TEACHING MORALS AND VALUES IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS: A HUMANIST PERSPECTIVE
Steven D. Schafersman
Teaching morals and values in the public schools has been a frequently discussed topic in the past few years. Interestingly, most of the discussion has come from members of the religious right and individuals associated or sympathetic with their point of view. For example, Secretary of Education William Bennett recently urged conservative activists to join him in a fight to restore a "coherent moral vision" to America's public schools. Speaking to leaders of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, he declared that "We can get the values Americans share back into our classrooms," and "Those who claim we are now too diverse a nation, that we consist of too many competing convictions and interests to instill common values, are wrong." Bennett said that children should be taught such values as patriotism, self-discipline, thrift, honesty, and that there is a moral difference between the United States and the Soviet Union. Gary Bauer, a deputy undersecretary in the Department of Education and an outspoken advocate of right-wing religious ideals, told the American Federation of Teachers that "The teaching of values and ethics in our public schools should be an integral part of the curriculum." Bauer laments that the values "on which there is wide agreement, for example, honesty, courage, humility, kindness, generosity, and patriotism have been eliminated from many texts." Perhaps the clearest example is from our President, Ronald Reagan, who had this to say about education's basic purpose: "We're beginning to realize, once again, that education at its core is more than just teaching our young the skills that are needed for a job, however important that is. It's also about passing on to each new generation the values that serve as the foundation and cornerstone of our free democratic society--patriotism, loyalty, faithfulness, courage, the ability to make the crucial moral distinctions between right and wrong, the maturity to understand that all that we have and achieve in this world comes first from a beneficent and loving God."
Media attention has also recently focused on two court cases that are currently being tried. The first, in Tennessee, concerns the efforts of Vickie Frost to remove materials from the school curriculum that she finds offensive to her fundamentalist Christian values. She objects to stories critical of the free-enterprise system, because "capitalism is ordained by God." She objects to textbook pictures of women assuming traditional male roles, because "God meant for women to be subservient to men." Frost objects to a textbook's inclusion of the influence of the Renaissance, because it says that "a central idea of the Renaissance was a belief in the dignity and worth of human beings." She objects to the statement that "the painters of this time glorified or elevated the human form in paintings," because "God is to be glorified, not man." Vickie Frost and her attorneys from Beverly LeHaye's Concerned Women for America blame the intrusion of "secular humanism" for the textbook contents. The second case, from Alabama, is even more explicitly against secular humanism. There, more than 600 fundamentalist parents, students, and teachers are seeking to remove all traces of what they claim is "secular humanism" from the state curriculum. The examples they give of this influence include the study of evolution, sex education, and instruction in situational ethics. They contend that secular humanism itself is a religion, and if Christianity cannot be taught in the public school, then neither can humanism. The attorneys for the plaintiffs in Alabama are being provided by Concerned Women for America and Pat Robertson's National Legal Foundation.
You may ask if there is some connection between these two court cases and the new emphasis from right-wing religionists about teaching morals and values in the public schools. There is. The connection is political, and deals with newly -found political power. The religious right today is on the offensive in all areas of public debate involving moral issues. These individuals believe that they know the absolute truth, and they have learned that they can make their revealed absolute truth the law of the land by political organization, lobbying, and litigation. They realize that they can coerce other people, who do not share their views, into following them nevertheless by using the power of the state. The last instance of the use of this type of political power by conservative religionists was Prohibition, whose main success was the creation of organized crime. Today the goal is preventing women from having abortions, suppressing science education, getting prayer back into public schools, hindering sex and drug education, having public tax money pay for parochial schools, turning back the tide of women's liberation, and preventing the teaching of effective and reasonable morals and values.
