First of all, readers who are Aussies may be familiar with public education trying to compete with an enormous shift towards private schools. Large numbers of parents have decided they'd rather pay for their childrens' education, and after a bunch of research the public education people found out that one of the primary ideas contributing to this is that public education is generally amoral, whereas private schools will teach their children morals and values. Now, as a generalisation, I actually believe this to be true. Having attended public primary schools (good schools they were too) and then private primary and high schools, I believe the difference is actually quite blatant, but that's by-the-by to my gripe of the moment.
One of the things the government implemented to try and persuade parents that they are serious about values based education, is the "Word of the Week". Basically, schools have a word each week that they (apparently - I don't know the in's and out's of it) focus on, and instill into the students. This word is displayed on the school's sign so that all driving past can see what value the school are addressing this week.
Now, the interesting thing for me is that I drive past a couple of schools that have this, and there are a couple of words that seem to occur quite frequently that trouble me a little, and really for me cement the idea that the public system just doesn't get it. These words are "fairness" and "tolerance." What's wrong with these? Nothing in themselves I guess. It just seems that "values" are being taught from the perspective of "this is what you should expect from others." Its like they're saying:
When someone doesn't give you what you deserve, that's them not displaying fairness. You should stand up against that. When someone has ideas that challenge your own, that's them not tolerating you and your opinions. They should be tolerant. You should tell them that, and if they don't change, you should stop tolerating them.
(Note that the idea of "tolerate everything except the intolerant" is very much the politically correct/post-modern ideal)
The corresponding values I was taught in a Christian education environment would be "selflessness" and "agape love." Agape is the idea of a spiritual love that is unconditional and self-sacrificing. The difference is the focus. The values of fairness and tolerance imply that you should expect that from others. If you value fairness, you will expect not only that you should be fair to others, but also that others should be fair to you. But what if they're not? The reaction we see in the world today is that people do one of three things: shun, challenge or victimise. The Christian values are completely different - the focus is on you yourself doing what you know to be right, and knowing that ultimately you can't make someone else change. I mean, tolerance isn't ultimately a realistic value to have because no one would suggest we tolerate people who think it's OK to molest children, and yet if you're serious about tolerance as a value, then that's what you have to do. A child sex offender holds certain view-points about what's alright and what's not, and ultimately if you believe that tolerance is something we should adhere to, then you should tolerate his beliefs. The Christian perspective allows you to separate action from person. Agape love loves a man who does evil things, but doesn't tolerate the evil. But then the question becomes "who defines what is evil?" and this is why public education that teaches values will never succeed in a post-modernist world. Us GenX'ers have built into us that ultimately, we are our own authority. No one can tell us what to do or what to believe, because truth is relative, so what I believe is true for me. So while one person believes that homosexuality is a "life style choice" another believes that it's an abhorrent act, and yet person 2 is supposed to tolerate person 1. Yet by doing that, person 2 does not abhor something they believe to be aboherrent - thus going against something they believe, thus eliminating that as a belief and relegating it to an opinion. So really, tolerance insists that I believe nothing for sure, but only have opinions. Opinions are flexible, and allow you to change your mind when things get difficult. So ultimately, values are meaningless. It's like political correctness and post modernism had extra-marital relations and produced some bastard child called... Well, I don't know what it would be called, but it sure as heck would be ugly.
Anyway, this post is getting old, and the word of the week this week is "Democracy." Value a plenty in that one. Oh that's right - it's school holidays anyway.