Thursday, October 02, 2003

Teaching values in schools

Peter Dunne thinks that our schools should be teaching "character" and values. My first thought on this was "whose values"? United Future's? Fuck that!

Most of the proposal focuses on teaching values to encourage good citizenship, but unsurprisingly for a Christian party there's also a strand in the speech about it reducing crime as well (yet another example of the Socratic fallacy that vice is born of ignorance). Unfortunately, the whole thing is based on a fundamental misconception about the role of the State in a pluralistic society.

A pluralistic society is one in which people are free to pursue multiple goods, and multiple visions of the Good Life. Another way of looking at it is a society where there is moral disagreement, and people follow different moral codes. What these goods or moral codes are is up to the citizens; the State will reflect them, but has no role in choosing them. It is not the role of the State to say "these are the goods we are pursuing, and we will indoctrinate people to pursue them".

In other words, the values should flow from the bottom up, not be imposed from the top down.

There are things a pluralistic society can do to encourage good citizenship, but they lie in providing the tools, not the values. Teaching people to think, to be reflective, and to decide for themselves what they want and how they want to live. Unfortunately, I think Peter Dunne's friends in United Future wouldn't be so keen on that...