Our world has changed since the Ten Commandments were written. It is time we stop limiting our morality to the avoidance of graven images and covetous feelings toward our neighbor’s goods. In fact, it is time we realize that in today’s complex society, morality has to be about much more than a bunch of “thou shalt not’s!” How about a few positive messages, or “thou shalt’s?”
Realizing that many traditionally religious people depend on the Ten Commandments for right living and recognizing that leaves A LOT of room for all sorts of grossly unethical behavior, the Kochar Humanist Education Center has developed the “Ten Commitments: Guiding Principles for Teaching Values in America’s Public Schools.” http://khec.americanhumanist.org/the-ten-commitments
Despite it being unconstitutional to post religious texts, i.e. the Ten Commandments,” in public schools, religious groups have been trying to violate this ruling for a long time. They fear that without moral guidance from the commandments, their children will grow up to be chaotic lawbreakers. But morality does not, need not, come from religion—or from rules laid down centuries ago for an ancient society.
If we want our children to grow into morally mature, ethical adults, today’s complex society requires that we provide positive messages that are more broadly applicable than the Ten Commandments. We must also train our children to reason for themselves so they can make ethical decisions about moral issues that we cannot even imagine at this time. Thinking back fifty years or so, who would have ever considered the ethics involved in surrogate parenthood, being able to choose the gender and other traits in our children, or stem cell research?
Our world is far too complex and is changing far too fast to be ruled by a stagnant list of outdated “thou shalt nots.” The Kochar Education Center’s “Ten Commitments: Guiding Principles for Teaching Values in America’s Public Schools” provide a reasoned solution to this problem. Note how this new list respects an expanding worldview that includes those outside our own immediate group. And note how it emphasizes individual personal responsibility as opposed to mindlessly following the dictates of outer authority. These new “Ten Commitments” will clearly lead our children to a more mature form of morality and ethics than the old “Ten Commandments” ever did. If you agree, please endorse the Commitments at:
Guiding Principles for Teaching Values in America’s Public Schools
Altruism is the unselfish concern for the welfare of others without expectation of reward, recognition, or return. Opportunities for acts of altruism are everywhere in the family, the classroom, the school, and the wider community. Think of examples of altruistic acts in your experience. What person-to-person and group projects, classroom and school-wide activities, and community service projects might you and your students undertake?
Caring for the World Around Us
Everyone can and ought to play a role in caring for the Earth and its inhabitants. We can directly experience the living things in our homes and neighborhoods like trees, flowers, birds, insects, and pets. Gradually we expand our neighborhood. We learn about deserts and oceans, rivers and forests, the wild life around us and the wild life elsewhere. We learn that we are dependent on each other, on the natural world, and all that lives in it for food and shelter, space and beauty.
We gain reliable knowledge because we are able to observe, report, experiment, and analyze what goes on around us. We also learn to raise questions that are clear and precise, to gather information, and to reason about the information we receive in a way that tests it for truthfulness, accuracy, and utility. From our earliest years we learn how to think and to share and challenge our ideas and the ideas of others, and consider their consequences. Practice asking “what next?” and “why?” and “how do I/you/we know that?”
We human beings are capable of empathy, the ability to understand and enter imaginatively into another living being’s feelings, the sad ones and the happy ones as well. Many of the personal relationships we have (in the family, among friends, between diverse individuals, and amid other living things) are made positive through empathy. With discussion and role-playing, we can learn how other people feel when they are sad or hurt or ignored, as well as when they experience great joys. We can use stories, anecdotes, and classroom events to help us nurture sensitivity to how our actions impact others.
Questions of fairness, cooperation, and sharing are among the first moral issues we encounter in our ethical development as human beings. Ethical education is ongoing implicitly and explicitly in what is called the “hidden curriculum” that we experience through the media, the family, and the community. Ethics can be taught through discussion, role-playing, story telling, and other activities that improve analysis and decision-making regarding what’s good and bad, right and wrong.
We live in a world that is rich in cultural, social, and individual diversity, a world where interdependence is increasing rapidly so that events anywhere are more likely to have consequences everywhere. Much can be done to prepare the next generation for accepting the responsibility of global citizenship. Understanding can be gained regarding the many communities in which we live through history, anthropology, and biology. A linguistic, ethnic, and cultural diversity are present in the classroom and provide lessons of diversity and commonality. We help others reach understanding about the interconnectedness of the welfare of all humanity.
Human rights is the idea that people should have rights just because they are human beings. These rights are universal. That is, they are for everyone no matter what their race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, age, sex, political beliefs, intelligence, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. School projects can be undertaken to learn about human rights, such as interviewing people who have once or are now participating in various rights movements. Student courts can introduce the idea and practice of due process, a key component of human rights.
Peace and Social Justice
A curriculum that values and fosters peace education would promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among nations as well as among cultural and religious or philosophical groups. Education should include opportunities to learn about the United Nations’ role in preventing conflict as well as efforts to achieve social justice here in the United States. Students should learn about problems of injustice including what can be done to prevent and respond to them with meaningful actions that promote peace and social justice both at home and abroad.
Our behavior is morally responsible when we tell the truth, help someone in trouble, and live up to promises we’ve made. Our behavior is legally responsible when we obey a just law and meet the requirements of membership or citizenship. But we also have a larger responsibility to be a caring member of our family, our community, and our world. Stories and role-playing can help students understand responsibility and its absence or failure. We learn from answering such questions as: What happens when we live in accordance with fair and just rules? What happens when we don’t? What happens when the rules are unjust?
Service and Participation
Life’s fulfillment can emerge from an individual’s participation in the service of humane ideals. School-based service-learning combines community service objectives and learning objectives with the intent that the activities change both the recipient and the provider. It provides students with the ability to identify important issues in real-life situations. Through these efforts we learn that each of us can help meet the needs of others and of ourselves. Through our lifetime, we learn over and over again of our mutual dependence.