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Back to Sept. Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 164 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS SEPTEMBER 1999
FOCUS:
'Situation Ethics' standard led to morally sick nation

By Dennis L. Cuddy

Television commentator Ted Koppel, on a recent Nightline segment, noted President Clinton's high job approval ratings, and then said: "But ask about his honesty, moral and ethical standards or the president as a role model for young people and Mr. Clinton's approval ratings are down around 20 percent."

Koppel then asked several U.S. senators, "What does this say about our country and our values? What's the bottom line? Show me the money? If you're making money for me, what kind of a human being you are is sort of irrelevant?"

Translated, this means as long as the situation (a good economy) is acceptable, you won't be held accountable for misbehavior. This is classic "situation ethics," which has become the new national morality. But from where did this come?

In the 1960s, when God was removed from public schools, values continued to be taught. The student became the new authority for determining what is right and wrong - the autonomous moral decisionmaker - and decisions were made based upon particular situations.

Leading educator Ted Sizer in 1970 wrote: "Christian sermonizing denies individual autonomy, which lies at the heart of a new morality . . . toward which we are to guide ourselves and other people."

During the 1970s, one kept hearing the mantra, "Don't impose your morality on me." And in 1979, a CBS News poll found 66% of those surveyed would support a leader who would bend the rules to get things done.

In the 1980s, there was a conservative backlash against this humanistic moral relativism, but a co-founder of a four-million member humanist and ethical group, H.J. Blackham, wrote that if schools teach dependence (e.g., morals) upon one's self, they are "more revolutionary than any conspiracy to overthrow the government."

He was right! "If it feels good, do it" was the philosophy of many young people when it came to illicit sex and illegal drugs.

Tipper Gore wrote in the Jan. 8, 1990 Washington Post: "A majority of children surveyed by a Rhode Island Rape Crisis Center thought rape was acceptable. In New York City, rape arrests of 13-year-old boys have increased 200% in the past two years."

The Day America Told the Truth - What People Really Believe About Everything That Really Matters was published the next year. In that book, authors James Patterson and Peter Kim detail poll results showing Americans "are making up their own moral codes," with 9 out of 10 citizens reporting they lie regularly, one-third of all married Americans indicating they've had an affair, and 7% saying that for $10 million they would kill a stranger.

The problem with situation ethics is that nearly all our laws are based on the imposition of a particular morality (e.g., the biblical admonition "Thou shalt not bear false witness . . .") with which some will disagree on occasion. For example, because some people want to lie under oath about sexual matters, society has "imposed its morality" against perjury in those situations. That is why some people in government positions have been impeached or even jailed for having committed perjury.

Concerning allegations of perjury against Clinton, there should not be one law for the powerful and another for the poor. If courts cannot compel witnesses to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, then our government will have been "overthrown," as Blackham was quoted above.

We can already see what situation ethics is doing to our teenagers today. According to a recent national poll of more than 20,000 middle and high school students conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics: 70% of high school students admitted cheated on an exam at least once in the last year, 78% said they had lied two or more times, and an amazing 47% acknowledged having stolen something from a store in the last 12 months.

Dennis L. Cuddy is a former senior associate with the U.S. Department of Education and the author of Secret Records Revealed (about Bill Clinton and others). Call 1-888-891-3300 for more information.


 
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