Teaching Morals and Ethics in Public Schools
The question of whether or not schools should teach ethics and morals is misleading, because ethics and morals are two different things. Webster's Dictionary defines ethics as "a particular system of principles and rules concerning duty, whether true or false," and morals as "motivation based on ideas of right and wrong." As I take it, ethics implies a set of basic rules to abide by, whereas morals strictly set down what to believe, and what not to. I have no objections to schools teaching ethics, however I do not think schools, or any authority for that matter, should be teaching children morals.
In this country, we have an accepted system of ethics that children begin to learn in the lower levels of education. This system tells them such basic rules as "treat others as you would treat yourself," "share with others," etc. These rules help children to learn how to interact with other people. A child will not learn much if he only talks with other children exactly like himself--he must be able to get along with his teachers, and his peers who may or may not be of the same background. A shared system of basic ethics regarding living with other human beings is essential in any society, and in school.
Along with this system of ethics, however, we have myriad systems of morals, and it is impossible to determine which is the "right" one to teach. Morals, like beliefs, are totally subjective, and they are, in my opinion, personal. The method of Authority, described by Charles Sanders Peirce in "The Fixation of Belief," has no place in the formation of anyone's morals, because no Authority has the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. The freedom to believe what one wishes is one of the main reasons this country was founded, and should not be taken for granted.
This then leads to an important question; is it possible to teach ethics without morals? I believe it is. For example, schools can teach Christian ethics--some of which I have described above--without teaching Christian morals. In other words, you can teach a child to be compassionate towards his fellow human beings without teaching him that something like abortion is fundamentally wrong.
There is the problem today, though, of the "lack of morals" among American children, and, in the minds of many people, the solution lies in either the public schools, or families. School is where a child will spend the vast majority of his time until he is eighteen years of age, so it is obvious that a child's schooling will have an enormous effect on him. For the sake of argument, let...