How To Advance Middle School Math Students In Small School Morally Stunted

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Morally Stunted

As a parent and educator I wonder about the moral health of today’s children. I love them and enjoy them, but many children have encountered situations and circumstances beyond their age and level of understanding that are scary. With movies and television filled with suggestive words and actions and abrasive language that irritates my ears or with video games filled with acts of violence against people, animals, and multitudes of inanimate objects, I wonder where the sensitivity Will we become a system of automatons with our stunted morality based on a lack of personal love and a sense of interconnectedness with people, nature and the Universe itself?

In several schools I’ve visited, reading walls adorn the hallway. When a child reads 10, 20, or 100 books, their name goes up and then they walk the wall for the entire year to reach a stellar reading goal. While I encourage children to read, I also know that this process also encourages children (and their parents) to lie. It’s easy to pretend to read and then coerce a quick parent signature on a piece of paper so reading “evidence” can be handed out and reading progress duly noted. Although one week a busy parent may fall into this pattern, when it is repeated week after week the child comes to believe that honesty is overrated and that success on the wall is much more important. Ask almost any child about a similar reading set and I bet they will get the honest answer about not really reading with a myriad of reasons for not following through and justifying this bogus behavior.

Working with eighth graders for many years, we typically completed a unit on moral development. Teenagers are very curious about lies and deception, honesty and truth and how they grow or don’t grow over time. They wonder why little liars become big liars, why little fellow criminals end up in jail later. His examination of good and evil is generally simple and pure; not all, of course, as some actually have a criminal mindset at a tender age, usually fostered by examples at home. Inevitably, these students explain cheating as copying, but then move away from my definition of copying. They explain with complete honesty that copying an English assignment is wrong, as it is stealing words, but that copying a math assignment is okay, as it is just numbers. No matter what background information I shared or worked to explain, they didn’t die. Cheating had multiple levels and degrees of intensity and reasons for doing it or not doing it. Every year I expected a moral shift towards cheating as cheating, but it never happened.

From math cheating (or not cheating, depending on your definition), we moved on to road signs. I’m sure you know the story of the stop sign in the middle of nowhere. As you drive through a deserted part of the country, you come to a four-way intersection with stop signs. With the area flat and with unobstructed views in all directions, do you have an obligation to stop and obey the signal even if it is unnecessary and apparently stupid or do you continue to pass, ignoring the signal because it seems useless? Is there a moral responsibility to obey the law even when it seems foolish and unjustified? You can only imagine the lively debate and explanations. While the excitement of each class’s responses cannot be reproduced to share here, I encourage you to find a group of teenagers and engage in this conversation. There is definitely a mental awakening for everyone.

Are children today morally stunted? Do they care less about other humans and animals than past generations? Are we unwittingly creating a self-centered society where “me” is more important than “we”? I guess if you look at advertising and political disputes you realize that these are the examples we are giving, where misinformation is valued more than the truth. It becomes clear that our example of honesty and sincerity must come into play if we really want to ensure morally strong adults in the future.

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