Did I say prevent the teaching of morals and values. Yes, because the stated intentions of Bennett, Bauer, and Reagan are merely a smokescreen for their true goal of sneaking religion back into the public schools under the guise of moral education. These men, and the many religionists who object to secular humanism, believe that morals and values are based in religion--that there can be no morality without religion--and, as religious conservative Terry Eastland put it, "we have yet to cultivate in this country, at least on a broad scale, a means of teaching the Judeo-Christian ethic without also frequently bringing up its religious roots." Eastland faulted a widespread absence in young people of a "basic morality" as the cause of many of society's problems, including crime, racial conflict, drug abuse, and sexual promiscuity. He says that the basic morality "consists of, among other things, honesty, fairness, respect for law, courage, diligence, and respect for others." He states that these qualities " are commonly regarded as part of the Judeo-Christian ethic..." Officials of the Reagan administration and other religious conservatives believe the same: that all good morals and values stem from our Judeo-Christian heritage and that it is impossible to teach these ethical precepts without also mentioning their religious source and divine justification; that is, it is impossible to teach morals and values and be neutral at the same time. Education Secretary Bennett stated the belief quite precisely: "Neutrality to religion turns out to bring with it neutrality to those values that issue from religion. . . . We now face a new source of divisiveness: The assault of secularism on religion." It is this belief that leads to a conflict that I will explain shortly, and which results in the religious conservatives' opposition not only to secular humanism, but to teaching values and morals in a neutral and secular context in the public schools. I think, despite their statements, that the religious right is actually opposed to teaching ethical concepts in the public schools unless they get to do it in their own unconstitutional fashion, that is, by insisting that children are taught that good morals and values are derived from the Judeo-Christian ethic and are justified solely by God's authority.
I want to discuss why we should teach morals and values in the public schools and how this is possible without breaking the law by promoting either Christianity or secular humanism. First, let's briefly establish why moral education is important for both individuals and society. (I will refer to deliberate instruction in morals and values in the public schools as "character education," its most popular name.) Many of you are probably aware of statements made by the Founding Fathers that democracy cannot survive unless the citizens are educated and informed. They also believed that the republic they wished to build depended on a virtuous and ethical population. Madison said, "To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea." Franklin believed the same: "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters. . . . Nothing is of more importance for the public weal than to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue." Washington and Jefferson made similar statements. The schools of that time practiced this philosophy. Moral instruction, grounded in Bible readings and study of moral lessons derived from Biblical sources, was as much a part of the curriculum as reading, writing, and arithmetic. In fact, this type of study was common in our country's schools until the 1940's, when religious moral instruction began to disappear because the Supreme Court finally began to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, passed immediately after the Civil War, which made the states and their institutions, including schools, subordinate to the First Amendment, which prohibits government from establishing religion. But more on this in a moment.
I will assume, without belaboring the point, that everyone agrees that children must be taught proper moral behavior. Every great philosopher of education has said that virtue must be joined to learning, and have even put ethical instruction before practical instruction. This includes not only the ability to tell right from wrong, but also instruction in those values necessary to a happy and successful life, such as self-discipline, the ability to work hard, thrift, respect for the law, self-esteem, citizenship, responsibility, respect for the rights of others, courage of one's convictions, obedience to proper authority, anticipating the consequences of one's actions, honesty, tolerance, diligence, fairness, love of democracy and freedom, and many others. That citizens possess these values is obviously important for the success and happiness of society, as well as individuals. I think no one will disagree with me that both parents and society want such morals and values taught to children. I will also assume that everyone agrees that good morals and values are formally taught to children, not learned instinctively or informally (like bad habits), and that they will in all likelihood live un-virtuous and unhappy lives if they are not taught such things in some way. In this sense, then, character education exactly parallels practical education in those subjects, such as reading and writing, needed to live a full, productive, and satisfying life. Both types of education must be taught to children; they don't learn these valuable attributes by instinct or by haphazard association with others.
If this is the case, why then has formal character education been almost eliminated from the public schools and relegated solely to the home, church, and parochial schools? There are two reasons, both based on mistaken assumptions by parents, teachers, and school officials. The first is the outrageous presumption that morals are intrinsically tied to religion, and that to teach morals you have to teach religion. The second is the mistaken notion that the Supreme Court, by outlawing the promotion of religion in public schools by organized prayer and Bible readings, has thereby also outlawed moral instruction in the public schools. Both of these beliefs are false.
You may recall President Reagan's statement that "religion and politics are inseparably linked, because morality is the basis for politics and religion is the basis for morality." With all due respect to the President, his argument for mixing religion and politics is grievously flawed. Morality can exist independently of religion and has done so for centuries. (I won't discuss whether morality is the basis for politics!) The first great moral philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, based their ethical systems on the same things humanist philosophers do today: a happy conscience, a productive and successful life, and the harmonious working of society. No other rewards need be promised, and certainly no punishments need be threatened, if a person truly understands the value to oneself and society of living a virtuous life. Of course, there are a lot of psychological and emotional considerations in this process of internalizing a moral and value code, but I'm not going to discuss these here. Let me just state that a child can be taught to internalize a proper and worthwhile ethical code without reliance on religious authority , religious promises or threats, or instruction in religious justifications or history. I presume that everyone here is aware that all the values and morals we treasure today were known long before the time of Jesus, and that such ethical ideals developed independently in numerous cultures throughout history. Besides the numerous Greek and Roman moral philosophers, many of whom were humanists, there were the moral philosophers Confucius and Buddha. (These two were also humanists, but their philosophies were made into religions by their followers.)
