In his review of Leonard W. Levy's book, "The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment" (Dec. 15), reviewer Jeffrey Allen asks: "If religion cannot be taught in the public schools . . . how can a teacher correct a student caught lying, stealing, or cheating?"
The answer to that is simple. From the first grade on, have a progressive course in ethics , adapted to the student's age and mental maturity. A study of ethics is a study of natural morality--the admittedly universal, observed fact that human beings exhibit an innate sense of right and wrong, even though the specific application of that sense may vary.
The student can easily be shown, for example, that all living creatures, whether plants or animals, have an innate drive for self-preservation and the attainment of their potential, and that in human beings the innate sense of right and wrong, coupled with reason, constitutes an important guiding principle in the same drive. The teacher can generally produce fulfilled and constructively engaged persons, and that means a society that is productive and peaceful. This can be proved for the classroom, the school, and society at large.
The study of ethics also teaches students to think , not just absorb information. And while it won't make anyone perfect, it sharpens the moral sense and cultivates a sense of personal responsibility. Doesn't that make it worth a try?