Who’s against putting values in the schools? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?*
Of course not. It would be like being against puppies, or butterflies, or the continuing use of the letter “E” in the English language. And so Canadian schools are scrambling to put as many values into their curriculum as much as possible.
Personally, I wish values had never left, but allow me to voice a little bit of a contrary opinion. I like values. I even have some! But values, it seems to me, are exactly what parents most want to pass on to their kids themselves. I’d love to see certain values taught loudly in the schools, but what if we all don’t agree on which values are important? It’s far too easy for “respect”, for instance, to devolve into “respect for me but not for thee”. It has in British Columbia, where the curriculum is being rewritten to applaud gay marriage and ignore religious opposition to it. Closer to my own home, anti-bullying sessions in one Prince Edward County school in 2005 led to seventh grade children being invited to a homosexual support meeting without their parents’ permission. And teaching “responsibility” can mean teaching “safe sex” rather than abstinence. Regardless of how one feels about these issues, we should all agree that no parental consensus here exists, and so many parents will not have their values recognized at all. Values are not necessarily as innocuous as they may seem.
But there’s a far more basic problem at work here besides just the content of any values curriculum. I think parents and schools are switching places, and that is not a good thing.
Increasingly schools are trying to compensate for parental deficiencies. Parents aren’t teaching about sex? Then schools better do it. Parents aren’t teaching how to brush teeth properly? Then schools better take up the slack. Recently my nephew’s fifth grade class took a trip to the library and the farmer’s market. Now these are fun places; I take my children there myself. But library trips are taken so that kids whose parents don’t take them to the library get introduced to it. If every kid already had a library card, the trip wouldn’t have been necessary. But off they trekked anyway.
I’m sure they had a good time. But let’s face it: some of these kids do not know their times tables. Remember that school in Prince Edward County I mentioned? They’ve tried to decrease bullying, but in the meantime 50% of their elementary students rank below standard. In my Board, the majority of schools have 40% of their students failing to even meet basic provincial academic levels.
And the more schools abdicate their teaching role, the more parents have to compensate for the school’s deficiencies. We’ve piled so much extra stuff onto teachers that academics too often gets the short shrift. Parents are now spending important hours at home teaching kids long division, instead of enjoying family time bonding, and schools are doing the extras. Something’s not right.
I know there are good reasons for field trips to the library, or for stressing physical fitness at school, or any of the other things that get tacked on to a school day. Introducing a child to the world of books helps with academic pursuits, right? And our obesity problem means that health needs to be stressed in school. But what if schools simply can’t do everything? What if the more they try, the more they end up doing nothing well?
Besides, as the schools gradually infringe on more areas of parental responsibility, they give the message that this is now the school’s job. You need to be an expert to properly teach sex education, or respect, or honesty. Parents aren’t good enough anymore. That’s not the intended consequence, but that’s the message they’re giving. If the problem is that parents are leaving too much by the wayside, then the more the school steps in, the more they will simply exacerbate the situation.
Schools cannot rescue all kids who come from less than ideal homes. What they can do is to teach those kids to read and write so that when they grow up, they have the skills to choose a different future for themselves. That is the best gift they could give these children. I only hope that education ministers wake up and allow teachers to devote the time they need to actual teaching. That, after all, is supposed to be their mission.
*If you don’t get the reference, see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s worth it.