From all angles, we face an ethical crisis. What ethics do you think are important to impart to children and youth at this time?
To college age children?
What are the ways that you would seek to impart these ethics?
Role-modeling cannot be underestimated. Otherwise our words are hollow and meaningless to our kids. My three kids are now college age, and I have found through trial and error that the best way at this point to impart ethics is to be a good listener and hope that they paid attention when they were younger and learned. By the time they reach college-age, it's a lot harder, because they aren't children anymore and will be experimenting with their life choices. It's the hardest thing to listen to my kids sometimes without judging or nagging, but if I do listen openly, they will bring things to me, and trust my opinions a lot more.
Bottom line is, be the kind of person you hope your kids grow up to be. Nobody's going to be perfect, but it's also powerful for them to see you fail and try again, to see you screw up and apologize and make things right. It lets them know that life is a learning experience. Show them how to write a letter to the editor, to their legislator, give them power to do the right thing. That's my humble opinion, and my kids are all kind-hearted, generous, caring people. The ethics that I believe are the most important are empathy, tolerance, kindness, honesty, integrity, accountability, and a sense of fairness.
We see ample examples today in our society of deteriorating moral and ethical values with a misplaced emphasis on all material measures of success--money, power, name, fame, talent and all outer achievements. If I remember it correctly, Gandhiji pointed out the danger of having power without principles, wealth without morality and education without character.. I would like, therefore, some ethical education courses to be introduced in schools and colleges, such as: "Nonviolent Conflict Resolution;" "Inter-cultural and Inter-faith understanding;" "Biographies of Great Peace Promoters" such as Gandhi, King, Mandela, and other world leaders. More than religious education, what the young people need today is ethical education with an exposure to different people, their cultures, their ways of thinking, living, believing and celebrating.
I want you all to know that I am grateful to be able to discuss these ideas here, with people who have some basic agreement on the moral relevancy of Dr. King and Gandhiji. I think there is a general consensus that ethical life starts in the home, with the parents and family atmosphere. I was thinking about this while muddling through the morning, and thought how Gandhi had stressed that there was no school superior to a decent and well ordered home, that sexual science education should be taught by someone qualified to teach it - someone who was a master of their sexual instincts, not a slave to them. At present we teach out kids in the West at a very young age, how to have sex. We do not simultaneously teach them how to be good parents, how to be married, how to use ethics in human relations. Women have lost the primary right to say 'NO' in their intimate relations, and still have that relation going. The basis of married life has become sexuality, sexual attraction, not the ethical performance of duty to children and home, and through them, society.
Given that there are more and more children who are being brought up in morally confusing environments and atmospheres, how could curriculums and courses be designed from KG on up, that shifted the entire focus of human relations from selfish motives to ethical relations, from liscensing for sexual self expression to the duty of ethical preparation for marriage and for sex?
I welcome all your ideas...
In response to your original question - I think it is important to impart to children a sense of social justice and a desire for themselves to be part of that change, no matter whether the issues or rights they are fighting for are not directly relevant to them. Simple awareness of social justice is not enough if children are complacent and don't play whatever small role they can in that positive change. Similarly, a desire to change without some guidance of social justice issues that need change is not enough.
Thank-You dear Ashni,
I agree. How do you think individually participatory experience in social justice issues could be implemented in the present day schooling system in the US?
In the US, the teachers have more leeway to create the lessons...here in India, and perhaps most of Asia, teachers are under huge stress in most schools to complete a horrendously heavy curriculum, of what a professor called, 'dirty bucket education'. The teacher and student cram the knowledge and facts in, literally without questioning the validity, relevance or relationship to life or the world, memorize the 'portions' and take the exams, pouring the info out of their little heads, leaving some residual facts (the dirty bucket).
I remember as a child participating in the first Earth Day, in the US and it made a big impact on me... But even then, that participation was not really of practical value - we collected sponsors to walk 10 miles in support of Earth Day, then listened to some famous musicians - Pete Seegar being one. However, that was a hugely different event from sitting in the class, and walking was a type of participation. But still, the lack of meaningful participation also served to make me feel a little distanced from the whole environmental issue.
I am wondering what ways you see that children could have a positive role in social justice issues in the given system? What suggestions do you have (if any) for the Asian system?
Are you in the field, so to speak, the classroom yourself?
I am not at this time.
In the US as well, teachers are faced with the reality of having to adhere to content standards, leaving no room for social justice or human rights education. That is why we at the Liberation Curriculum try to use the history of social movements to teach ethical concepts of social justice, nonviolence, and human rights. I am the director of Liberation Curriculum (LC) - not teaching in the classroom.
I did grow up studying in the Indian ICSE system and am aware of the rote memorization trends you are talking about - studied them formally as well in my Masters thesis. It's important to bring critical thinking as a first step into the Indian system, especially in the humanities and social sciences. Children can always have a positive impact on social justice issues - but the curriculum to encourage and empower them to do so must be child-centered, must encourage their active participation, and allow them to be drivers of change instead of telling them exactly what kind of change needs to be made, and how. We have to allow our students to be fully expressive and intelligent, and give rein to the funds of knowledge they themselves come to the classroom with.
