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Virtue, not Self Esteem, is the Essence of Morality*
     By Curtiss Wikstrom

     Morality comes about as a result of cultivating and developing virtues. Good habits of honesty, helpfulness, self-control, etc. must be encouraged and practiced until they become a virtue, or strength. Moral premises are grasped as lights turn on in our heads during the course of everyday living. Moral upbringing is not primarily an intellectual endeavor.*

     Self esteem should be the product of a virtuous life, not the nurture of self assurance in a moral void. Until we have developed the important virtues, we are not really free thinkers. We are controlled by our appetites, our peers, the latest fad in the education industry, and our fears.

     Parents have every right to be skeptical of the current approaches used in training their children about sex, drugs, and life skills. The evidence is mounting that these programs are harmful.

     The human potential movement got its foothold in modern education in the 1960's and 70's through Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and William Coulson. A decision making model of moral education was developed from the non-directive, non-judgmental therapeutic methods of psychotherapy. The non-directive, non-judgmental therapy technique emphasized feelings, personal growth, and a non-judgmental attitude. The moral reasoning approach, drawing out ideas without imposing values or moralizing, emphasized reason or "critical thinking".

     Children are alienated from the traditional values of their parents in this attempt to make them autonomous ethical thinkers. All ideas or practices are to be tolerated. There is no right and wrong, there are only choices. Curriculum often includes the discussion of ethical dilemmas or quandaries.

     This approach is now found in the classroom, TV programs, movies, seminars in self help and self esteem, and child development. Children's fiction today is often therapeutic and rehabilitative, emphasizing self acceptance.

     Evidence of the failure of the therapeutic approach is everywhere. Increased promiscuity and teen pregnancy have followed where schools have used this approach. Those schools which have no sex education at all fair better. Drug programs such as DARE have also cluttered their message with this philosophy. Those who have not developed virtues of modesty and self control are not going to make good decisions about sex or drugs in the long run.

     That it was a mistake to push aside character education for this new approach can be demonstrated by looking at the list of what teachers in 1940 listed as major threats to education, and at the list of teachers today. In 1940, they were in order, talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, getting out of line, wearing improper clothing, and not putting paper in the wastebasket. Today they are drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, and assault. (William Coulson has spend the latter years of his life trying to undo what he helped set in motion and to show what damage these approaches do.)

     Those who are examples of moral courage do not usually attribute their character to autonomous moral reasoning, but to the way they were brought up, the example of their parents, and the influence of religion.

     Education must concentrate on everyday morality, not quandaries. Plato told us a couple thousand years ago that the Socratic method is for adults, not children. "One great precaution is not to let them [students] taste of arguments while they are young." One must learn to love virtue first.

     But virtue without religion is "The practice of moral duties merely from motives of convenience, or from compulsion, or from regard to reputation..."(Noah Webster). We fail in our upbringing of children when they do not learn to practice moral duties "from sincere love to God and his laws." Since these traditional values are prohibited in the government schools of today, parents need to find an old fashioned, politically incorrect Sunday school which provides character education, or request that their church retreat from its modernist approach and re-establish character education, providing a proper basis for approaching sex, drug use, and life skills.

     Children should not be trained by the latest crisis management team, dwelling on the unseemly. They need good books with stories about people who develop good character, and which do not censor out reverence for God and respect for traditional religious values. Most importantly they need the example of parents, teachers, and others who are committed to those values, and live by them. It is our moral duty to provide that.

[This essay is a review of the book Why Johnny Can't Tell Right From Wrong*, a brilliant treatment of the subject by William Kilpatrick, Professor of Education at Boston College.]


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