THE AGE Newspaper Article of Monday November 13th 2006
Question: I have heard a lot about values and attitudes and whether they are or should be part of a school curriculum. My child is in grade land I am not sure what values or attitudes I would want the school to teach. Is it possible to teach a value? And how would you assess it?
IT IS true that the issue of values has been discussed in many contexts. Many schools do have values or concepts built into their curriculum. It is an astute point you raise, however, in relation to what the actual values/attitudes should be and whether values can be taught. Let us take an example of an attitude of co-operation or a value of respect. Few people would disagree that the ability to co-operate with others, to be able to work alongside, negotiate, collaborate and respect others is an important part of life. But what does co-operation look like? How does one co-operate at the age of six when the child is still in a reasonably egocentric stage of maturity and finds it difficult to understand the views or needs of others? To co-operate, we need to have developed empathy. Does this mean that if we plan to teach co-operation to children in grade prep, they can become co-operative although they have not yet developed empathy? Perhaps a value or attitude of tolerance is identified by some programs or schools. Can tolerance be taught? Just because something is taught doesn't mean it is learnt or understood or able to be enacted. We can teach young children to recite the road rules but it doesn't mean that if they are distracted they won't run on to the road. So it is perhaps with values. We can have children complete projects on the importance of care or respect or tolerance, and still find children exclude each other and pick on each other and be frustrated with each other. Learning skills, knowledge, understanding, attitudes and values is complex. Values can be identified by a school or teacher as a foundation upon which all teaching and learning should be modelled. Rather than identifying discreet values or attitudes for the children to focus on, values are simply part of the philosophy that directs the types of teaching and learning that occur in a school. These values and attitudes are part of the school and through teacher modelling, they are simply part of the overall aspects of learning. It is more important for the school and staff to have developed values and attitudes that lay the foundation for teaching and learning than to actually teach and instruct in values with children. There is little point in identifying a particular value if the school or teacher does not reflect the value in everyday interactions. Victorian Essential Learning Standards, the new Victorian curriculum, highlights the importance of values as part of the total package of learning that we wish to provide for children. Key principles contained within VELS reflect inclusion, student engagement and openness of mind. Alongside the principles are key strands that in addition to literacy and numeracy also highlight aspects of lifelong learning including interpersonal development, social interaction, reflection and creativity. In relation to learning in everyday life, whether in school, home or the playground, children and adults together will reflect the values of their own particular society, religion and culture. The issue is probably less about whether values should or can be taught, and more about how children themselves are respected in the classroom, in society, and how the adults who parent, teach and live within society ensure that children and childhood itself is highly valued and respected. Teaching values often becomes a moralistic issue whereby we make statements such as "we are all friends at school". When in fact we are not all friends at school or anywhere else. Thinking about values and attitudes in education and schooling needs great and careful consideration to ensure we don't fall into the trap of assuming that if we teach it, then they all know it and have it and believe it. Life is much more complex than that.
Copyright © Kathy Walker 2006
Kathy Walker is an education consultant specialising in early childhood and primary years and a former lecturer at RMIT University.