Fresh Ideas: Youths do learn values at school; here are a few

“Your beliefs don’t make you a better person. Your behavior does.” — Anonymous

Last month, Nevada Appeal columnist Ann Bednarski asserted that schools and teachers “do not teach values or morals” (March 9, 2013). As a retired educator, I know better.

My experience with public schools consists of 30 years spent working in Carson City’s K-12 schools, including regular, special education and remedial reading classrooms. I can only judge by what I saw every day, in every school, in this century and the last.

I observed teachers focusing on behaviors, on outcomes. They modeled and reinforced the basic values that prepare their students to function in community and proximity with others. Those behaviors — those essential values — are respect, responsibility and self-control.

Here’s a sample of some of the values I remember learning in public school and then passing along to my students.

Respect: We learned to listen when others are speaking. We practiced kindness and told the truth. We learned not to bully, cheat or steal. We learned that everyone is important. We put our hands on our hearts and proudly pledged allegiance to our country.

Responsibility: We learned to be punctual. We learned to show our work, check our work and turn it in on time. We learned to keep track of our own things and be careful of other people’s belongings. We learned to clean up after ourselves. We learned to ask questions if we didn’t understand. We learned that hard work and perseverance pay off.

Self-control: We learned to think first and keep our hands to ourselves. We learned to raise our hands and wait our turn. We learned not to dawdle. We learned to use the bathroom at recess and to do our best, always.

Certainly, some students arrive at school with those basics well taught and practiced at home. However, many arrive absent the very habits that school — and life — will require of them. I submit that before students can learn to read and write, they must learn to sit and stay. And listen.

Those values are more than manners. They are the core principles of a civil society. Mastering them enables us to navigate an increasingly diverse and complex world, a world that will demand we remain alert and adapt to an unknowable future. That’s the value of public education.

In spite of all the changes and challenges to public education, in spite of every new reform and requirement, the basic values of respect, responsibility and self-control have remained consistent.

Of course, teachers teach values. Always have, always will.

Lorie Schaefer is a retired Carson City educator.


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