The country is in an ethics crisis and the best solution to the problem may be to teach values education in public schools, according to the president of the Provo School District Board of Education.
"In the nation there are clergy, political leaders and others in high places doing things that are unethical and when you are in the public education system you start asking questions," said David Weight. "If you are in a high place, do you have a different set of values?"While Provo, Alpine and Nebo school districts are situated in a predominantly religious community, there is still a need for values education in local schools, officials say.
Weight said employers throughout the country as well as in the local community are asking for responsible, honest employees who honor their commitments. He believes the school districts are responsible for educating such a work force.
"We have the children for a sizeable amount of their lives," he said. "Schools more and more are taking the responsibility from the parents to teach values. The family unit is deteriorating with complex lifestyles where both parents work to make a living. They have less and less time with their kids."
Values education has been around for 20 years, but recent approaches do more than help students clarify their own values - it imposes certain values, said Brian Page, assistant superintendent of instructional services for Alpine School District.
"Today we have a more firm position and we are into telling them what it means to be a good person. Alpine has been encouraging teachers to teach values, character and morals as they deem appropriate within the contextual areas of the curriculum, but this summer we decided to formalize it," Page said.
The district has formed a committee to develop a specific curriculum for morals and character education and will be ready to implement the program this fall, he said.
"We will give teachers more ideas and more specific kinds of principles to pay attention to. We are not intending to have students take a character class. We think values are part of everything we do and we want teachers to stress that in all aspects of life and curricular areas."
With a national trend toward values education, "it's sensible to pay more attention to what is happening nationally to prepare, put our guard up and give us some lead time."
But while educators are concerned about teaching values, their biggest concern is not to violate the Constitution's required separation of church and state, Weight said.
"We have to deal more with the Bill of Rights and what it means to live in democracy. We don't even look at the basic issues such as influencing others to do wrong. People need to know what happens when they break the rules."
Page said Alpine stresses non-sectarian ethics and morals. "Honesty, decency, fairness and other human values do not have to be associated with any religious motive. They are just common-sense values to help human beings live together in harmony."
Nebo has worked to develop a curriculum independent of any religious affiliation, said Larry Kimball, secondary curriculum coordinator. "It is not shoved down anyone's throat. We try to teach the individual to assess where he is and what it is to be a member of a family and the obligation it places on each individual member."
In the past year, Nebo School District has taught values in the classroom following outlines developed by groups outside the district, Kimball said. They plan to continue the program.
Values education in Nebo teaches kids decision-making skills in all areas, he said. "It gives them skills to deal with drugs and alcohol as well as moral values and issues as they assess what those are in their own lives."
Teachers have had extensive training in values education and ways to fuse it with the regular curriculum. Some of the schools have an actual class where they are taught the skills, he said. Such a class is offered at Spanish Fork High School and the Spanish Fork Intermediate School has a life skills class for sixth graders.
Kathy Luke, elementary education curriculum director for Provo Schools, said Provo has no set ethics curriculum, but "I think you will find the basic values - honesty, respect for one another, and doing a good job when assigned a task - being taught in almost every school."
But more can be done, Weight said. "We need to look at sexual issues in regard to moral issues and in regard to AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. Do we need to be more specific in the curriculum to respond to that? We can get much more specific without getting into religion."
The 12th annual Gallup Poll asked respondents: Would you favor or oppose instruction in the schools that deals with morals and moral behavior?
-79 percent favored such instruction.
-85 percent of parents with children in public schools favored moral education.
-4 percent of parents with children in public schools opposed moral education.
A common core of values*
Critical inquiry Order
Due process Patriotism
Equality of opportunity Rational consent
Freedom of thought and action Reasoned argument
Honesty Respect for others' rights
Human worth and dignity Responsibility
Integrity Responsible citizenship
Justice Rule of law
*As outlined in values education report, "1984 and Beyond"