Letters : Spying and 'Unraveling of Traditional Values'

January 26, 1985

Ernest Conine in his article (Editorial Pages, Dec. 24), "Spying: Growth Industry in America," lays some of the blame for the increase in the number of Americans who are willing to sell out their own country on the "unraveling of traditional values," and particularly in a "general retreat from religious and moral values in a society that finds religious instruction in public schools unacceptable, but doesn't teach any other standard of values, either."

This rather facile explanation deserves far greater in-depth study that is possible here. However, a few comments: Conine nowhere defines his "traditional values." Is he talking about such religious values as "Love thine enemy" or "Onward Christian Soldiers"? Or nonviolent resistance? Is he referring to such ethical values as "Do unto others," or such commercial values as "Do to others before they do to you"?

Does he consider "My country, right or wrong" to be a traditional American value (Nazis, amongst others, prized that value highly), or is a "decent respect for the opinions of mankind" a proper traditional value? Is non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations more or less traditional for the United States than the "protection" of our country's self-interest?

As for the place of the public schools in the teaching of values, they have been charged from their very beginnings to teach "Americanism" and to inculcate moral values and behavior. What the contemporary teacher realizes through his professional studies is that values and ethics cannot be taught by prescription and certainly cannot be learned by rote. In order for values and morals to translate into personal behavior the critical and emotional processes must be engaged very early. Children must be offered many experiences and the opportunity of discovering how to reconstruct them in order to "learn" personal responsibility.

What our society has found unacceptable in the public schools is not religious instruction but religious indoctrination, and rightly so. It remains to be seen whether a comparative and objective study of religious values can find its rightful place in the public school curriculum. Will the parents allow their children to explore freely the doctrines and tenets and values of all the religions of the world on the same objective basis as they are now expected to explore all the other facets of the world's cultures?

Whether this ever occurs or not, the public schools still bear the responsibility, despite all the restrictions laid upon them, of developing children who will critically analyze the vast legacy of inconsistent and contradictory values (often called traditional) in order to construct a coherent, rational and humanistic set of values for themselves.

Every generation of children must go through this process in order for the American experiment to succeed. If there is an increase in espionage against one's own country, the fault lies not in the "unraveling" of the so-called traditional values but in the failure of individuals to clarify their own values, and to discover what is really important.


Monterey Park

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