Having completed a long study on thinking clearly, my next project in this line is moral education. Like critical thinking, this important field of study has been removed from Western education over the past century, and its restoration is, in my opinion, sorely needed. I aim to fill the gap.
Moral education, however, is a dicey subject: many people have pre-existing opinions on the subject, and frequently very strong ones. Still, moral education needs to be restored, and I think I can work around those problems well enough.
And so, as a first step in this mission, I want to explain my most basic thoughts on moral education. Here they are:
Our purpose: The purpose of moral education is to produce better human beings; everything else comes second to that.
Even our children sharing our own values is a secondary issue. Sharing the same values is beneficial, but the very best values must first be found, and then adopted by both parents and children. Sameness is nice, but quality is paramount. We want our children to exceed us, not to be limited by us.
I am very much interested in the restoration of Western civilization, but that’s not my purpose in addressing this subject. I value Western civilization for a number of reasons, and in our coverage I’ll use a lot of Western civilization’s core stories. But I do that for secondary reasons, mainly because I think a return to Western civilization is the best path forward for the greatest number of people just now. (And by a large margin.) The truth, however, is that even the best version of Western civilization we can conjure will be inferior to future models of civilization.
To me, the past is to be learned from and expanded upon, not to be constrained by.
And beyond that, we greatly err if we try to attach ourselves and our children to any specific culture. Cultures are things that we create, not which create us. We are primary and they are secondary. And so we must find the very best principles we can, and then actively… personally… organize our culture around them.
The deep need of purity in moral education: Moral education is for all of us, of course, but it is especially something that’s necessary for children; they develop far better with a clear hold on root principles.
But planting principles in children is an awesome responsibility… indeed a sacred responsibility. In a way, that’s scary, but the alternative is to do nothing, and let them be educated by television, social media and political operatives. And so, frightened or not, we must do this.
The crucial thing here is to make our moral education as pure as possible. The stories and messages we convey should be benevolent, non-contradictory, and should not use fear as a tool for compliance. The truth about a lot of moral tales is that they scare children into obedience and doing “the right thing.” Fear works faster than persuasion, but it also poisons those it “corrects.”
Regardless of how deep the pedigree of scary stories may be, I maintain that teaching them is a fundamental error. If we teach children to live by fear because it’s easier… and then praise them for doing so… they are likely to be motivated by fear – to accept motivation by fear as legitimate – all their lives.
And so, I’ll be using a large number of old stories in our coverage, but I’ll be changing some of them to remove fear-based motivation.
In fact, I’ll be modifying nearly everything in this study, including Bible passages. Now, as a fan of the Bible, I’ll be making those edits with care, but I am aiming for zero confusion in these stories; I think young minds need to be protected.
At the same time, however, I aim for truth. And so the stories I tell will either be clearly fictional, or will be as truthful as I can make them. I don’t want to tell children great, moral stories, only to have them find out later that they were false.
For example, while I will include the creation story of Genesis 1, I’m leaving out the fourth day, when God creates the sun and the moon, after creating light earlier. Regardless of any theological validity for both passages, they are confusing to a child, and so I took one of them out. I encourage parents who wish to do so, to explain the entire text to their children once they are old enough and solid enough to grasp such fine points. This coverage, however, will be edited to remove confusion.
I expect parents to use this in their own ways. Every child is different and every parent is different, and I’m making no claim that my thoughts are somehow perfect. I know that there are many good and kind people who disagree with me on certain points, and to such parents, I say this:
I expect you to modify my text as you read it to your child. My goal is to communicate essential concepts in ways that a child can grasp. I’ve removed more or less everything self-contradictory, but no one knows your child better than you do, and no one has better incentives to make her or him into a good person. So, choose the word and emphasis you think is best. It will be your job to transfer these concepts from the book to your child’s mind.
That said, I haven’t dumbed-down the text or used kiddie-words. I am treating children as intelligent beings, even if sometimes ignorant. It will be the educator’s job to fill the gaps in their understanding.
The use of stories. For better or worse, stories are far easier for humans to remember than abstract principles, and especially so for children. More than that, stories communicate a main point quite deeply. There was a reason, after all, why Jesus taught exclusively in parables. And so I’m defaulting to story-telling.
There is much more to say on these topics, of course, and I’ll introduce each story/lesson with an explanation of my choices for adult readers and the parents of young readers. And in some cases, those introductory notes may be long.
Come what may, people need solid moral foundations. With them, their lives become easier, more comprehensible and far more rewarding. Without them, confusion and its disastrous effects reign.
I leave you with a passage from Saul of Tarsus, aka, St. Paul:
Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
That’s good advice for us all.