The Immorality of Teaching Children Morality
Is it immoral to teach morality?   What is it we are supposed to teach our children?  Are we qualified?  Can children teach adults a better sense of morality than adults can teach children?   Is it best to use the past history of mankind to teach morality or the future?   You be the judge.


Sunday--December 1, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 445
The Immorality Of Teaching Children Morality
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, Dec. 1 --Is it moral to teach children morality?   In Englewood, Colorado it is--even in public schools to fifth graders.
        It is also moral in nations such as Islamic ones where children are guided by moral fundamentalism. Many Middle Eastern schools require 60 percent of the curriculum "religious" or "moral" in nature.
        Non secular schools also teach "morality" by bringing "religion" into the classroom in Western culture.  Many impose or emboss upon children a "right" and "wrong" or "good" and "bad" spin to teaching.
        At Cherry Hills Elementary School in Englewood, one man is on a crusade to bring morality--as he sees it-- into the lives of young children, sometimes at the expense of what the children are being taught by their parents.

 Fifth graders in Englewood, Colorado  respond in their weekly ethics discussion taught by Michael Sabbeth.

       Michael Sabbeth, a lawyer, has instructed some 500 elementary school classes on morality over the past decade.   Sabbeth reminds students that morality is based on truth not opinion.  "If all you have to have is a good reason you can justify anything," he says.  "Hitler thought he had a good reason.  Tim McVeigh thought he had a good reason.  Good reasons are not enough to justify doing immoral things.  Write that down," he instructs.
        Sabbeth says he started teaching on a volunteer basis after major surgery more than a dozen years ago when he realized he owed a "cosmic debt" for his life.   He started the morality classes when his son was in the fifth grade. They have grown from there.
        He uses 11 ethical concepts he refers to as the "Moral Measures.    Four are drawn from Aristotle's writings:  autonomy, beneficence, justice and sanctity of life.  The other seven he constructed:  character, choices, compassion, competence, consequences, conscience and courage.
        In one moral discussion he posed the question whether it was right to steal or not to save someone's life.   A young boy shared that his mother told him that stealing was wrong, no matter what.
        Parents support Sabbeth's teachings, and often visit the class, reported the Christian Science Monitor in an article on the "moral teacher" released yesterday.(Nov. 30)

        I find the issue of "moral teaching" in public schools intriguing.   I wonder, however, where the line exists between the "duty of the parent" and the "responsibility of society" to frame a child's moral behavior.  Society--us average folk--has taken the caboose end of the moral teaching for years.   By imposing laws for breaking "moral codes" society holds the "punishing stick" in its hand, swatting out consequences to those who violate the law after the fact.  
       Unfortunately, this is a "Johnny-come-lately" solution to moral shaping.    Whatever causes a child to grow into a "moral violator" cannot easily be changed by prison cells.
       Equally of concern is the template that parents or teachers use to establish "moral guidelines" for children.  In many cases, the moral road is so narrow and restrictive that it becomes a passion rather than a principle.  It funnels those who walk on strict morality's razor's edge to jihads.  It can also twist a child's mind into such narrow thinking that he or she becomes "god" and imposes on others penalties for "moral violations."  Such children are trained or shaped to "avenge" the injustices imposed upon them or the world.
       Materialism is often cited as a moral cancer in both the underprivileged of the Middle East and Western societ8ies.  The poor on both sides learns that everything one has is a measure of what one "takes" from others.  A rich person is a thief.   Emotionally, such a child feels psychologically victimized.  He or she is a nail and everyone else a hammer.  Moral righteousness grows out of disdain for one's station in life. Parents often tell a child that  that suffering is "good for the soul" and that one must carry the burdens of the world to pay for past sins of others--making them a martyr in diapers.  
       What I found disturbing in the article on Mr. Sabbeth was the glaring lack of anti-terror moral purpose in his principles.   In my opinion, morality is simply a tool we use to avoid Terrorizing ourselves and others.  Without a clear and distinct benchmark to measure moral judgment, the process seems faddic.
       Culturally, it appears to be quite different.  In one part of the world a certain behavior is considered immoral, in another, perfectly moral.   Just wars can exist in one culture and in another, any war is unjust because it takes life.    Morality becomes a ball of wax, easily shaped by whomever's hands do the molding.

