Palak Patel

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How do we teach morality at a primary level?

I am from India that this question is relevant to people from many parts of the world.
A large population of India still lives in rural areas, and such lifestyle is still very integral to this country. The problem is that the social culture in these regions is still marred by archaic thinking, which runs down from one generation to the next. High gender inequality, caste system and apathy towards education are parts of the normal lifestyle.
I believe that one of the major steps you can take to weed out such mentality is by targeting those who haven’t developed this mentality yet: the children. Morality is not a part of the curriculum and I strongly believe that it should be. But the question is, how do we teach morality to kids of say 9-12 years of age? How can we ingrain in kids thoughts and beliefs that are completely contradictory to the social dogma? When even in their households, which is where children acquire a major part of their values, ancient beliefs are pervasive, how do we teach them the difference between right and wrong?

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    Aug 18 2012: Stories! Stories! Stories! Children that age are very literal and have difficulty applying moral principals to themselves. They understand rules and right and wrong but have limited experiences with social inequalities. So the best way to introduce children to ethical and moral principles is through stories.
  • Aug 17 2012: As James Zhang says, "let them get exposed", I suggest an attitude of showing the better way. What could be said to children is, "Come, let us show you the better way!". This underscores a good relationship with the "student" child and parent, but also lifts the child to higher ideals. We know children are not mature; we know they need teachings. We take this loving attitude toward children and they will pass it on to their children. Its a slow process. Have no fear; good will overcome ignorance and evil.

    Morality could be defined as a measure of harmony with high ideals. Low morality means more out of harmony, but high morality is a measure of advancing society! We see the benefits; let's work for the higher ways.

    James is right to caution us against authoritative measures. Lovingly and patiently show children the right way!

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    Aug 17 2012: Indeed, sometimes it's too hard to change what's already done, the smarter way to fix a problem is sometimes to start over a clean slate.

    The best way to teach kids imo is to let them get exposed to the good/bad side of things, make them be curious about things, show them compassion, and guide them so that they don't fall into pits so large that it would take a lifetime to climb out of.

    Morality is something that everyone naturally does whether they like to or not, it really can't "forcefully" or directly be shoved at them. I think the biggest mistake is to tell them "this is right and this is wrong, don't question it."
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    Aug 18 2012: Palak, this is a great question and one that very much needs to be addressed all over the globe. I think the answer lies in environment, and it comes down to the parents to create such an environment for their children so that they can grow up with and develop their own sense of morality, it's in us all but for children especially in the stages where they have no choice but to learn from their surroundings (environment) it's essential for the parents to lead by example.

    When a certain lesson is forced upon a child or anyone for that matter, it usually only generates negative reactions, but if a lesson is all around you, it becomes a sense and you learn from it instinctively. Imagine, if all parents of this generation knew that..
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    Aug 18 2012: Hi Palak, we have ethics classes developed in Australia as an alternative choice to religious instruction classes.

    The programme is tailored for different ages. It is non religious and not anti religious. You might google St James Ethics Centre.

    For the young ones there are fun group activities. For example you describe a play ground scenario where someone bullies and ask the kids to consider the feelings and motivations of each of the participants - leading to an understanding of empathy etc.

    I have no illusions about the difficulty faced in rural India, but schooling is a good place to start in what is probably a multi generational project. But perhaps something like this could be customised.
  • Aug 20 2012: If you want to teach children (and adults) a better or "new morality" then I think it would be best to start with telling the truth.
    Our systems are wrong, broken, evil, unjust and create enormous pressures on human environments to provide, raise, educate, protect and survive, without breaking, cracking or committing actions they wouldn't normally commit.
    Our systems are morally wrong. They don't work because they create reasons, and good ones, for doing what we call bad things.
    Zdenek Smith said, " I think we can teach kids (and adults) that universal morality is based on a few basic ideas:
    - everyone is equal in terms of freedom, opportunities and right for self determination
    - everyone wants to avoid pain and suffering esp. if caused by others"
    This is simply not true but can be. It is achievable but only in a just system, for in a just system, there are almost no reasons to commit crimes, be unethical or hurtful to others because most fear has been eliminated.

    Since good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment, I would agree that children need to experience and be taught how to handle what they go though as they grow. In a simple way, this is helping teach them how to trust themselves, thus they learn how to trust in others. But it really is to help them learn that experience isn't what happens to them but what they do with what happens to them. And to next see how their experience can benefit others.

    Someone said that we know children aren't mature, true, but from what I have seen I would say it is the other way around. It is the adults who aren't mature, are petty, selfish, egotistical, dishonest, etc. and so are most of our leaders, institutions and parents (according to recent surveys).

    But I wonder? Just how difficult would it be to teach children some morality in a system in which there are very few real reasons to not be moral?

    Get rid of all religious morality. Religion has failed utterly in providing this context.
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    Aug 18 2012: Teaching is by the clarity of our example.
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    Aug 18 2012: I think parents and society have more influence on children than they are aware of.
    Good parents, that is, those who abide by the laws of the nation and are not aggressive and intolerant in the expression of their views; these parents will be good role models and their children will live accordingly.
    It will be even better if they are teachers.

    What young learners, children and the youth really need are leaders who dont just say the nice, novel and noble ideas to look good; but leaders who practice the good things they express.
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      Aug 18 2012: YES, I think You ask little kids how they think that other person feels. There is nothing like walking in another person's shoes especially if you are the one who tripped them.
  • Aug 18 2012: I think we can teach kids (and adults) that universal morality is based on a few basic ideas:
    - everyone is equal in terms of freedom, opportunities and right for self determination
    - everyone wants to avoid pain and suffering esp. if caused by others

    In just society with universal moral values everyone is treated equally because all of us are the same human being, just with different abilities and appearances but the same basic needs and feelings.

    Since no one wants to suffer and we need to live together sharing resources, we need to ensure that we don't hurt (intentionally or not) each other through our actions.

    Since we are all equals then no one is controlling others but rather we have mutually beneficial agreements and arrangements to have some people to lead and others to voluntary follow.

    If you imagine being born as man, woman, black, white then you can see you want to be treated equally in all cases =)

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      Aug 18 2012: "everyone is equal in terms of freedom, opportunities and right for self determination"

      Reality of this isn't really true, but it is definitely a goal we want to strive for.
      • Aug 20 2012: Yes thou I was thinking from philosophical point of view that this is an assumption on which the universal morality is based on? =)
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          Aug 21 2012: Hmm, I'm not sure if it's truly universal yet, but we're getting there...