|Is it immoral to
teach morality? What is it we are supposed to teach our
children? Are we qualified? Can children teach adults a better
sense of morality than adults can teach children? Is it best
to use the past history of mankind to teach morality or the
future? You be the judge.
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
September 26 - Ground Zero Plus 744
FROM THE ARCHIVES
1, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 445
The Immorality Of Teaching
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, Dec. 1 --Is it moral to teach
children morality? In Englewood, Colorado it is--even in public
schools to fifth graders.
It is also moral in nations such as Islamic ones where
children are guided by moral fundamentalism. Many Middle Eastern
schools require 60 percent of the curriculum "religious" or "moral"
Non secular schools also teach "morality" by bringing
"religion" into the classroom in Western culture. Many impose or
emboss upon children a "right" and "wrong" or "good" and "bad" spin
At Cherry Hills Elementary School in Englewood, one man
is on a crusade to bring morality--as he sees it-- into the lives of
young children, sometimes at the expense of what the children are
being taught by their parents.
graders in Englewood, Colorado respond in their weekly ethics
discussion taught by Michael Sabbeth.
Michael Sabbeth, a lawyer, has instructed some 500 elementary school
classes on morality over the past decade. Sabbeth reminds students
that morality is based on truth not opinion. "If all you have to
have is a good reason you can justify anything," he says. "Hitler
thought he had a good reason. Tim McVeigh thought he had a good
reason. Good reasons are not enough to justify doing immoral
things. Write that down," he instructs.
Sabbeth says he started teaching on a volunteer basis
after major surgery more than a dozen years ago when he realized he
owed a "cosmic debt" for his life. He started the morality classes
when his son was in the fifth grade. They have grown from there.
He uses 11 ethical concepts he refers to as the "Moral
Measures. Four are drawn from Aristotle's writings: autonomy,
beneficence, justice and sanctity of life. The other seven he
constructed: character, choices, compassion, competence,
consequences, conscience and courage.
In one moral discussion he posed the question whether it
was right to steal or not to save someone's life. A young boy
shared that his mother told him that stealing was wrong, no matter
Parents support Sabbeth's teachings, and often visit the
class, reported the Christian Science Monitor in an article on the
"moral teacher" released yesterday.(Nov. 30)
find the issue of "moral teaching" in public schools intriguing. I
wonder, however, where the line exists between the "duty of the
parent" and the "responsibility of society" to frame a child's moral
behavior. Society--us average folk--has taken the caboose end of
the moral teaching for years. By imposing laws for breaking "moral
codes" society holds the "punishing stick" in its hand, swatting out
consequences to those who violate the law after the fact.
Unfortunately, this is a "Johnny-come-lately" solution to
moral shaping. Whatever causes a child to grow into a "moral
violator" cannot easily be changed by prison cells.
Equally of concern is the template that parents or
teachers use to establish "moral guidelines" for children. In many
cases, the moral road is so narrow and restrictive that it becomes a
passion rather than a principle. It funnels those who walk on
strict morality's razor's edge to jihads. It can also twist a
child's mind into such narrow thinking that he or she becomes "god"
and imposes on others penalties for "moral violations." Such
children are trained or shaped to "avenge" the injustices imposed
upon them or the world.
Materialism is often cited as a moral cancer in both the
underprivileged of the Middle East and Western societ8ies. The poor
on both sides learns that everything one has is a measure of what
one "takes" from others. A rich person is a thief. Emotionally,
such a child feels psychologically victimized. He or she is a nail
and everyone else a hammer. Moral righteousness grows out of
disdain for one's station in life. Parents often tell a child that
that suffering is "good for the soul" and that one must carry the
burdens of the world to pay for past sins of others--making them a
martyr in diapers.
What I found disturbing in the article on Mr. Sabbeth was
the glaring lack of anti-terror moral purpose in his principles.
In my opinion, morality is simply a tool we use to avoid Terrorizing
ourselves and others. Without a clear and distinct benchmark to
measure moral judgment, the process seems faddic.
Culturally, it appears to be quite different. In one
part of the world a certain behavior is considered immoral, in
another, perfectly moral. Just wars can exist in one culture and
in another, any war is unjust because it takes life. Morality
becomes a ball of wax, easily shaped by whomever's hands do the
older daughter, for example, is a peace activist, who works with the
homeless and disenfranchised of New York City, and subscribes to a
non-violent protest group I often accuse of being paper-thin
communism with God wrapped in the middle. Politically, we stand at
different poles and yet mutually respect the right to have different
viewpoints. Our grandchildren, I maintain, have the right to
become whatever they chose, and that the morality of the
parents--their views on life--should not be imposed as dictums but
rather as suggestions, and the right to chose one's own beliefs
should be instilled at the expense of trying to mold the child into
a clone of household beliefs. I am adamant about that because we
raised our children with that belief system--that the greatest moral
challenge one could ever chose was the "right to chose." And,
with that "right to chose" was the responsibility to accept whatever
consequences came with that choice. In other words, the goal was
to think through a decision to its endpoint, and to ask oneself,
"can I live with the consequences of my actions?"
was the mantra.
