Love's Place for Establishing our Values
Good habits rooted in early experiences of true love cultivate virtue. When loving parents care for their children, a natural pathway for the development of the child's conscience and heart emerges. Individuals raised in an atmosphere of true love know that they exist for the community, for the nation, for the world. A study of people who rescued Jews from death in Nazi Europe found that they were motivated by strong values of caring and inclusiveness. These values were mainly transmitted to them through early childhood experiences of bonding with their parents.
Since love is so important for establishing our values, when it becomes corrupted or self-centered, it distorts our natural inclination to embody virtue. The bad habits that are rooted in selfish and immature love develop into vices. The way to realize true love is not random, but it is shaped by our habits and guided by universal principles.
Happiness and True Love
Full happiness comes through the satisfaction of both physical and spiritual desires. These desires find their harmony through a higher principle, which is true love. True love specifies the moral and ethical dimensions of love.
Love is the emotional attraction, through which subject and object partners unite and feel joy. The attraction of love is neutral and can take various directions. True love is the proper direction, cultivated through family ethics. Love that is not true takes the wrong or unethical direction. True love seeks complete, lasting and all-encompassing joy. When the heart strives for such a joy, its efforts are manifested as true love.
Problems of a "Values-Neutral" Perspective
In the 1960s, the West witnessed the breakdown of values traditionally promoted by education. It was the time of the sexual revolution and the drug culture, in which youth began to challenge all forms of authority. The concept that values are absolute and unchanging was rejected, and it was replaced by a moral relativism in which there were no longer clear distinctions between right and wrong. With what was called, "values clarification," everything was thrown open to question for the students to decide whether it was right or wrong. Soon thereafter, selfish individualism became fashionable. Individual rights became more important than individual responsibility to society. Values such as sacrifice, and self-denial were considered no longer necessary and even regarded as a foolish approach to life. These viewpoints were promoted by the popular culture.
These cultural changes have had a strong impact on education. Many educators began to adopt a “values-neutral” perspective, claiming that they had no right to “impose” their systems of value on their students. Everyone's viewpoint was to be respected, no matter what it was. At the same time, there was a general decline in the influence of religion and its moral teachings. The distrust of authority extended into the classroom, reducing teachers from the role of moral examples and guides to that of facilitators of the learning process.
The result of this approach is to relativize traditional moral teachings, which tend to be presented as old-fashioned and unrealistic for modern times or else as authoritarian intrusions into personal choices. This approach also tends to undermine the authority of parents and the important role they should play in a child's upbringing. Students are encouraged to question the views of all authority figures, including their parents.
This type of methodology does seem to be more appropriate to the modern age than the old style of direct instruction. In the democratic societies of today's world, young people expect and are expected to add their voices to the discussion around them. This approach recognizes that they should be agents in their own learning and not just be force-fed information. To be effective and beneficial, however, this approach must take place within a moral framework. Otherwise, it can lead to disaster when there are no clear moral standards and each view, no matter how anti-social, is considered equally valid.
Educators are recognizing the limitations and failures of values clarification. Although it encouraged young people to express themselves and to think critically, because it did not promote clear moral standards, it has not been successful in building character. Instead, it produced mediocrity by tolerating immaturity and immorality.
In the end, values clarification failed because it made the mistake of treating young students like adults who only needed to clarify the sound views that they had already formed. It ignored the fact that children, and many adults, need help in developing sound views in the first place.
Merrill Harmin, one of the leaders of the values clarification movement, later expressed some regret about its impact: “Our emphasis on value neutrality probably did undermine traditional morality ... As I look back, it would have been better had we presented a more balanced picture .... It makes a good deal of sense to say that truthfulness is better than deception, caring is better than hurting, loyalty is better than betrayal, and sharing is better than exploitation.”[i]
[i] Harmin, Merrill, “Value Clarity, High Morality: Let's Go for Both,” Educational Leadership, May 1988, pp. 24-30.