Tuesday, July 13, 2010

“Sacred Values” in US Public Schools: pretending there is no conflict.

In a pluralistic, democratic society, important values will be frequently thrust into conflict with one another. It is here that the question, "Whose important values?" arises. The desire to dodge this question, generates avoidance behavior of the following sort -- here are some slogans typically associated with such avoidance strategies --:

a. slow recognition, if any, that core values clash -- "We all want what's best for our kids!";

b. methods of reckoning and comparison that gloss over or miss differences among options -- "Preparing students to be life-long learners";

c. "dissonance-reduction" strategies to cope with values clashes they do recognize -- "A manifestation of a disability" --;

d. decision-evasion tactics such as buckpassing, procrastination or obfuscation -- restructuring the system, re-"visioning" outcomes, or reconceptualizing purposes.

Are schools unique in dealing with such problems in such ways? No. All large or pluralistic organizations do likewise.

Controversies over sex education, evolution, and religious symbols represent such conflicts among different constituencies of the school community. There is a deep issue here: sacred values from different communities may be incommensurable.

Just as it makes no sense to ask how many pints there are in a mile; or how many pounds there are in an acre, so does it approach nonsense to ask, "How many First Holy Communions are equivalent to a Briss?" or "How many dollars is salvation worth?"

To examine these issues further, see Trading-Off "Sacred" Values: 
Why Public Schools Should Not Try to "Educate"

-- EGR