|Values Education for Successful Families
As we know, it is in the loving education in virtue and how to live them, that the family can be successful and happy and produce those balanced, audacious and confident individuals who can take our families and our societies forward toward a secure and stable future.
When we see a happy family, producing successful individuals, we are seeing a family where each is mindful of the cares and comforts of the others, where selfishness is not apparent and harmony reigns. It is a family where values are lived sincerely.
Values and virtues are not the exclusive province of the happy family, however. They are the expression of the nobility of human nature and appear wherever there are human beings. It is a fact, sometimes forgotten by politicians and social scientists, that values do constitute an important code of behavior, protecting the vulnerable human psyche, and ensuring social harmony. It is for this reason that they must be carefully preserved and passed on as humanity’s most precious heritage.
Now, when we speak of values as the key to successful families, what are we talking about, in reality? We are talking about bringing up children to be kind, honest, hardworking, generous, unselfish, loyal, confident and capable of choosing a work and sticking to it. We also mean accomplishing this with sufficient love to inspire our children to do the same. This is probably the minimum success to which parents aspire. And yet, we all find it quite a challenge.
We look to bring out in our children the values and virtues that we could call ad extra that is to say that they be outwardly kind, considerate, generous and so on to others. And so also those values and virtues we call ad intra; inwardly confident, self-reliant, capable of facing challenges and making their way in the world. This must be the most fascinating job in the world. Challenging and fascinating!
When the world was rural and everything we did or needed required an effort, it was perhaps a different picture from the challenges we meet today. The problems today come from a combination of ease and the increasing pressures to have more and more goods, services and diversions. This ease and these pressures certainly make our task as parents more difficult, as the tendency to egotism is of course magnified by market forces and what has been called ‘the strategy of desire’.
Teaching values and virtues, then, has become increasingly difficult as the outside world has more and more to sell to us and to our children. Permissiveness is recommended, the virtues ridiculed. Egotism and sacrificing family values to the satisfaction of ever increasing levels of eroticism and anti-life desires are promoted in every way, in advertising, in so called entertainment and even government and international policy. Even the new electronic games for the young belittle violence and killing, and imbue children with such anti-values as kicking a person who is down and other cruelty.
Famous economists and most specialists in development, Gary Becker, James Coleman, Robert Pultman, Fernando Reimers of Harvard, to name but a few, have now determined that societies cannot advance and develop if they lack the virtues and values that promote trust, and the effects of trust: interpersonal confidence, cooperation and mutual aid, as Fukuyama has demonstrated in his famous book. Sadly, the same principle holds true for developed societies: where the social values decline, trust wanes, interpersonal relations deteriorate and cities lose their cohesive quality.
The values and the virtues of a good and peaceful society were for centuries required by the authorities and churches, and families were expected to teach these. The values were imbedded in all academic learning at schools, apprenticeships and universities. This is no more. Virtues and values are now considered part of a ‘condemning’ or ‘judgmental’ mind-set. The effect of this change is being seen in broken lives, and increasingly violent cities.
We are in an age when a concerted and special effort must be made to teach once more the logic of virtue, the logic of the Golden Rule. Many governments are beginning to notice that this need exists as not only the streets become dangerous but schools become ever more chaotic. Our Association began an experiment some years ago by which a method is provided to teach the virtues in a very practical way in school, thereby supporting the good intention of teachers and the efforts within the family. The objective is to help children to grow in an understanding of the need to consider others, in every way as they would like to be considered. This is the Golden Rule. To be happy and useful, they must learn to respect others as they want to be respected and to treat others as they would like to be treated. It is in counter currant to the zeitgeist, but it appeals to them when they see how it works and how it can simplify their lives. This experiment has now turned into a successful programme which is growing in many countries in Latin America, as well as England and the Philippines.
This programme is called Alive to the World or, in Latin America Aprendiendo a Querer or Caminhos de Vida. It is giving hope to those who work in the more depressed areas and joy to many, many children.
All of us carry a burden of sadness because of the failure of some lovely child or children that we know who have succumbed to the confusions of the age and missed the opportunity to be the really special people they were created to be. There are the young who were trapped by drugs, those who were ambushed by sex and made bad marriages and those who were ensnared by materialism. The poor areas of the great cities of the world are great fields of tragedies, where good people try to do their best in the midst of great confusion, bad examples and cultural and religious chaos. Our society is riddled with so many of these cases that we are forced to consider them part of normal life.
Among the many novelties of our time, certainly Sex Education has been the most effective vehicle of the 20th century for changing---destroying if you prefer---concepts and behaviour in regard to relations between the sexes, the functions of family and our Christian faith, as I am sure many will agree.
I will not go into the vulgar details of the “Sex Education” currently being applied in most countries of the world, nor the harm it is causing in terms of disordered sexuality, particularly among teens. The statistics about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s), teenage pregnancy, violence and fatherless children speak for themselves for all those interested.
More to the point is to speak about an alternative. Children and adolescents need facts, and need to know an enormous amount about themselves and personal relations in order to be prepared to meet the challenges of an increasingly complicated world. This knowledge must be given in schools, where young people spend most of their waking days.
So it seems we must find a way to give young people an education in sexuality, which would be education in virtues, and a preparation for family life.
