Values come first–in Education Land and elsewhere

What is the place of “values” in education?


First of all, it’s a funky question. since “values” can mean anything to anyone, “Does [‘value’] mean the quality of valuity or the thing having value?” asked John Dewey in 1923 (“Values, Liking, and Thought” in The Journal of Philosophy). Knowing the kind of value we’re evaluating is key, because “Strictly speaking,” Dewey claimed, “there are no such things as values.” So what are we talking about. To help readers out, Dewey says the word has a definitely “experienced, but undefinable quality.” Wow, thanks for the help, John.

If nothing else, the word has situational meaning. To refer to something as “valuable” depends on the context of the thing being evaluated and the particulars of the evaluator and circumstances. For someone to say to another, “your values are x,” would be like saying, your baseball is a strike, or a foul, or a home run. It all depends on how the ball is used, and by whom and for what purposes. An emergent behavior like “spontaneity” might be a highly valued quality in artistic endeavor, but in a surgical operating room, the value of “spontaneity” would, the patient hopes, be less.

For the sake of this assignment let us suppose “values in education” means the highest ideals that an educator (the ethical agent, a teacher here) consciously and unconsciously enacts as he does educational work. And by “responsibility” and “role” we mean the behaviors that the teacher carries out in teaching. By reading a teacher’s “creed” and observing him fulfilling his responsibilities, one can discover evidence of his educational “values.” If he is a conscientious educator doing what Hinchley (2004) reminds us is “praxis” teaching (42), there should be relatively little distance between the teacher’s intended espoused values and the experienced values that students receive. If the saying is true, that “values are caught, not taught,” then one hopes that a “values-driven” teacher will demonstrates his authentic worth by “walking his talk.” Spring says (13) that the values of education come through to students in at least two ways: non-academically, in “socialization” activities (e.g., pep rallies and following rules and procedures), and academically, in working through curricula students learn valued skills and knowledge.

If you take Professor Lukasik’s question chronologically, the place of ‘values’ in education is first. Without a value to animate activity, nothing happens. As Dewey might put it, no disequilibrium, no motive, no action, no learning. I was reminded of ee cummings’ poem that has something to say about the primacy of emotion to social interaction and wrote a variation on his to reflect on the place of values in the curriculum planning process.

cummings poem is:

since feeling is first
e.e. cummings

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

and here is my little variation:

Since “values” come first
who fiddles around with “objectives”, “strategies” and tactics”
will never wholly serve you, Mr. public
Wholly to be an evaluator and value-posessor
in the education game

my blood approves,
and logic is a better fate
than verbiage

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