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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Essay

Values That Are Worth Teaching

November 25, 2000|DONNA JUDD | Donna Judd taught language arts and social studies at Ladera Vista Junior High in Fullerton for 34 years before retiring last June. She now substitute-teaches

I stood on the outskirts of a cocktail party conversation recently in amazed silence as the participants raged about "godless" schools that wouldn't dare teach values. Did they have any idea what really went on in schools? Someone then turned to me, a junior high school language arts and world history teacher, and asked, "Do you teach values at school?"

"Absolutely," I replied.

"You do?" She sounded surprised.

"Of course!" I felt irritated. "We're doing it all the time, whether it's planned or spontaneous. Kids this age need lots of guidance."

"Like what? What do you teach?" a man asked.

"Honesty. You know, no cheating on tests, no copying a friend's homework, no plagiarizing on your research paper. Or the Golden Rule: Be nice; don't use put-downs if you're disagreeing with someone else's opinion during our discussion. Be considerate. Don't use profanity. Hang your backpack on your chair back rather than leave it in the aisle to block traffic. Or what about patriotism or sharing or organizational skills? It's never ending."

It's like our science teacher once said, "If you are going to expect a behavior at this age, you had better teach it. Some of this helps them become good people or better students, and some of it just simplifies living in a group of 30, which is what we're doing."

That conversation made me realize that teachers are teaching values constantly, not so much through structured lesson plans but often on the run, during the four-minute passing period, during lunch or whenever we can grab a kid who needs grabbing.

For example, one day my history class was discussing modern Africa and its many problems, including AIDS. The bell rang, and I heard a boy snort and make some smart-aleck remark about AIDS. As he gathered up his books, I walked over and said softly, "Billy, AIDS is never something to joke about."

"Sure it is!" He straightened up. "I mean, come on, Mrs. Judd, those Africans got it from monkeys or apes or something and you know how they got it." He laughed again. Billy had only a couple of minutes to get to his next class, and I had a new class coming in. There certainly wasn't time to tackle the origins of AIDS even if I wanted to. So I repeated, "AIDS isn't a joking matter and it is not something that happens just in Africa."

This tough kid who loves football "because I get to hurt people," looked defiant, yet he made no move to leave. So, after a brief hesitation, I went on, "Billy, I'm going to tell you something and it isn't that easy to say. My brother died of AIDS, my only brother. It's something that's brought pain to tens of thousands of families."

Billy's hand touched awkwardly on my arm for the briefest moment. He muttered, "Oh, sorry, Mrs. Judd." Then he was out the door.

Will this tough kid be a little more compassionate, a little less judgmental the next time the subject of AIDS comes up?

Maybe.

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