In a recent trip to Dharamshala I was able to pick up a copy of Vinoba Bhave's (2008)Thoughts on Education, translated by Marjorie Sykes. Sarva Seva Sangh-Prakashan, copyright holder: Gram Seva Mandal. I just love the Indian Railway bookstalls!
Vinoba took Gandhi's ideals for Nai Talim and applied them further in both Indian and universal contexts. These ideals for education deeply respect the child as a part of, rather than apart from, the environment they are in.
I see correlations between his thinking and your ideas on the child becoming fully expressive, cognizant of the 'funds of knowledge they themselves come to the classroom with'.
One thing I am becoming more aware of, is that no matter what kind of 'educational environment' is created for the child, the environment that the child is in is greatly influenced by the thoughts of his/her peers. Children that are growing up with the TV as a babysitter or constant companion, have minds that are affected by that experience. The same with domestic problems. All of this becomes part of the classroom environment, in a very real way.
In the US, despite the wonderful material resources for children, many children exhibit deep boredom with school by 7th grade, and an increasing lack of motivation.
I feel that Nai Talim, which is a very practical approach to education and life would greatly benefit the children in industrialized countries, if it was adapted intelligently.
What do you think?
I'm not very familiar with Nai Talim so I can't really comment. However, I think that many educators in industrialized countries are aware of the importance and need for child-centered education. Many here try experiential learning - letting children engage with and learn from their environment. However, like teachers everywhere, they are bound by the constraints of testing and content standards. Often, experiential learning takes time and would mean that a teacher wouldn't be able to cover all the content he or she needs to in the school year. Even in schools where child-centered education (experiential educ is child-centered but the latter is not necessarily true) is a reality, there are other factors that affect a child's motivation and learning - such as family, environment, socio-economic level, etc., as you yourself mention.
Though late, I thought the issue is worth discussing and that it was left incomplete.
@Ashni, Nai Talim is a principle advocated by Gandhiji for imparting skills in the children and youngsters by which they will be able to play active role in producing physical assets required for them as individuals, for their community and for the country. The Education these days creates an inertia in the body of the person. The knowledge of the mind unless coordinated with the movement of the body results only in mere intellectual satisfaction of that person. Through Education, we should build people who can create and deliver the ideas, who give the ideas a physical form for the people to experience. It would be good if you can go through the following two organizations to understand what I meant by building assets for individuals, community and the country. www.vigyanashram.comwww.nariphaltan.org . Nice to see someone working passionately for children :)
Coming to the child centric learning, experiential learning and learning from environment, all these rekindle the lost connection between the student, the nature and the people around them. These do not have much to do with ethics and social justice though the students can naturally get a feel of ethics and justice. However, meeting the syllabus standards is only one of the small obstacles in achieving the objectives of experiential learning, ethical values and social justice. Also, as Morphius in Matrix says "Knowing and Walking the path are different." Of what use are those values which cannot be shown in actions.Introducing subjects such as ethics, social justice etc as standard subjects at an age requires the person who is teaching to stand by those values. I am pretty sure that one cannot find such people these days atleast not so many to make the subject a part of school curriculum. The children usually live in a safe zone where they do not necessarily do things which violate ethics and even if they do, there are teachers and parents around to guide him. This is a natural process in which the child imbibes values into his character. However, once the students are out of their academic life, they will have to continuously stand by their character every day.
To end it, if the ethics or moral standards or social justice are to be inculcated into the life of people, it should be targeted at adults rather than children. Children are to be given time to wonder, observe the nature, generate new ideas and create things on their own. Before making him part of the force to fight, lets give him enough time to get equipped.
Sorry, I didnt give my introduction as it would make the message much more longer.
I think ethics and social justice basically come down to a respect for life and a sense of action for the community born out of nonviolence. I think children gain that through Nai Talim type experiential learning. I disagree that social justice should not be taught to children. Caring about social justice is a way of life and it can be integrated in all parts of the curriculum - it doesn't have to be a separate subject. Moreover, children are often confronted by social injustices and feel powerless to act towards solving them. They ought to be equipped with the methods of challenging injustice - one way is through nonviolent direct action which can be taught within the context of social justice.
Good that we agree on one part of discussion that students can naturally gain respect for life, sense of 'ownership' for the community and non violence. The key word is the "Ownership". All the people who really work for social justice have a sense of ownership towards the community, society, environment or anything they are striving for. It is the intensity of action to regain the ownership (the ownership can be of tangible things or of intangibles like human values), that differs from individual to individual.
I agree that the children should be equipped to confront social injustice but it need not be a direct message to him through curriculum. Make him go through the process of creating something on his own and protecting it from all bad consequences. Make him feel how sticking to principles and values is really like. Make him realize how it feels when one takes complete responsibility of even a small thing. Else, he will see all the theories taught in the classroom go in vain once he tries to apply them.
PS: I am new to this community. I do not know to what depth the topics are usually discussed by people here.