Friday, January 20, 2012

Moral Education: Self-Discipline Starts at Home

Truly, some of the worst moments in life are those times when, standing in front of a mirror, you have a hard time meeting your own eyes in the reflection; those times you think, “God, I wish I hadn’t of done that.”

The feelings those regrettable actions bring up inside you, in your secret place, are just plain wicked; feelings of shame, guilt, regret and self-loathing. These feelings, if they occur often enough, will eventually erode your self-esteem and create a negative reality.

How do we, as parents, teach our children to lessen these occurrences? How do we ensure that our children reach adulthood able to face themselves in the mirror, with a clear conscience, as they gaze into their own windows of the soul?

As the guardians of our children’s young hearts and minds it is imperative that we teach them that, as Aristotle pointed out, “our habits make all the difference”. In order that they may develop into admirable adults, the overwhelming influence of the bad and the ugly, so prevalent in today’s society, must be negated by the good. By the daily observation of what William J. Bennett refers to as “successful everyday behavior”, our children receive their primary instruction in self-control and discipline. Reading the collection of tales, fables and anecdotes in Bennett’s, The Book of Virtues, to your young children will illustrate and emphasize your own “successful everyday behavior” while teaching them Lincoln’s truth: “when I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad”.

As parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends of our youngest generation, we all should remember that “home is the first place where boys and girls first learn how to limit their wishes, abide by rules, and consider the rights and needs of others” (Sidonie Gruenberg).

MORAL EDUCATION: Whose Responsibility Is It?

            In his article, The Violent Heart, in the 2010 Winter Issue of Vision Magazine, David Hulme reviews Jonathan Glover’s, Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century. Hulme agrees with Glover that “knowing what is right and exercising the will to do it” is grounded in “the early and continuous formation of character, [and that] a moral identity is one relevant fact of character”.

           Glover cites an emotional lack, somewhere in the background, of those capable of “humiliating, tormenting, wounding and killing others”. He claims this emotional lack, leads to a moral lack, which gives license to violent behavior.

            Hulme investigates this thread, using Bible passages. He concludes that “religious belief is no indication of a right spirit”, pointing out that throughout history many have justified killing, by their devotion to their notion of God. He finds that violence need not necessarily be physical; verbal abuse can be just as punishing as a slap in the face, or a punch in the ribs, as many an abused individual could tell you from experience. He also calls gossip another weapon in the arsenal of cruelty. He quite rightly defines ‘violence of the tongue’ as “slander, gossip, insolence, anger, [and even] passivity – the failure to speak out against such abuses. He quotes Glover: “the festival of cruelty is in full swing”.

            In the same issue of Vision, Brian Orchard, in The Teaching of Moral Values, cites a complaint by VOICE, a British union of teaching professionals: their classrooms have become chaotic because youngsters, entering the primary classes, are showing up with little or no moral training and are disruptively undisciplined. Philip Parkin, the general secretary of VOICE, bemoans the fact that the present state of familial life, and the oft shifting state of the relationships of the parental generation, bodes ill for the over-taxed staff of the education system and the moral state of the generation now attending primary schools.

            In The Book of Virtues, Bennett says that to “respond is to answer, and to be responsible is to be accountable”. In the parent/child relationship, the onus of responsibility, by reason of maturity, lies with the parent. As psychological studies have shown, a child’s character is formed during the first five years of their existence. It is quite obvious then, that the primary opportunity to build a solid foundation of character is rooted in infancy and early childhood, in the home.

            Mayhap, the “emotional lack” Glover writes about, in the background of those who choose violence and cruelty as a form of relating to others, is the failure of some parents to instill a sense of morality in their children, before the shutters are closed on the window of opportunity, and the soul loses some of the brighter illumination that comes along with higher standards of morality.