This week in class, we discussed the “architecture of moral education”, and the six pillars that hold up what we value in terms of our rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These pillars are what the education committee wanted to instill in K-12 education in order to create a democratic American society. Service, honesty, civility, kindness, participation, and commitment all support our rights for speech, assembly, religion, and life.
In an elementary school classroom, I think that all of these cardinal values should be taught on a day-to-day basis, rather than in a single lesson. We can think of it as a lesson plan for the year, actually. Kindness should be praised and encouraged every day. Students should be given opportunities to collaborate and work together, sharing ideas and helping each other figure something out. In two of the classes I tutor (third and fourth grade), the teacher allows time for table groups or table partners to work together on their math. The teams put together factor arrays cooperatively, and help identify mistakes or correct answers for each other. This is excellent team-building skills that the kids will need later in school and in life.
Commitment is another thing I think should be encouraged every day. Students (especially struggling ones) often tend to give up when something is too difficult. I think it is up to the teacher to stay with them and make sure these students are challenged, but they should be challenged at the level they are at, rather than at a level high above their own. Students need to be shown how their hard work can pay off. In an elementary classroom, this can be done with charts that the students create themselves, or posters they create to show their cumulative knowledge of a unit. If they can hold tangible evidence of their own success, I think it will create a sense of pride and accomplishment within the student that will allow them to bring more commitment to the work they do.
Another pillar is civility, or obedience, with the idea that students who are raised to respect their society will become fair and democratic citizens. Again, I believe this should be taught every day, and never explicitly. I know from experience teaching preschool that telling a student that they need to follow the rules, and actually having students that follow the rules are two separate things. Being a role model for respecting and listening is, as I have found, far more effective in teaching students civility. However, I also believe that it is important to praise good listening and good behavior.
In a year-long lesson plan, it is important to provide many opportunities for students to volunteer or somehow service their community. Even in young children, it is something we can promote early, if students are given the chance. A second grade classroom might have field trips where they pick up trash in a park, meanwhile learning about pollution and how waste affects the environment. They could also work on their reading skills in a nursing home, reading letters or books, or writing skills in creating valentine’s cards for the same people. Older kids can brainstorm ideas on their own for bringing their own particular talents to their community, and might come up with ways to raise money or awareness, help clean up the environment, bring companionship for people who may not have it, and many other methods of community service.
The last pillar is honesty. Valuing trust is an important step in a democratic society, since it is important for the people to trust one another and their political leaders. In an elementary classroom, it is sometimes difficult to determine when a student is lying about one thing or another. As teachers, we see how some lies can affect others, or the student’s own success. In some cases, I think this goes back to teaching commitment and a good work ethic: lying about an assignment will not let a student succeed. Allowing them to chart and monitor their own success may help to teach them that lying about an assignment may not be their best move. On the other hand, lying about a person or lying to them can hurt them. We, as teachers, can help them talk out why they lied and show how feelings were hurt, but I think that often the bigger picture doesn’t really get across their minds, especially in young kids. So how do you teach honesty as an object lesson? Kids seem to think that lying about something can change the truth of it somehow. If you say you didn’t do it, then you didn’t! Even though you did…Teaching honesty in a more concrete way could be a very valuable lesson, and can be done multiple times throughout the year (and even at home). I read about some interesting ideas involving putting salt on ice cream and covering it up with chocolate (does the “chocolate lie” really cover up the taste of the salt?) or other objects that allow students to use their senses to discover the truth.
Again, I think it is very important to keep each of these cardinal values in mind during classroom time throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be specific lessons for each value that explain what it is and why it is important.