Morality, therefore, is not connected to religion, and I might add that history has shown that religion is frequently opposed to morality, but we need not dwell on that topic. Since this is the case, the Supreme Court did not forbid formal moral instruction in the public schools when they stopped organized prayer and Bible reading. Nor, for that matter, did they remove religion from the schools. In the famous prayer case of 1963, the Supreme Court said that "one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion . . . when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education. . . ." What the Supreme Court removed was overt religious indoctrination. Let me briefly relate the history of this. As I said earlier, public schools in nineteenth and early twentieth century America were pervasively religious. Not only did they teach religious morals and values, they taught Protestant morals and values. Beginning in 1854 and continuing until 1929, there were dozens of cases concerning the indoctrination of religion in the public schools, all involving Catholics protesting the prevailing Protestant indoctrination. This situation forced the Catholics to build their own parochial school system.
Most legal scholars believe that the Fourteenth Amendment was passed to make the Bill of Rights applicable to the individual states. However, this was not done for decades. Until the 1940's, most Supreme Court justices did not force states to incorporate the guarantees of freedom contained in the Bill of Rights. This incorporation was done gradually. The first time that the concept of "separation of church and state" was applied to the states was in the famous Everson case of 1947. This case signaled the start of the great reforming of the relation between church and state in our country, since now all public institutions, not just those of the federal government, had to follow the First Amendment. Ultimately, the subject of organized prayers and Bible readings reached the court, and two famous decisions, the 1962 Engle case and the 1963 Abington case, removed the constitutionally unlawful practices. These decisions had a sobering effect on school officials, who stopped the offending practices over most of the country, although they continue sporadically in the South. It also, however, led to the ending of what little formal moral instruction remained in the schools. Many feel that the almost total lack of ethical education in our modern schools is somewhat responsible for many of our society's problems today, such as drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, increased crime, and so forth. That is why there are now efforts to put such moral instruction back into the schools, although there is only one way to accomplish this legally.
Let's answer the question first of why it is important to formally teach character education in schools. Why is the home and church not sufficient for this task? We know that children are impressionable. Their minds and attitudes are forming as they grow. They learn attitudes, morals, and values from both adults and peers, but especially from adults. This is because of the human propensity to respect and obey authority figures, a trait that is impressed into children very early in life, and which also was selected for during human evolution because of the increased survival value it gave human populations. Teachers are adults who children learn from, identify with, and emulate. These authority figures spend a considerable portion of the day with each individual child, more so than the parents in many instances, and certainly more than most churches can provide. Teachers can reinforce proper morals and values in children to a great extent. If a child is not learning proper morals and values at home or in the church, which is in fact the situation to an alarming extent today in the United States, the teacher may be the only authority figure with whom the child has contact and who can inculcate the proper morals and values. Even if a child receives the proper training at home or church, I believe it is important for a teacher to reinforce moral instruction so that the child's total environment works for the same worthwhile end.
I might add here that the fundamentalist religions know about the malleability of a child's mind during the early ages, and about the importance of authority figures to shape that mind. They therefore seek to impress their religious doctrines into children before the ability to reason critically has been developed. They can do this by controlling the child's school environment and what the teachers teach. This is the reason for their motivation in promoting organized prayer in public school; it is purely for religious indoctrination. Parochial schools serve the same purpose, only to a greater extent. In both cases, the authoritarian conservative religionists seek to make the idea of the existence of God and the supernatural acceptable to young people by the constant repetition of ritual and myth in the classroom by authority figures. Repeated exposure to prayers and Bible stories, even posting of the Ten Commandments, associates God and the supernatural in the student's mind with adult acceptance and approval. The main purpose of such activity is not the promotion of suitable morals and values, but the propagation of religious faith.
If we agree that formal instruction in morals and values is an important part of the public school curriculum, what form should it take? I have stated my impression that the religious right advocates such moral instruction in order to sneak their religion back into the schools. It is quite clear, however, that such religious moral instruction is illegal. Schools may not teach specifically religious morals, such as opposition to birth control or abortion, for example, or justify universally-accepted ethics, such as the Golden Rule, by appeal to the authority of God. Morals and values must be taught in the public schools in a totally secular and neutral manner to be consistent with constitutional law. This is my major conclusion. Let us explore what this means.