If we are not to fall into the same mistake as so many well-meaning groups, and confuse sex and love, we must think very clearly, and in this long journey we came up with the following definition or demarcation, and it is that “Sex Education is all that an individual must learn, from birth, that will prepare him or her to live a happy and permanent life as a couple.” I never found someone who did not agree with this definition. But there is more, of course: in order to live happily and permanently with another person, one must learn, at the very least, to be generous, loyal, just, truthful, responsible, committed, to listen, understand, communicate, and a long list of other desirable virtues and skills.
With the help of an excellent interdisciplinary team, we put together a series of 12 books for students aged 6 to 18, for use in schools or at home and which is designed to teach the virtues and attitudes of successful and happy family life. In the student texts of Alive to the World, each level consists of 35 chapters or lessons, one for each week of the school year. There is a Teacher’s manual for each level, the lesson prepared with a variety of background information, further reading, discussion points, activities and so on.
Our approach is anthropological, rather than religious or sociological. We have drawn upon the wisdom of people so varied as Piaget, Viktor Frankl, David Isaacs, Professor Uri (of “Getting Past No”) and others, to teach at each level the virtues, values and skills which are most readily learned at that age. There are windows of opportunity, as we know, for learning such things as friendship, confidence, tolerance, courage, leadership, decision-taking, and so on. As most parents have experienced, and Aristotle explained so long ago, the best way to teach the young is through example and through stories.
So, we have woven all these things into an entertaining series of episodes about schoolmates and friends and family members, and the adventures, misadventures, discussions and interaction of these. Many classic stories, such as the Ugly Duckling or tales of courage like Horatius at the Bridge, are worked in as reading for class discussion and we are therefore able to give meaning and practicality to many otherwise abstract points.
This series is about commitment, fair play, and friendship. But it is also about love, about cherishing, about the beauty of courtship, of marriage and the miracle of life. The diversity of talents, personalities and uniqueness of every human person, as well as the complementarity of this richness in humanity, are a special element in our story. Procreation is taught in detail, but without the external organs or other elements which cause such embarrassment and ultimately such callousness, in other programs. These are not necessary in order to understand the depth and fascination relative to being man or woman. We do use science and explain the differences in brain structure, brain chemistry and brain development in girls and boys in order to neutralize any disinformation they may have picked up about the interchangeability of ‘gender’!!
These books, the history of Charles and his cousin Alice, tell the story of a group of children growing up and encountering the universal situations of human life.
Book 1, Getting to Know Myself, is about the human being: what is family, emotions, a new addition to the family, stages of growth, basic hygiene.
Book 2 . Healthy and Happy, covers the fundamentals of being a good child, obedience, sharing, caring, making friends and the responsibility for helping out in the home.
Book 3, A Great Team, for 8 year olds, is more challenging and centers on the desire all 8 year olds have to be included and do well on a team. This offers us the perfect tool to teach those prized virtues of fair play, justice, abiding by the rules, respecting the authority of a team leader or captain. Through the sports we can easily make them understand the importance of each person and the responsibility of each to pull his or her weight. Cheating can be easily recognized as ruining the game. Perseverance, sacrifice and generosity are obvious virtues valuable on a team, and of course humility is what makes winners. Half way through this book, when the virtues of sports are well understood, Charles and Alice discover that family is their first team and subject to all of the above. The school works by the same principles and of course so does a democracy.
In Book 4, Is it Mine?, the story of Charles and Alice finds them discovering about respect for property and the need for and joy of sharing, lending, and the responsibility of taking care when enjoying the property of others.
Book 5 Talents and Tastes is a fun book where the immense diversity of human cultures and ways of life are an introduction to the fact that all humans share the same basic needs of shelter, food and affection, even in apparently very different circumstances. Family is a big factor in this book also and commitment is the underlying theme as the complementarity of men and women is explored, with emphasis on the different brain structure of boys and girls. This book helps girls and boys to recognize that they have, like everyone, their own talents to be developed and weaknesses to be worked on.
Book 6 is called Friends! and is an exhaustive look at friendship of all kinds, the virtues of friendship, with loyalty, truthfulness and respect at the fore. Using and being used, as well as peer pressure are important topics in this book. Joining different kinds of groups is illustrated too as Charles joins the Boy Scouts and Alice briefly gets sucked in to a group of girls who like to shoplift.
Book 7 Changes and Challenges, deals with more responsibilities, and goes deeper into respect, generosity, and balancing school and family. This book discusses physical changes and the need for cleanliness and good grooming.
At each level some aspect of human procreation is covered, the miracle of life, genetics and inheritance, and so on. No explicit material or illustrations to cause embarrassment.
Books 8-12, for the 13-18 year olds, Personality Plus, Worth Waiting For, Feelings and Ambitions, The Future Begins Now and Major Decisions all deal more in depth with the changeable feelings of teenage and care is taken in this story of Charles and Alice and their friends to show the difference between attraction, the ‘crush’ and true love and go on to open a wide horizon of life decisions and the preparation for these. The use and misuse of Internet and ‘virtual’ friendships are important in the new edition. These 5 books qualify as Abstinence Education and also Education in Democracy, due to the application of the virtues to community life within the stories.
We have produced teacher training courses of varying lengths and intensity. The classic is a 16 hour course for teachers, soon to be available on-line (in Spanish at first).
Our aim as perhaps you have already noticed, is to change the culture! We hope that through a massive distribution of these books, sold at cost in Latin America, in the UK and soon in Africa, we will strengthen and reinsert into our culture the virtues which Christianity gave us and which have been sidelined by an aggressive culture of relativity and promiscuity.