I didn't carry morality much farther than that.
I thought to do so would impinge upon the beauty of a
child's mind, and his or her ability to traverse the myriad of
answers and questions that led one from choice to the destination of
Responsibility. If anything, I would prod my children: "Did you
think about this? Did you consider how this person would feel if
you did that? Did you ask what your motivation was in seeking this
decision--was it selfish or selfless? And could you live with a
selfish decision? A selfless one?"
Our other daughter embarked on a very different track.
She became a federal special law enforcement agent, standing at the
end of the other pole of moral choices--using the threat of violence
to manage societal change versus non-violent methods. Both,
hopefully, seek to improve the world in their varied ways.
There is one factor I elected to add to the formula of
Choice-Responsibility-Choice-Responsibility. That was the ultimate
end point, the engine behind all moral issues. That was, "What was
right for the children's children's children?" If a decision made
in the immediate could be sighted downstream as having benefit to
the children's children's children, then such a decision was not
just a moral decision, but a Vigilantly Moral one.
Morality, I believe, stops short of the end goal.
Morality, I contend, is only a stepping stone toward Vigilance.
Without having a clear and crisp target, a bull's-eye upon
which to aim one's thoughts and resulting actions, morality becomes
as confusing to define as "right" and "wrong," or "good" and "bad"
or "just" and "unjust."
"What is right for the children's children's children?"
forces whomever asks the question to nullify their personal belief
systems regarding race, religion, creed, culture, ethnicity and
stand amidst a field of little children from all walks of
life--balls of innocence--and ponder one's choices in terms of the
impact it will have upon them.
Taking one's decisions far out into the future is an
example of the Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect simply
states that a butterfly's wings flapping in one part of the world
can set off a chain of events that may result in a great windstorm
in another, or a cooling breeze on a hot desert.
In other simpler words, there is a cause and effect
relationship in everything we do. To guide our moral beacons, the
effect of our decisions must be based on the most powerful impact
imaginable--upon the children's children's children.
Vigilant Morality forces the moral questions into a rifle
barrel. To properly answer any moral question, one must answer as
a guardian of the children's children's children. One must become
a Sentinel of Vigilance looking upon the horizon of the children's
children's children's future to justify with alacrity why one
chooses this act over another.
Vigilance requires one recognize Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency as the enemies of the children's children's children.
To neutralize them, Vigilance demands one butt up Courage against
Fear, Conviction against Intimidation, and Right Actions against
Complacency. But not to stop there. To complete the "moral
formula" one must step outside one's self, culture, ethnicity,
politics, prejudices and scan the horizon for what is right for all
children in the future. While a decision may fit within the moral
guidelines of the present time, when thrust out to the future, it
may have damaging and disastrous effects three generations or more
Vigilance's goal is to take the eye patch off the "blind
eye." When one looks through only one eye, there is no depth of
vision. One cannot see above the horizon.
see the future, one must carry into it the Beast of Terror. The
Beast of Terror exists in the future as it has in the past and the
present, and no moral decision can be just if it doesn't consider
the dangers of not seeing the Beast waiting in the future, as it has
waited in the past, and stalks us in the present.
This Beast of Terror is nothing more than our
selfishness. It is the myopic thinking we perform to justify our
actions as "right," or "just" or "worthy," or "honorable." It
will cloud our vision unless checked and give us a righteous
platform upon which we can issue our edicts as though we were gods.
Parents who claim to know what is right for a child without
asking a child what is right for the child, ignore the beauty of a
child's self. Ultimately, they Terrorize the right of the child to
be whomever he or she is. Parents and societies who impose upon a
child a certain cultural set of behaviors suppress the child's right
to chose his or her own destiny, and hobble humanities evolutionary
rights to expand beyond cultural, social, political restraints that
are imposed upon them by "moral teachers" who exclude the Vigilance
Factor--who prefer to use the history of philosophy rather than its
future as moral guidelines.
When I read that someone is using Aristotle, or has
manufactured his or her own formulations to arrive at moral
decisions, I shudder.
I wonder why we as a society don't reach into the hearts
of our children for moral guidance, and look to the future of their
world for moral enlightenment? I wonder why we are all bent on
looking into the rear view mirror of human evolution as though our
past had more value than our future?
I think I know why.
Beast of Terror wants us to keep a blind eye.
If we are afraid and complacent to look into the future,
we will not see how the Beast of Terror can be hobbled. We will
not see the power of the children to be the architects of morality,
and we will continue to assume "parental" control over teaching
morality to children.
truth is that a child can teach an adult more about morality than
any adult can teach a child. Children are innocent. They are
pure, yet we deny their fountains of purity as though our soiled and
fouled fountains had greater virtues than those of the children.
Vigilance gives the children back the power we rob from them
when we try and teach morality.
If we teach anything, let it be how Vigilance can restrain
the Beast of Terror. Not how the Beast of Terror restrains
Only a child can see the difference.