Secular means non-religious and being neutral in regard to religion. It does not mean indifference or opposition to religion; such a viewpoint is the philosophy of secularism. It is important to keep the meanings of secular and secularism distinct. As we will see, public institutions must be the former but not the latter. Furthermore, right-wing religionists constantly confuse these two words in their attempt to make it appear that the secular public schools are actually opposed to religion and must therefore add some religious elements to balance the curriculum. The public schools must be neutral, which means not giving preference to religion over secularism, secularism over religion, or one religion over another. This constraint is not acceptable to the religious right either, because they think that their religion is the only true religion and they naturally want its tenets taught in the schools. I have always wondered: If the right-wing religionists actually achieved enough power through political organization, bloc voting, and court packing that they could dictate the type of religious instruction and prayer in public schools, how the Catholics and Protestants among them would decide which Bible to use and whose theology to follow! Fortunately, this controversy has not yet arisen.
There is a formal ethical instruction curriculum available that is both secular and neutral. This is the Character Education Curriculum developed and produced by the American Institute for Character Education headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. The CEC is a program whose goal is to develop responsible citizenship in students. The program includes a complete set of instructional materials for classroom teachers of kindergarten through the middle school to use to raise self-esteem, promote self-discipline, improve decision-making and problem-solving skills, and instill positive attitudes and values to such things as hard work and responsibility for the rights of others. The complete curriculum contains hundreds of lessons, 15 to 30 minutes in length, that may be taught as a separate subject or in conjunction with social studies and language arts. The activities in the lessons provide opportunities for the students to identify individual abilities, strengths, and talents; to determine the role of self-discipline in setting and achieving goals; to recognize the advantages of working together cooperatively; to identify the role of peer pressure and how to meet it; and to recognize the need to establish rules and make laws and the importance of obeying them. Added to the middle school materials are projects having the students identify reasons for the harmful effects of drug, alcohol, and other substance abuse, and the effective ways of coping with this problem. The curriculum avoids teacher-dominated approaches like lecturing, drill, and rote memorization. It engages students in open discussion about age-appropriate issues involving morals and values. It utilizes role-playing and small group activities in the development of social awareness. It uses student artwork and writing to explore the children's creativity as well as promote discussions about values. In short, it aims to instill universally-accepted core values which we hold in high regard in order to promote individual quality of life and domestic welfare. Studies have shown that character education significantly decreases vandalism and increases attendance among those schools that have adopted it. It is currently in use in over 16,500 classrooms in over 40 states.
The emphasis upon developing self-esteem and self-discipline is the strongest aspect of this curriculum. I cannot go into the details here, but it is my belief that these two goals are of immeasurable importance, and inadequate development of these two attitudes among our country's young people is the primary reason for most of the afflictions of individuals and our society. These afflictions include crime, drug abuse, low productivity, unemployment, unwanted teenage pregnancies, irresponsible conduct, vandalism, violent behavior, depression, anxiety, and other psychological ailments.
I have reviewed the Character Education Curriculum in some detail and I find it most exemplary. I originally became interested in it when I learned that the Houston Independent School District was preparing to implement a pilot study using the curriculum. Since I had read the many right-wing religious endorsements of morals education in public schools, I wanted to check to see if the CEC was truly secular and neutral, or whether it was a device to get religious indoctrination back into the public schools. I am happy to report that the curriculum materials are indeed completely secular and neutral. The individuals who developed this curriculm do not have a secret right-wing religious agenda; they appear to be a mixture of mainstream Protestants and moderate Catholics and Jews who are sincerely interested in keeping specific religious references out of their materials. On the other hand, the CEC developers are not secular humanists, either. I ruefully note that in the literature supplied with the evaluation materials, the American Institute for Character Education felt the need to point out that the CEC does not "teach secular humanism, values clarification, or situational ethics." Values clarification and situational ethics are two other ethical instruction programs, distinct from character education, that progressive educators have used in past years to achieve the same goals as character education. These two older programs are anathema to right-wing religionists, since they associate these with the intrusion of secular humanism into the public schools, and of course they oppose this. The originators of the CEC, though obviously not humanists, still felt the need to disassociate themselves from secular humanism. Since secular humanism is a valuable, noble, and moral philosophy, with roots far older than Christianity or even Judaism, I am saddened that modern society requires such explicit disassociation. However, their concern to distinguish their secular ethics curriculum from secular humanism is justified.
