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Can you talk about morality without actually talking about it?

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

I came across an interesting school’s website. As I navigated through their ‘Values’ page, it read, ‘We teach 23 values every term.’ This got me doing some math in my head. Here is what it is: On a typical primary school day, you have an hour and a half of English. Then you have a small break followed by another hour and a half of Math. By now, it is lunch. After that, you have a couple of hours for Topic, P.E., Music, and anything else that can be squeezed into the timetable. So, every single week, children get about 15 hours for English and Math. For any other subject, more than 2 hours is exceptional. The timetable is crammed, and teachers are quite occupied with not just teaching but also a tonne of paperwork. In the midst of this, 23 values might become a check-box exercise. A lot of other schools have 12-15 values. Some others have around 7-10. Is it possible to effectively teach so many values in the already jampacked primary timetable? And the more important question is, do we really need to?

I guess the first step towards teaching morality is to honestly ask ourselves how well, we as schools, do it? I met Prof. Thomas Lickona, also known as the Father of Modern Character Education, at a conference in London following which we spoke about which values should be absolutely essential in schools. He came up with three, and so did I. He said Love, Honesty, and Respect. I said Kindness, Honesty, and Humility. Whilst I agree that love is what we need to achieve, the approach to love should be through kindness. Here is why, If I asked you, “Do you love Donald Trump?” Chances are that you will feel a little nauseated (unless you are a die-hard Trumpeteer). And that is because love is quite personal and innate. You love your mother, but that love cannot be replicated for others. However, if I said, ‘Could you be kind enough to give Donald Trump a glass of water?’ You might agree to that. And that is because you can be kind to people you do not love or like. And kindness back and forth over a period of time fosters love. Coming back to the topic of the article, through this approach you have started teaching love without talking about it. Similarly, a lot of schools emphasize the teaching of a tonne of other values, for example, trustworthiness. Yes, we can teach this explicitly. But we can also teach it implicitly. A strong approach to teaching honesty will help understand children the importance of being truthful. As a by-product of being honest, a person becomes trustworthy. This way you incorporate trustworthiness without talking about it (or at least without talking much about it – which then gets too boring).

The key is to address the core values that can help foster others indirectly. An example is given below on how we can focus on the direct/core values and dedicate time towards these in the timetable.

(Direct) Kindness

(Indirect) Empathy, Forgiveness, Love, Respect

(Direct) Honesty

(Indirect) Word-keeping, loyalty, trustworthiness

(Direct) Humility

(Indirect) Reliability, Respect, Responsibility, Kindness

These values have some overlaps with one another but a good mix of the three direct values will create a character with the ability to attain all other virtues indirectly.

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