Disclaimer: This article is for smart people only. So if you think a thesaurus was a dinosaur who lived with homo sapiens some 6000 years ago, then this article is not for you.
Most if not all citizens in the 21st century would affirm the question “should moral values be kept in private, while laws handle the public?” Each individual has the basic right to freedom. Freedoms to tend to his/her own conduct and the values from which it arises, while the law ensures that others respect those rights. Pretty much as long as no harm comes to others and no rights have been infringed upon, then you can do anything you want. A kind of libertarian approach to the diversity of values we hold so dear. This is simplified, but you get the gist.
I assume that most schools are public institutions, no? If we follow our libertarian logic from the first question and apply it this one, it seems that moral values – which fall outside of the law - should not be taught at school. However this is not the case in South Africa; in fact we are taught much more private moral values than we learn about law. Isn’t this peculiar and somewhat unsettling to you? I even had a teacher laughing at me when I read her the constitution when my hair was too long.
‘Boys may not have long hair in schools!’ Das ist verboten according who knows what private moral value they wanted to teach us. A decade later and I still don’t know. Aside from such rules being discriminatorily based on gender, I find it exceedingly arbitrary from a moral point of view. Maybe someone can assist me with some clarity.
Now to my main point. The most pressing set of private moral values being taught – taught here being an arrant euphemism - is religion. If we pride ourselves on our rights to freedom and autonomy, then why do we prescribe something putatively private to the public? Following are some preliminary counterarguments to get us started.
“Without schools preaching religion, it will be chaos along with our children never learning discipline.” This assertion relies on the assumption that without religion, morality and good conduct is not possible. The said assumption is probably the most narrow-minded one ever; one that is usually purveyed with the smuggest of tones. Ignorance oozing from their innocent eyes, creating a slippery slope large enough to slide all the way down to hell on earth. Don’t you just love irony? Or is it a bit too dramatic?
My reply is this: philosophers have debated and comported morality long before Jesus was born. The discipline is called ethics, though the word is anachronistic. Ethics concerns both secular and religious theory; it also concerns what values should become laws and which are merely morals. For me ethics on the whole seems much more encompassing and, well, more valuable to us as citizens and private individuals.
Sadly in our schools, the only manifestation of ethical teaching is Christianity. So much for diversity. This is analogous to a school only teaching Newton because the executive committee believe ALL the others, including Einstein’s theory of relativity is wrong. “Who knows how dangerous and evil the children will become if they dabble in quantum mechanics, or even worse… Dark matter!?” Now that is a very good question, one that merits some careful consideration.
Another response is that the vast majority of people in S.A. are Christians. So according to democratic principles religion can and should be taught in schools. To this I reply: if we sanction a dominant religion, then we are not very far away from sanctioning a dominant culture… I hope by now that alarm bells are going off in your head and that you are already consciously thinking about what happened last time our hubristic forefathers did something like that. Now this is a slope straight to hell on earth, this time much more jagged than slippery and dramatic.
In conclusion I cannot understand why our schools are still ‘voluntarily coercing’ its pupils to partake in rituals and rites which are presupposed to be fundamentally private matters. For me, there should not even be an option. Rituals like prayer are a private matter, period.
The little resources schools receive these days can be much better spent on a secular ethics course which does not arrogate the already amenable youth toward only one predisposition. More importantly secular ethics doesn’t assume that the pupil already believes in it beforehand; it advocates - and doesn’t suppress - the critical thinking aspects essential to becoming a great mind.
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