IRVINE — Honesty. Responsibility. Compassion.
These three values--and five more--will find their way into classrooms in the Irvine Unified School District next school year, after the board of trustees endorsed them this week to become part of the education of each student.
"I'm delighted to see we're doing this," board member Mike Regele said. "We're going to actually admit that values are important."
The board voted unanimously Tuesday that all district schools should teach students that honesty, responsibility, compassion, perseverance, respectfulness, cooperation, courage and citizenship are some of the top values common to all successful societies. Each school will decide how those values will be added to regular courses, Assistant Supt. Dean Waldfogel said.
Irvine teachers traditionally have discussed those moral values, especially when discussing literature and the ethical dilemmas in social science, Waldfogel said. But the list adopted by the board will make it clear which specific values are deemed important enough to stress to students, he said.
The board's action "says to teachers, we make no apologies about attempting to inculcate these values in our students," Waldfogel said. "That's quite a different posture than public schools have taken in the past."
Although adding specific values to the public school classroom is a natural progression from recent decisions at the state level, it is a major break from past practices, Waldfogel said. Morals are so strongly tied to religious beliefs that public schools have been afraid to discuss them for fear of violating the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, he said.
Until recently, in fact, colleges have taught budding teachers that morals were best left out of the classroom because of their ties to religion, he said.
"Somehow, in that emphasis on separation, I think we lost a lot--and unnecessarily so," Waldfogel said. "As you look at these eight (values) you can say these are just good. We ought to be proud of them. We ought to be modeling them" to students.
The trend toward bringing morals back into the classroom began about four years ago with changes to the state education code and course outlines adopted by the state board of education, Waldfogel said. The course outline for social science instruction adopted by the state school board, for instance, specifically mentions that students should be taught truth, justice and patriotism, he said.
Those changes at the state level helped lead the Irvine school board in 1990 to adopt a mission statement that called for empowering students with "skills, knowledge and values necessary to meet the challenges of a changing world."
To help define which values should be taught, the district created a Values Task Force to find a handful of the most powerful values common to all successful societies and that cross religious boundaries, Waldfogel said.
The task force recommended the board adopt six values as the most important and that do not overlap much with each other. The board added the last two values, courage and citizenship, at the suggestion of individual members.
"Without courage, most of the rest of (the values) are difficult to implement," Regele said. "It takes a courageous person to be responsible and it takes a courageous person, many times, to be compassionate."
The 20-member task force of teachers, parents and members of the clergy was asked to come up with a short list of a values that could be stressed in the classroom, he said. District officials, who began with a list of about 100 values culled from literature and from other school districts, were afraid that the importance of values would be diluted if schools tried to teach too many, Waldfogel said.
Among the values not included were: initiative, integrity, tolerance, kindness and industriousness. The task force decided that those values, like many others, are encompassed by the top six it selected, he said.
The eight values chosen by the school board are not meant to be all-encompassing, though, Waldfogel said. Teachers probably will use the eight values as a starting point and bring up several related values when discussing the main ones, he said, such as bringing up integrity when discussing honesty.
The board adopted the list of values without opposition and little public discussion.
The district has not heard from anyone critical of adopting the list of important values, Waldfogel said Wednesday.
In the past, groups have often opposed public schools' discussing morals, said William Eller, associate superintendent for the Capistrano Unified School District.
"When a school district gets into morals, ethics and values, there is fear that 'secular humanists' will attempt to control the world according to their views (of proper morals)," Eller said. Others fear that teaching morals will lead to the teaching of religious beliefs, he said.
Capistrano district schools do not have a list of morals to be taught besides the ones mentioned in state guidelines, Eller said. But the board has adopted a statement that students should be taught to appreciate the cultural diversity of all people, he said. Teachers discuss other morals in the context of the particular subject being taught, he said.
In the Brea-Olinda Unified School District, the school board has adopted a goal that a quality education includes teaching children to develop morally and ethically. But the district does not enumerate specific morals to be taught, Assistant Supt. Peter J. Boothroyd said.
The board wanted to mention morals, though, because children seem to be growing up with less moral guidance, Boothroyd said.
"What we're not talking about is religion," he said. "What we're talking about is what is right, behaving in a proper way. And I don't think that has anything like a religious context."