The religious right thinks that secular humanism is a religion competing with Christianity which has taken over the public schools. If you examine their specific claims against secular humanism, you learn the religious right lumps everything they feel is immoral and anti-God under the category of secular humanism. It has truthfully been called the "bogeyman of the religious right." Everything in the curriculum that is not God-centered earns their disapproval and is called "secular humanism." This includes science education, sex education, and drug education, as well as character education. Vickie Frost and the plaintiffs in Alabama are motivated by their antipathy to those topics that they call secular humanism. They object to character education because they believe that the source of values and morals in the Judeo-Christian heritage and their justification by the authority of God are being ignored in the public schools, and that this heritage and justification must be taught to balance the curriculum. They claim that any set of ideals or values is a religion by modern legal definition, and that teaching secular and neutral character education (as well as other subjects) without mentioning God and the Bible is teaching the "religion of secular humanism." They simply want their religion taught instead.
Humanists see the issue differently. There is no doubt that some values and morals are taught in public schools. It is difficult to study history and literature without internalizing some moral lessons, and some values are adopted from teachers and fellow students by daily association. But it is unfair to call this unorganized state of affairs "secular humanism," because humanism has a fairly specific set of ethics and values that is not transmitted so haphazardly. Humanism is based on human reason and requires deliberate study to learn and hard work to practice (which are probably why it is so unpopular!).
Is it fair to call any set of values and morals, including those of secular humanism, a religion? No, for two reasons. First, it is improper to equate values and morals with religion. Estimable values and a personal code of ethics can exist independently of any religious doctrine or creed, and have done so for centuries. Many great historical figures lived happy, moral, and productive lives without religion, and their example is being emulated by innumerable men and women today. Humanists are not dogmatically opposed to religion, however, for they recognize that religion serves as the popular ethical philosophy for most people. Humanists would only say that one should choose one's religion wisely, and preferably one that allows the practice of humanism or at least permits the expression of some humanistic sentiments and activities.
Second, if you define religion broadly enough, everything can be included within religion. But society and governments do not do this. In particular, they recognize the realm of the secular, and in the United States explicitly require that public schools be secular and neutral. If you define religion in a very broad sense, such as "A deeply held set of values that provide meaning for one's life" or "An individual's whole response to all of life," then humanism can be classified as a religion. However, this definition is so broad that it makes many non-religious ideologies, such as capitalism and communism, into religions. Such broad definitions are unrealistic, and narrower definitions--far better at describing the salient features of religion--would exclude secular humanism. In addition, humanists themselves do not consider secular humanism to be a religion, although they acknowledge that it serves as a kind of substitute or surrogate for religion. Humanism is most correctly characterized as a worldview or philosophy of life. Secular humanists are opposed to many aspects of organized religion, and they resent their philosophy being termed something they find objectionable.
But this brings us to an important point. Secular humanism is sufficiently antagonistic to religion that many of its statements would definitely be prohibited from being taught in the public schools. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the First Amendment must be interpreted strictly in cases affecting the public schools, and that they many not promote one religion over another, religion over secularism, or secularism over religion. In short, the schools must be secular and neutral. This means that they cannot promote secularism, a philosophy of indifference or opposition to religion, or secular humanism, a philosophy that includes secularism, because they would be promoting secularism over religion. Fortunately, such promotion does not occur, but to recognize this requires that the secular not be confused with secularism or secular humanism. Right-wing religionists engage in precisely this confusion when they declare that the "religion of secular humanism" permeates the public schools. What they see is secular instruction, which legally and rightfully should be there. But because they scorn the secular in their zeal to promote sectarian proselytizing, they have manufactured a case against it, called it a religion, and attempted to remove it. Their true goal is to replace secular education with sectarian education, which under our present laws is illegal in public schools. But history has shown that with sufficient pressure and intimidation--carried out by organized political action and litigation--the illegal can become legal. This explains the motivation of the religious right.
Secular humanism is opposed to most aspects of religion. This fact alone makes it unconstitutional to teach secular humanism in public schools, since secularism cannot be promoted. Furthermore, humanism makes many non-neutral statements that are quite antagonistic to the doctrines of the popular religions based on Biblical concepts of supernaturalism, authoritarianism, coercion of belief, and inequality among different sexes, classes, and nationalities. Such statements, the core beliefs of humanism, are therefore prohibited from being taught in public schools. But they are not now being taught, nor have they ever been. Furthermore, humanists have never advocated teaching such specific non-neutral humanist beliefs in the public schools, because to do so would be unconstitutional. Such beliefs or statements include the following:
- Individual humans are the ultimate source of morals, values, purposes, and meanings.