      Our older daughter, for example, is a peace activist, who works with the homeless and disenfranchised of New York City, and subscribes to a non-violent protest group I often accuse of being paper-thin communism with God wrapped in the middle.   Politically, we stand at different poles and yet mutually respect the right to have different viewpoints.    Our grandchildren, I maintain, have the right to become whatever they chose, and that the morality of the parents--their views on life--should not be imposed as dictums but rather as suggestions, and the right to chose one's own beliefs should be instilled at the expense of trying to mold the child into a clone of household beliefs.    I am adamant about that because we raised our children with that belief system--that the greatest moral challenge one could ever chose was the "right to chose."    And, with that "right to chose" was the responsibility to accept whatever consequences came with that choice.    In other words, the goal was to think through a decision to its endpoint, and to ask oneself, "can I live with the consequences of my actions?"
       Choice-Responsibility-Choice-Responsibility-Choice-Responsibility was the mantra.
       I didn't carry morality much farther than that.
       I thought to do so would impinge upon the beauty of a child's mind, and his or her ability to traverse the myriad of answers and questions that led one from choice to the destination of Responsibility.   If anything, I would prod my children:  "Did you think about this?  Did you consider how this person would feel if you did that?  Did you ask what your motivation was in seeking this decision--was it selfish or selfless?  And could you live with a selfish decision?  A selfless one?"
       Our other daughter embarked on a very different track.   She became a federal special law enforcement agent, standing at the end of the other pole of moral choices--using the threat of violence to manage societal change versus non-violent methods.   Both, hopefully, seek to improve the world in their varied ways.
       There is one factor I elected to add to the formula of Choice-Responsibility-Choice-Responsibility.   That was the ultimate end point, the engine behind all moral issues.  That was, "What was right for the children's children's children?"   If a decision made in the immediate could be sighted downstream as having benefit to the children's children's children, then such a decision was not just a moral decision, but a Vigilantly Moral one.
       Morality, I believe, stops short of the end goal.

       Morality, I contend, is only a stepping stone toward Vigilance.
       Without having a clear and crisp target, a bull's-eye upon which to aim one's thoughts and resulting actions, morality becomes as confusing to define as "right" and "wrong," or "good" and "bad" or "just" and "unjust."
       "What is right for the children's children's children?" forces whomever asks the question to nullify their personal belief systems regarding race, religion, creed, culture, ethnicity and stand amidst a field of little children from all walks of life--balls of innocence--and ponder one's choices in terms of the impact it will have upon them.
        Taking one's decisions far out into the future is an example of the Butterfly Effect.   The Butterfly Effect simply states that a butterfly's wings flapping in one part of the world can set off a chain of events that may result in a great windstorm in another, or a cooling breeze on a hot desert.

Butterfly Effect

       In other simpler words, there is a cause and effect relationship in everything we do.  To guide our moral beacons, the effect of our decisions must be based on the most powerful impact imaginable--upon the children's children's children.
         Vigilant Morality forces the moral questions into a rifle barrel.   To properly answer any moral question, one must answer as a guardian of the children's children's children.   One must become a Sentinel of Vigilance looking upon the horizon of the children's children's children's future to justify with alacrity why one chooses this act over another.
         Vigilance requires one recognize Fear, Intimidation and Complacency as the enemies of the children's children's children.    To neutralize them, Vigilance demands one butt up Courage against Fear, Conviction against Intimidation, and Right Actions against Complacency.   But not to stop there.  To complete the "moral formula" one must step outside one's self, culture, ethnicity, politics, prejudices and scan the horizon for what is right for all children in the future.    While a decision may fit within the moral guidelines of the present time, when thrust out to the future, it may have damaging and disastrous effects three generations or more from now.
        Vigilance's goal is to take the eye patch off the "blind eye."   When one looks through only one eye, there is no depth of vision.   One cannot see above the horizon.

        To see the future, one must carry into it the Beast of Terror.   The Beast of Terror exists in the future as it has in the past and the present, and no moral decision can be just if it doesn't consider the dangers of not seeing the Beast waiting in the future, as it has waited in the past, and stalks us in the present.
         This Beast of Terror is nothing more than our selfishness.   It is the myopic thinking we perform to justify our actions as "right," or "just" or "worthy," or "honorable."    It will cloud our vision unless checked and give us a righteous platform upon which we can issue our edicts as though we were gods.
         Parents who claim to know what is right for a child without asking a child what is right for the child, ignore the beauty of a child's self.   Ultimately, they Terrorize the right of the child to be whomever he or she is.  Parents and societies who impose upon a child a certain cultural set of behaviors suppress the child's right to chose his or her own destiny, and hobble humanities evolutionary rights to expand beyond cultural, social, political restraints that are imposed upon them by "moral teachers" who exclude the Vigilance Factor--who prefer to use the history of philosophy rather than its future as moral guidelines.
          When I read that someone is using Aristotle, or has manufactured his or her own formulations to arrive at moral decisions, I shudder.
        I wonder why we as a society don't reach into the hearts of our children for moral guidance, and look to the future of their world for moral enlightenment?   I wonder why we are all bent on looking into the rear view mirror of human evolution as though our past had more value than our future?
       I think I know why.

       The Beast of Terror wants us to keep the blind eye on.
       If we are afraid and complacent to look into the future, we will not see how the Beast of Terror can be hobbled.   We will not see the power of the children to be the architects of morality, and we will continue to assume "parental" control over teaching morality to children.

       The truth is that a child can teach an adult more about morality than any adult can teach a child.  Children are innocent.   They are pure, yet we deny their fountains of purity as though our soiled and fouled fountains had greater virtues than those of the children.
       Vigilance gives the children back the power we rob from them when we try and teach morality.
       If we teach anything, let it be how Vigilance can restrain the Beast of Terror.   Not how the Beast of Terror restrains Vigilance.
       Only a child can see the difference.

Nov. 30--Hemmingway Stalks Terrorism

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