Moral Education

By | 18/01/2016

Raising a new member of a social group is a complex endeavor that involves several different elements. The first job, of utmost importance, is the transmission of that community’s customs. The next step is their schooling, that is, transmitting information humanity had accumulated during the millennia before the child’s arrival. Teaching is an arduous, difficult task, especially nowadays, when children are more used to learning through electronic devices, which are more interesting than what goes on in a classroom. There, even today, teachers still use chalk and blackboard to try and give children a recap of the “episodes” they’d missed. Education is meant to give children the tools to better keep up with whatever happens in their lives.

Along with the transmission of knowledge and customs, families have an important role in transferring the ethical and moral values accepted and practiced by its members. Not just accepted, but also practiced! Yes, because children should not be underestimated: they know enough to notice contradictions between what is expected of them and how adults behave. These contradictions noticed within the family are, in fact, only the beginning, as they happen everywhere else, as well.

Adults whose moral behavior is consistent are very well aware that most people those who are professionally, socially and financially successful are not considerate, and do not observe even the most basic rules regarding other people’s rights. So, how to proceed, when raising children? Should they be taught more solid and considerate values, which will make them less competitive, or should their values mirror those of successful people?

I firmly believe that we should transmit to our children the moral values in which we believe and that we practice. It might mean it’ll be harder for them to reach higher places in the world we live in, but I believe it is an essential condition to achieve emotional happiness, build solid bonds of friendship and establish good self-esteem. Now, I think young people must be told that not everyone has the same standards, that there are those who cheat at the “game of life,” and furthermore, that they have to be on alert and protect themselves as necessary, so as to not be too harmed by those who aren’t trustworthy. Children should be raised with solid principles, but they shouldn’t be gullible.

The second and most important element of giving children a moral education is finding an efficient way to transmit the values held by the parents. There lies the question: is it advisable to reward children when they act according to what is expected of them? Should children be trained like pets, that is, should they get a treat “treat” whenever they behave well? Many parents, educators, and even psychology professionals, believe in this approach, called operant conditioning, in which positive reinforcement is used to support what is seen as good behavior. I absolutely do not agree with it.

I believe that children who study and get good grades only in exchange for a gift at the end of the school year are not receiving a proper moral education. They might get good results in their exams, but I don’t know if they’ll have developed a genuine love for learning.  All appropriate behavior must be sought even without prizes.

In the old days, children were taught to act in a way adults believed was right, and parents used to tell them “it is what’s expected of you.” Going to school was a privilege, and it was a child’s duty to make good use of the opportunity. Honestly, loyalty and decency were no more than part of a child’s duties. There were no rewards for appropriate behavior, just punishment for when they were bad. Children were terrified of losing their parents’ love, and that was the main tool used to transmit values.

If, at first, a child behaved according to the rules because they were afraid of this emotional loss, they’d gradually develop a true personal pleasure in being a decent person, who was respected for their beliefs. Thus, these values were internalized and slowly became part of their self. It is true, however, that many families overemphasized generosity, past the point of justice, which not a good moral choice. I believe it’s time to rethink this behavior, to fight against the excess in generosity that creates unwarranted guilt. I believe it’s time to value people who are fair. Fair and discerning!

Tradução: Amanda Morris