felt an obligation to teach moral and ethical standards to their students.

An insidious change has come about in public education over the years, however. It seems that every effort now is being made to exclude the teaching of principles of morality from the public schools. This is extremely unfortunate for, as Theodore Roosevelt once warned, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menance to society.”

But, American children are being taught a moral standard in school today simply because education by its very nature will impart morals, values, ethics. The question is, what morals, which values, whose ethics? The anwer those of secular humanism.

Secular humanism has for all practical purposes replaced biblical morality as the underlying philosophy of public education in America today and when God and the Bible are left out of education all that is left of morality and ethics are the tenets of secular humanism. The Bible says in I Corinthians 2:6-7 that there are only two kinds of wisdom: the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. When God’s wisdom is eliminated from education the only thing left is the wisdom of the world. That kind of wisdom teaches: (a) humanism – that is to be man-centered, to love and exalt self; (b) secularism – to be earthly-minded; (c) materialism – to exalt material things and wealth; (d) situational ethics -no moral absolutes.

The September 1984 issue of The Humanist, the official voice of the American Humanists Association, carried an article written by Gerald A. Larue, professor emeritus of Biblical History and Archaeology at the University of Southern California, entitled “The Way of Ethical Humanism: A Religion to Meet the Psychological Needs of Our Time.” In it was this statement of humanist philosophy:

In humanism there is no supernaturalistic, paternalistic deity who has revealed his will for humans and who has made clear that there are punishments for disobedience to that will and rewards for obedience. . . We have no belief in an after life – no resurrection, no immortality, no reincarnation, no heaven, no hell, nor anything in between. . . There are no sacred scriptures, no salvation or deliverance from the reactions of a demanding father-god, no need to beg divine forgiveness for human error, no need for a god to require the killing of his own as an appeasing sacrifice for human sin. Our religion is based upon the best we know about our cosmos, our world and ourselves.

The January 13 issue of the same magazine carried this declaration:

I am convinced that the battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith. These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preachers, for they will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level preschool day care or large state university. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new – the rotting corpse of Christianity and the new faith of humanism.

Never in the history of American education has the onslaught of secular humanism on public school students been more pronounced and direct. Never has there been a greater need for Christian teachers in the public schools to help stem the tide of materialism and humanism among the young of America. Jesus exhorted his disciples to be salt and light in the world and there is no place where the need for the salt and light of Christianity is greater than in our nation’s public schools.

Few other endeavors could afford the disciple of Christ the opportunity to influence the lives of so many young people -as many as 12,000 over the course of a 30-year teaching career. Modeling Christian values, counseling troubled students, meeting parenting needs of students from disrupted homes, providing the Christian perspective on things taught, standing as a beacon of hope in an often bleak and hopeless world are but a few examples of ways the Christian teacher can make an impact for good in the public school.

The Christian apologist C.R. Sproul once said, “Deeply ensconced in the marrow of our bones is the aspiration for significance . . . the clamoring beat of every human heart for self esteem. We want our lives to count. We yearn to believe that in some way we are important.” The potential for significant impact on the lives of the youth of our nation by teachers who see their work as a Christian ministry is nothing short of awesome. Christian teachers serving in the public schools can make a difference.

M.W. Edelman, in the May 1989 issue of Educational Leadership, said “Where is a hollowness at the core of our society. We share no mutual goals or joint vision – nothing to believe in except self-aggrandizement. The poor black youths who shoot up drugs on street corners and the rich white youths who sniff cocaine in wealthy suburbs share a common disconnectedness from any larger hope or purpose. The rising rates of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and outof-wedlock births among youths of all races and income groups relect a moral drift that cries out for correction.” Who will hear the cry for correction? Who will answer?

Parents, Sunday School teachers, preachers, Christian college professors alike must begin now to encourage our brightest and most spiritual youngsters to prepare themselves for ministry to the youth of American as teachers in our nation’s public schools. There is no higher calling or vocation than to serve God by serving mankind.

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 2, pp. 46-47
January 18, 1990