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New Ethics Programs in American Schools
Ellen Myers

Newspapers report that public and private school administrators (presumably with the exception of Bible-believing Christian schools) are now introducing classes on ethics. At long last they are realizing that the "values clarification" program has produced a climate of un- bearable moral relativism. However, the new ethics programs do not seem to be substantially different from the "values clarification" programs they are supposed to replace.

The new ethics classes still consist of discussions in a "non-judgmental" atmosphere. The teacher is merely a "facilitator" who presents some arbitrarily chosen situation calling for an ethical decision. Students are still not confronted with absolute moral and ethical standards (that would be "judgmental"), but rather tell their "peer group what decision they would make. One hypothetical situation presented in a private college-preparatory school in this writer's community was whether to print unverified information about a woman prominent in public life; the students were to play the roles of reporters for a gossip-mongering tabloid. One student said he would "waste the woman" no matter whether the information was true or not, and no matter how she might be hurt. Other students made different choices, but no absolute ethical standard, fixed once and for all, was set or even appealed to. This is situation ethics, not ethics. Mere discussion of possible choices, all of which are implicitly of equal value, is just as relativistic as the supposedly rejected "values clarification" program. The very method, discussion among equals together with implicit or explicit denial of any authority, is the same.

A private school has the option of setting absolute or at least fixed ethical standards for its students, "judgmental" though this might be. Private schools also can exercise the option of enforcing its ethical standards by dismissing dissenting or offending students. Public schools do not have this option, first, because that would be "judgmental" or "detrimental to the self-esteem" of the trouble-maker, and sec- ond because school attendance is compulsory to age 16. Therefore rebellious students have made a sound learning environment in many American schools (especially in our inner cities) all but impossible. Adding "non-judgmental" ethics discussion sessions to the general school menu will not remedy this evil.

It is of course striking evidence of the futility of "values clarification" programs that even public school administrators themselves now admit that it has not hoped and try something supposedly different. The new programs even suggest values everyone ought to agree on, such as compassion, courtesy, honesty, responsibility and self-respect. However, the new programs still merely consist of discussion, still leave students free to accept or reject these values, still are not backed up by any enforcement of any kind, and still are based on the secular humanist premise that students are their own lords and masters to act as they choose. The "ethics" of the modern public school (and, alas,of some God- and Christ-less private schools) is a non-ethics, a contradiction in terms.

Another inherent problem of the "new ethics" programs in the schools is that of choosing the situation which shall be discussed, the "setting." A notorious example is the so-called "life-boat" situation which is presented not only in our schools but also in training classes for business executives and shop supervisors of large companies. The students or trainees are told to imagine that they are on a life-boat which will sink unless one or more people on the life-boat with them are thrown overboard, denied food and water, or he "wasted" by similar "final solutions." Among the people with them are a young, super-intelligent scientist; a middle-aged overweight housewife; a retarded youngster; an elderly retiree; a woman professor of chemistry; and so on. The all but irresistible suggestion built into this example is to sacrifice those people on the life boat "least useful to society"-among whom the retarded youngster is most "expendable" so the most useful or desirable (the scientist, the professor) might survive. Only people with strong Christian convictions withstand this temptation to play God.

As we look at the newly approved values of "compassion, courtesy, honesty, responsibility and self-respect," we need to reflect upon deeper aspects of these ostensibly good concepts. How are we to be compassionate towards the innocent victims of violence if the offenders are neither rebuked, restrained nor judged and made aware of the wrongness of their deeds? Where is the dividing line between honesty and, for example, brutal frankness intended to hurt? Is it ever right to dissemble so innocent people may be protected from injustice, a common dilemma for Christians in the one-third of our world under Communist rule today? Christians will remember the "less-than-honest" midwives protecting Israelite newborn baby boys from Pharaoh, with God's blessing (Exodus 1). To whom are we to be responsible, by what standard, and with regard to what part of our actions? How can we have true self-respect if we are conscious of shameful, corrupt parts of our character and behavior? Why be courteous when "self-assertiveness" may well demand rudeness?

The new "ethics" program like the old "values clarification" program suffers from the fundamental and all-pervading ethical relativism besetting any and all Christ-less ethics. It admits the failure of "values clarification" but not the reason for that failure, rejection of God Whose creation undergirds all reality and Whose instructions to man how to live (that is, His Commandments) are given to rule men's relationships in harmony of mutual love. It will not admit that in ethics it is impossible to be "non-judgmental." Each moment you and I must decide, and act instantly upon our decisions, how we will treat our neighbor, that is, the person with whom we are dealing at that moment. The very format of the new ethics education, namely, discussion in a theoretical context, encourages the participants not to take ethical decision-making seriously. The enormity of personal responsibility for another's life and well-being, tbe inevitable effect each and every personal decision has upon all mankind, is never brought into focus. Playing "life-boat" in a classroom is one thing; pushing the retarded youngster or the elderly retiree to his death in the ocean is quite another. Yet there is a progression, too; he who has committed murder in the classroom discussion may find it relatively easy to commit murder in real life. He who "wastes a woman" by publishing unconfirmed information about her in the classroom has already broken God's commandment not to bear false witness against his neighbor in his heart. If no one calls the theoretical murderer or slanderer to account in the ethics discussion in school, who will call the actual murderer, much less slanderer, to account in actual society? Not only our schools but also our whole society is now suffering from this ethical relativism and corruption. It is exactly as C. S. Lewis wrote about the relativistic modern educators in his magnificent book The Abolition of Man: "In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

Lewis, being a Christian, believed that all reality in general, and human actions in particular, do have real value and can rightly and justly be admired or despised. Reality, the goodness or villainy of what we think, say and do, is fixed absolutely by God's creative decree. God is not mocked: we will reap that which we sow, corruption or everlasting life (Galatians 6:7-8). The reason this fact about true reality is not taught in our public schools is, of course, that they attempt the impossible, namely, to teach ethics from a "pluralistic" point of view. Within "pluralism" not truth about that which is truly, really right or wrong, but only a false tolerance of any and all opinions (except of biblical Christianity) is possible. Our public schools with their vaunted pluralism cannot, because of the pluralistic foundation, teach any but a relativistic ethics. Their method of teaching ethics must of necessity be "non-judgmental"and consist of "peer group discussion," of suggestion and innuendo rather than the authoritative presentation of sure and certain ethical principles. `When America was still under the ruling influence of Christianity, the public schools' "pluralism" also still largely conformed to a Christian ethics. This is why once upon a time our schools were physically safe, provided a favorable learning environment, and encouraged as well as enforced courtesy, honesty, responsibility and self-respect (the latter a realistic self-respect due to the formation of a respect-deserving character and to respectful behavior).

Parents who take the upbringing of their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord seriously, as they should, must be especially concerned about the ethics instruction their children receive in the schools they attend. At the very least, daily communication with the children about what they learned about how to treat other people is an absolute requirement if the children must attend public schools. If at all possible, Christian parents must send their children to Bible-believing Christian schools; home schooling is an even better alternative. No truce can be made with the false premise of public school "pluralism" that any and all values, any and afl ethics are acceptable in the classroom and worse, in real life. In the name of "pluralism" and "being non-judgmental" true reality is wilfully overlooked and de- spised, as is the Creator and Lord of true reality. He who wilfully overlooks and despises true reality and teaches children and young people in his care to do so, will only reap his own hurt and the corruption of his school and society sooner or later. Even so the purveyors of the "values clarification" program now admit they have only reaped ethical havoc from it, and this is why they want a change. Unfortunately their "change" is only the same old falsehood of "values clarification" tricked out in different language.

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