Faced with disinterest in moral education and its disastrous consequences for the lives of young people, many Americans have begun to harshly criticize the public school system, even transferring their children to expensive private schools where moral values are taught or resorting to so-called home teaching. At the same time, a growing movement for moral education in public schools emerged in the 1990s under the title “character education”. Character education has been called “the deliberate effort to develop good character, based on fundamental virtues that are good for the individual and good for society.” 5An increasing number of schools in the United States have begun to promote character education programs. It is estimated that one third of US public schools are currently considering or have already started these types of moral education programs 6 .
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Let us now take a look at universal moral values. What are they and how are they recognized?
The character consists of values expressed in the action. People with good character are able to judge what is right and then do what they believe is right. Values are of two types: moral and non-moral. In this presentation we deal with moral values, such as honesty and responsibility that come with obligations. Moral values tell us what we should do, and we feel obligated to observe them even when we would prefer not to. Non-moral values, such as listening to music, carry no such obligation.
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Moral values can be further divided into universal and non-universal values. Universal moral values - such as treating all people fairly and respecting their life, freedom and equality – bind all people everywhere because they affirm our fundamental human value and dignity.
|Common Points in Moral Teachings
The British writer CS Lewis presented an argument in favor of universal values in this way:
“I know some people say…. different civilizations and different eras have had quite different moralities. But this is not true … If anyone takes the trouble to compare the moral teachings, for example, of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will actually strike him will be how they are very similar to each other and to ours…
“Think about what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for fleeing into battle or where a man felt proud to deceive all the people who have been kind to him. You might even imagine a country where 2 plus 2 equals 5. Men have had different opinions as to which people we should be altruistic to, whether only to our family, our fellow citizens, or to everyone. But they agreed that we shouldn’t put ourselves first.
What are the criteria by which we can recognize a universal value?
- He should pass the test of reversibility: if I do one thing to you, how would I feel if the same thing were done to me? Respecting another person’s property and not taking what belongs to another satisfies this test.
- Another test for universal validity is to be generalizable: Would it be good if everyone did it?
- A universal value is also compelling to the conscience: it rings true to intuition as well as to reason. Even children at school understand values when they cry and cry out for justice in the yard: “He was the one who hit me first!” They instinctively know that the provocateur is considered more guilty.
4) Furthermore, a universal value over time brings objective benefits to the individual and to society. The proverb “Honesty is the best policy” tells us that while it is often convenient to lie or hide the truth, in the long run this attitude fuels the distrust and resentment that sometimes lead to conflict and destruction.
- Universal values are found all over the world in a great variety of cultures.
- Practicing universal values nurtures a virtuous character.
Because it resonates with the highest ideal of human nature, a universal value is a value that is recognized among different human societies. The heroic act of sacrificing oneself, like risking one’s life to save a drowning child, is honored in both the East and the West, in both a modern industrialized society and an Aboriginal tribe.
The recognition of the existence of universal values is the basis of the contemporary movement on character education. Responding to the objections to moral education, the identification of moral values allows for a valid critique of relativism and opens the door to moral education in the most pluralistic societies. Furthermore, these values are the basis for imparting a moral education distinct from religious teaching.