- Humans have the absolute capacity to understand their material reality and shape their material destiny.
- Humans are responsible only to themselves; no deity will help or save us.
- The philosophy of naturalism--that what is studied by science is all that there is--best describes the universe; we have no knowledge of the supernatural and cannot rely on it.
- Free inquiry must not be infringed, and truth never suppressed.
- True equality should exist between men and women and between humans of different classes, races, and nationalities.
- All humans should have complete freedom of conscience and freedom from coercion of belief.
- Democracy should be established in all areas of public life.
- Human associations and institutions should act out of concern for collective humanity--for the human species--and not solely to further the ends of a specific nation, state, religion, or ideology.
Thus, humanism has a fairly specific set of ethics and values separate and beyond the universally-accepted neutral morals and values taught by character education. The morals and values of character education are certainly supported by humanism, but humanism is much more in addition. These extra, non-neutral, humanist beliefs and values are legitimately excluded from the curriculum because they oppose the tenets of the major world religions, especially those popular in the United States. We humanists can live with that; we just don't want to see character education excluded from classrooms because of an alleged association with us. No doubt character education is a humanist program--in spirit--but it is also a program that any religion acting in a humane and non-dogmatic manner can approve. Humanists support character education, not because it promotes humanism, but because it promotes a higher quality of life for everyone, right-wing religionist and humanist alike.
But this explanation is not acceptable to the religious right. As I said, while they advocate teaching morals and values in the public schools, they oppose teaching secular and universal morals and values, because they believe that all morals and values must be religious and sectarian, that is, they must have come from God. I have the text of a letter that Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum asked everyone on their mailing list to send to the school board president and principal of their children's school. The letter requests that the child"be involved in NO school activities or materials listed below unless I have first reviewed all the relevant materials and have given my written consent for their use."
The list includes the study of evolution, sex education--including contraception and population control--"death education"--which includes the study of abortion and suicide--curricula pertaining to alcohol and drugs, and many others. Of interest here is the inclusion on the list of the following:"discussion of religious or moral standards; role-playing or open-ended discussions of situations involving moral issues."
Furthermore, the religious right actually has the power to prevent such instruction in public schools. Through intense national lobbying two years ago, the religious right secured the passage of the "Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment," also known as the Hatch Amendment, of the General Education Provisions Act. The regulations provide a procedure for filing complaints first at the local level and then with the U.S. Department of Education. If a voluntary remedy fails, federal funds can be withdrawn from those in violation of the law. The Hatch Amendment specifically states that it covers any "activity involving the planned, systematic use of methods or techniques that are not directly related to academic instruction and that is designed to affect behavioral, emotional, or attitudinal characteristics of an individual or group." This means that if a religious parent complains about any such practice, which I interpret to include character education, the child must be excused or federal funds will be cut off from the school district. If a number of parents can achieve this, the harassment can achieve the effect of ending the whole program, which is the ultimate goal.
A number of years ago, Phyllis Schlafly, a rightwing religious leader and lobbyist, published a book, Child Abuse in the Classroom , to publicize this new weapon of the religious right against public education. She opposes what she calls "therapy education," which "is a system of changing the child's values...." She specifically includes "moral reasoning, . . .sex education, death education, drug education, [and] citizenship and character education" on her list of therapy education techniques. She then explains how the Hatch Amendment can protect your child from these techniques and the proper procedures for a parent to follow to do this. I personally have no way to know how successful she has been in this campaign against teaching secular morals and values, but I suspect the worst.
This whole effort is just another chapter in the religious right's political campaign against public education. They manage to use the machinery of the federal government to accomplish their end of forcing others, willingly or unwillingly, to follow the authoritarian and dogmatic beliefs of the religious right. The tragic aspect of campaigns such as this is that the actual effects are counterproductive to the good of society. Prohibition was one such campaign, and it looks like this one against character education, sex education, and drug education may be another. The only solution, I might add, is to politically organize yourselves and oppose them. Ignoring this problem will not end it. Humanists and non-humanists who support secular character education must demonstrate the same emotional commitment and hard work in support of character education that the religious zealots are willing to demonstrate against it.
Copyright © 1998 by Steven D. Schafersman Steven Schafersman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org