The Tao in Moral Education

Although I can see how people might think the opposite, I do not believe that the Ten Commandments are a form of what Lewis refers to as the Tao. Perhaps some of them are, such as “you shall not murder” or “you shall not steal”. The Tao in The Abolition of Man is not a set of values from one religion or another, but rather a collection of common morals agreed upon by societies, and many of the commandments are not something you’d see across cultures. For example, “you shall not covet your neighbor’s house”. While the other commandments described actions you should not take, this one describes thoughts you should not have. However, in US culture, it is often widely accepted that thoughts of something you want are fine, so long as you don’t act upon them (or if you do, do so within the bounds of morality). One thing I found interesting about Exodus, and all the rules God imposed on his people, was that he was very explicit in many things. Though most of the rules hardly apply to a school setting, it put me in mind of something I was reading for another class. In Teaching with Love and Logic, Funk (1995) describes a situation where a school had a rule for everything. They thought they had covered every aspect of misbehavior by the students, until one day a boy threw a dead fish at a girl, and there was no rule that stated that “boys can’t throw dead fish at girls”. This approach, having an explicit rule for everything, can be confining, and it’s easy to work around. For example, in All the King’s Men, Hugh Miller—considered an “honorable” man, though he was considered thus by Jack, whose judgment I question—believes that doing the right thing involves following the rules set down by the American government. These explicitly state what should be done in a situation regarding Byram White and his misuse of his political position. However, Willie Talos (Stark) finds a way to work around the law by forcing Byram into a position where he should do as Talos asks lest he lose his place in politics (which he apparently wants). Willie, despite his questionable morals, I still think at this point in his career intends to do right by the people, and believes he is doing so. He is guided more by a set of moral principles (so he thinks), and these are more difficult to break. In the classroom and in life, I think this is a more reasonable approach. I think it’s easier to break God’s rules in Exodus than it would have been had he stated “You shall respect your neighbor, and be kind” or something (which are both rules I have had in my own classroom), and in the classroom it’s easier for students to break “You shall not throw a dead fish at a girl” (maybe they’ll throw a live one next time!) than “be kind”. Though I will add that three of the Ten Commandments are values I personally hold (don’t murder, steal, or lie, essentially). I mentioned in my study guide that I read a book somewhere where a character thinks that stealing is the ultimate sin. To murder is to steal life, to embarrass someone (or bully them) is to steal their dignity and comfort. We all have basic human rights, which are protected by what Lewis calls the Tao. These are basic rules for living in society. He claims that to make an argument against the Tao requires use of the Tao itself, and therefore invalid, which means it’s basically a code we all follow. There is some overlap between the Tao and the Ten Commandments, though again, I don’t think one is the other.


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