Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
Catholic Committee: VALUES Education

by Guy Côté,
President of the Catholic Committee


The report of the Task Force on Curriculum Reform virtually identifies values education with citizenship education focused on the "commitment to democracy" (Reaffirming the Mission of Our Schools, p. 33-34). In keeping with their mission to strengthen a sense of social cohesion, schools are thus called upon to promote, first and foremost, the adoption of certain common values including recognition of others as worthy of respect, solidarity, responsibility, social justice, the rule of law, and participation in democracy.

This highlights a key aspect of the school's educational mission, offsetting the ambient relativism and reminding us of the nature of certain ethical choices we must make to live together in a pluralistic, fragmented society. However, citizenship education is only one aspect of values education. Reducing the latter to the former threatens to overshadow the development of a well-rounded individual, worthy of interest in his own right, not simply as an agent of social consolidation. Education seeks to achieve a human quality marked by courage and freedom, selflessness and trust in others, wonder and creativity, hope, tolerance, solidarity, a sense of what is right, and justice.


Basis for adopting values


Regardless of the values we feel should be advocated, our efforts will be sterile unless we examine the conditions under which these values can be acquired. What can give rise to a lasting commitment to certain values? The report stresses the need for identifying rational foundations such as "the commitment to democracy as a goal", upon which to found the adoption of common values (p. 33). In a similar vein, endorsement of the goal of saving the individual from social homogenization could be proposed. While no doubt indispensable, this type of rationalization is insufficient as a basis for adopting values. The ancient Greeks had already understood that choosing good does not simply ensue from knowing what is good or from seeking meaning: it also requires will, and the entire being's commitment, resulting from an attraction to beauty, goodness and truth. Various factors can help give rise to and support such a commitment. For instance, the report quite rightly states that the values promoted must be "inherent in the community life of the school" (p. 52). We could add that the ability to freely adopt values conducive to human growth is developed through a relationship of trust with and respect for role models, and by listening to one’s conscience and innermost being. Values education presupposes social, emotional and spiritual integration if we are to go beyond ethical exhortation or a simple exercise in enlightened judgment.

Seen in this light, values education may enlist all of a school's resources; no one discipline has a monopoly in this respect. Values may be taught in different contexts, through various actions or situations, often unexpectedly. One might consider it somewhat illusory to think that "the goal of personal development, based on an awareness of human values, does not necessarily need to be assigned a specific place in the curriculum" (p. 52). As the saying goes, when everybody's responsible, nobody's responsible. Consequently, it appears necessary that times for reflection, interiorization, deliberation and experimenting with values be integrated into a subject-time allocation; otherwise, a relatively systematic approach would appear virtually impossible to achieve.

Panorama • Volume 3, Number 3 • November 1998


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