A BRIEF HISTORY OF MORAL EDUCATION IN AMERICA

We are compelled, we are called, to address the problem of rebuilding the moral foundation of Americas youth. Our society struggles with finding solutions to our current moral crisis. How can we teach morality and virtue to our youth when today’s society tells us that no morality or virtue set can be validated? How in the world did we end up where we are at today? We believe that in order to fight today’s moral battle, it’s important to know where we have been, and how we got here.

To that end, we offer the following history of moral education in America.

  • 1650
    • Colonial Morality: Puritan morality is taught in the American Colonies.
  • 1700
    • Revolutionary Christian Morality: Children are taught moral living from the Bible. Emphasis was placed on afterlife, sin, and salvation through Jesus Christ.
  • 1750
    • Industrial Morality: The Christian virtues of colonial America are replaced with bourgeois virtues of industrial America. A new virtue set is emphasized of industry, hard work, loyalty, thrift, and individualism. We go from teaching that the benefits of living a life of virtue will be realized in heaven, to teaching that the benefits of these new “industrial virtues” will be material rewards in this present world.
  • 1850
    • Second Great Awakening Morality: America falls back on Christian Virtues as the basis of morality. A time of great religious revival in America.
  • 1900
    • Pre-Progressive Morality: Fueled by a collectivist-democratic spirit, this morality was based on ethical tentativeness. The beginning of moral relativity. Virtues cannot be given fixed meanings because they are relative to the particular habits of the individual. Their habits define their character. Child rearing was not about exercising authority and teaching virtue, but about nurturing the “natural” development of the child.
  • 1950
    • Progressive Morality: Highly impacted by Benjamin Spock’s Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care published in 1946. If you want your child to do what you want him to do when you want him to do it, then you must first learn to do for your child what he wants you to do when he wants you to do it. If you conform to the child’s wishes, he will conform to yours. Morality is relative to what the child wants.
  • 1966
    • Great Society and Values Clarification Morality: Americas youth rebels against education because the curriculum doesn’t acknowledge their needs and interests. This rebellion is a backlash of “Progressive Morality” as the youth had grown up in homes where parental conformity to childish wishes was a pre-condition for the child’s conforming to parental wisdom. Morality becomes, “If it feels good, do it.” There are no right and wrong answers. “Values Clarification” rejects any morality as conformity to an external code or set of values that are established by social institutions (the man), religion, science, reason, or tradition.
  • 1980
    • Self Esteem Morality: It was inevitable that the Great Society morality would fall out of favor with parents because it was too subjective and the effects were obvious moral decay. Enter Self Esteem morality which was based on helping young peoples psychological well being by building up (even if only artificially) their self esteem. It was believed that by building up self esteem, that moral conduct and achievement would follow. Self Esteem Morality was largely practiced by creating unearned pride about oneself as a person, such as one might experience after repeating the mantra “I am a good person” or “I am smart”, and never confronting the reality if it was true of not. This movement also contributed vastly to the creation of the “me-generation” and the entitlement that many of today’s young people feel.
  • 1990
    • Objective Values Morality: The Self Esteem movement eventually lost steam because in reality there is no association between psychological well-being and moral conduct. Enter the Objective Values Morality. The Objective Values Morality took three distinct forms:
      • Neo-Classical: Right and wrong are definitive qualities discerned by civilization over the ages. You can achieve well being by living virtuously or suffer ruin by resisting acting with virtue. Youth learn how to live virtuously through education, practicing virtue, suffering through perseverance, and by following the examples of virtuous adults.
      • Communitarian: Living by the shared values of ones contemporary community. Morality by social consensus. Individual morality is developed from a healthy connection with your social community.
      • Psychological: Teaching our youth objective virtues and making them conscious of right and wrong in the context of their own personal quality of life. Teaching our youth that it feels good to do the right thing. It feels good to live virtuously. When you help that little old lady across the street, it feels good.
  • 2008
    • Socially Objective Morality: This is the current movement that we believe Virtue First is a part of. This movement is a hybrid combination of all three forms of Objective Values Morality (Neo-Classical, Communitarian, and Psychological). The foundation of Socially Objective Morality is the personification of a set of “Social Virtues” as a means of achieving the long term goals of ones life and ultimately happiness.
      • These Social Virtues are:
        • Objective, Concrete, Extensive, Precise, and Consistent.
        • Historically, philosophically, and culturally relevant to our civilization.
        • Easy to understand, hard to evade or misinterpret.
        • Socially agreed upon by the community at large.
        • Sensitive to judgmental sub-communities and their peaceful coexistence.
        • Psychologically rewarding.
        • Address basic human decency and human rights.
        • Easily integrated and adapted into practical action oriented lessons.
        • Inclusive with no specific religious or political agenda. Non-sectarian.

We live in a time when our youth have been robbed of their moral foundations and all we have left is relativism and the moral decadence it breeds. It’s time for a change. While Americans might disagree about a lot of things, including religion and morality, it seems that we are united by a basic set of “Social Virtues”. What Mother doesn’t want her son to be respectful? What Father doesn’t want his son to be courageous? Let’s use this common ground to help our youth re-construct their moral foundations.