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Back to April Ed Reporter
Education Reporter
NUMBER 123 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS APRIL 1996

FOCUS:

Yes, Schools Teach Values — But Maybe Not Yours

by Anne Huff

Concerned parent Lee Anne Hopkins was disturbed by a note she received from the counselor at Northwood Middle School in Taylors, SC. The note told parents that the counselor would be showing 6th grade students a series of videos entitled "The Power of Choice" in their social studies class during December and the first two weeks of January. The counselor also said a parent who did not wish a child to participate should return an attached permission slip telling the social studies teacher the child was not to view the videos.

Besides "The Power of Choice" (introduction to making good decisions), the scheduled videos were "Self-Esteem," "Acting on Your Values," and "Raising Your Parents." The series features Michael Pritchard, a juvenile probation officer turned comedian/youth counselor.

It was disturbing to Mrs. Hopkins that, when she asked to see the videos the very next morning after she received the note and permission slip, she was told that the video series was scheduled to start in the 6th grade classes that day.

She expressed concern over the lack of time allowed for interested parents to preview the videos. She said the counselor told her she had sent the notes home as a courtesy, and that she did not have to send permission slips home before showing the films.

Mrs. Hopkins contacted me because of my recent appointment to Greenville County's Sex Education Advisory Committee. I suggested we view the videos before her child saw them in his social studies class that afternoon. The school was very cooperative in allowing Hopkins access to the videos, which are part of the video collection in the school's media center.

We were very disturbed by what we saw. The first video, "The Power of Choice," was not available to us because it already was in use in the social studies classes. After viewing only one of the remaining films -- the one on self esteem -- Hopkins had seen enough to know she didn't want her child exposed to this series.

However, we gritted our teeth and watched the rest of the films out of a sense of responsibility to the children and families of Greenville County, as well as the rest of South Carolina.

The controversial technique known as Values Clarification is the central feature of this series. Used with its companion technique of non-directive counseling, the films strike a wounding blow at the moral foundation with which most Greenville County children come to school.

Peer pressure in the middle school years is a powerful enough obstacle for parents to deal with. This series clearly seeks to erode parents' authority even further. The impression one gets from these films is that the values parents have tried to instill in their children are considered archaic, out of date, and not truly valid in today's society.

The "Raising Your Parents" video was a prime example of the hands-off approach today's parents are expected to take in the raising of their children. The nondirective nature of the video and the exercises that go with it are illustrated by one of the group activities that is part of the discussion guide. This sounds like the cooperative learning groups of the Outcome-Based Education approach, which you've heard about whenever the Politically Correct crowd talks about education "restructuring."

The facilitator is instructed to divide the children into small groups "for some peer helping. Each person describes the major problem or limitation he or she faces in relating to parents. The others then suggest options their peers might have in improving this situation. The point of this discussion is not to come to a conclusion, merely to present a number of options before going on to the next person."

In the video, one girl said it was hard to communicate with her parents and that she had tried to take the easy way out by attempting to kill herself. She said they wouldn't let her blossom like a flower and learn from her own mistakes. The girl went on to say that she couldn't talk to her parents about basic things like sex and drugs _ "my father is like, 'you tap dance to my music or get the h--- out.'"

I wonder how many kids will be able to concentrate on math or English class after one of these highly charged, emotionally draining, privacy-invading sessions. Also, how many parents realize that their family's dirty laundry may be aired at school from the perspective of an immature adolescent?

One of the main points of the video, in my opinion, is that kids shouldn't expect parents to talk about sex because they grew up in different times. Parents who do talk to their children should offer their opinions, not their judgments. (Mom shouldn't make her daughter feel that, just because she didn't have sex before she was married, her daughter should do likewise.) Kids already know what their parents' views are on sex and drugs and alcohol, so when they need someone to talk to, it doesn't occur to them to consult their parents. (They already know what their parents will tell them.)

A girl who disagreed with the idea that her parents would always say the same thing stated that her mom might consider sexual activity inappropriate for her at age 12, but might consider it appropriate when the girl was 16.

A boy featured in the film said that parents should act as teachers, and teach the kids about sex and how to prepare for it. He said kids have to make these decisions for themselves, and that parents have to realize they are not going to be in bed with them. The boy went on to say that, after parents play the role of teachers, mentioning things like precautions and possible consequences, they are just supposed to be friends and to "be there" for their children.

The few good points made in the video were quickly quashed by the all-knowing young people featured, who were, of course, presented as the best determiners of what's right for them.

Pritchard shared an experience from his own teen years in the video "Acting on Your Values." He described how he had found a wallet with $267 in it during his senior year of high school. He told the students about the conflicting feelings he had experienced, wondering whether to return the wallet to its rightful owner or use the money to buy a good Christmas for his family, because his father was dying and there was no money for Christmas presents.

Of course, the young lady with the strongest personality in the film said she wouldn't hesitate to take the money and give it to her mother. When criticized by others, she was quick to retort that the people who said they would have returned the money didn't know how desperate things could get, and couldn't really judge what they would do until they had been in the same situation. The conclusion appeared to be that, if your family was in trouble, you could put honesty aside while you looked after them first.

Pritchard grinned as he told the children that in real life he had kept the money and that his family had had a wonderful Christmas, but that as an adult he had wondered what had happened to the guy who lost the wallet. With a big, smirky laugh, he added, "That's why I thought I'd ask you guys."

Later on in the film, Pritchard said that what was important was that the students valued things and that the things they valued were important. He then asked what that said about them. A young man quickly said it showed that the kids were concerned and that they do value something. They aren't a "lost generation," he said; rather, they have values in accordance with what's going on in the world today, though their values may differ from those of their parents.

Pritchard later asked where people's values come from. The crowd said parents and society. "Society in general?" Pritchard asked. The group again responded, society and parents.

One of the strongest statements came from a female student who said, "Everything is generated from your family because, if you have a strong family relation, then you're going to build your values around what your family builds their family on _ a lot of my family values are off the wall." "Yes," Pritchard affirmed.

The girl continued that her mother's and grandmother's values came from way, way back and that these values cannot be used in our society because so many things have changed. She went on to say that their values are making her say, "Well, I have to think on my own."

A young girl who said she got her values from her family and her religion was quickly put down by a young man who said he was Jewish but did not follow his parents' religion. He said he followed his own religion.

The video concludes with this statement from Pritchard: "All life is making choices and, when you make choices that are consistent with your values, then you are doing what's best for you. And in this life, you can make good choices or you can make rotten choices, but you will always have the power of choice."

With this kind of pap for guidance, how can we be surprised that many children no longer seem to know the difference between right and wrong? Could this help explain, for instance, how a nice, unassuming young man could take hostages and rob two local banks while his victims sat and worried that he might harm himself?

When the lines between right and wrong become so blurred, the losers will be the generation that is about to inherit a nation totally bankrupt of the moral values on which this nation was founded.

 
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