Inculcating Values in Children
In my previous article, I was categorically of the opinion that the school has two clear goals, that is to sharpen the brain and to inculcate values in children. I had also stated that whereas most schools focus on the first, it is the second goal that is of a greater importance for a society. Value anchored people make a far more healthier society than intelligent people. Of course, the two are not contradictory. As a matter of fact, they compliment each other. It is perhaps worth repeating that a value anchored person with a somewhat lesser intelligence make a far better society than a more intelligent person with a lesser sense of values.
The debate of nature versus nurture is not over and shall perhaps never be settled. Watson strongly believed in nurture and had stated that if he is given twelve new born babies, he could make them into whatever the parents would want them to be, a world class doctor, engineer, scientist, lawyer or a criminal. The proposed experiment never saw the light of day as no-one entrusted him with new born babies. Perhaps, at the other end of the spectrum is the work of Ami Chua in her famous book, Battle hymn of the tiger mom, wherein she narrates the story of her two daughters whom she brought up in a very similar manner and they grew up to be very different personalities. One of them is very obedient and the other rebel. Sidney Sheldon has similar stories to tell. Clearly then it is not a black or white situation and there are shades of grey. However, the impact of socialization as well as culture cannot be undermined.
An important question is, what are values? Are they universal or contextual? These questions are also beyond the realm of scientific investigation and rightly belongs to the domain of philosophy. Thus philosophers can debate these questions, there is a minimum agreement on the same in every society. Whereas values can be many, to my mind, we would move towards a safer, healthier and saner society if we could focus on just two of them. The first and foremost is a determination that we should not take which is not ours and the second that success at the cost of another is a failure.
To inculcate values in children, we must practice them ourselves. As a matter of fact, the only route to inculcating values is through role modeling. Theory of child development suggests that upto the age of six years, a child copies whatever he/she sees. The child interacts most with the parents, teachers, relatives, neighbors, family friends, media ... It is then critical that the child sees good and pleasant sights, interacts with good and pleasant people and hears good and positive thoughts. Up to the age of twelve or thirteen, the child copies those persons whom the child likes. Children do not learn from people they do not like. For a school going child, it is very important that the child likes the teachers in the school. The onus of being liked by the child is clearly on the teacher. If you as a teacher wish to inculcate values in children it is mandatory to be practicing the values you wish to inculcate in them. To quote Emerson, “who you shout so loudly in my ears that I cannot hear what you say”. In today’s selfish world and a grossly erroneous interpretation of Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest, it is difficult to refuse to take what is not yours. As a teacher, can you refuse to take your salary if your students have not achieved what they were supposed to achieve?
All human beings are similar in many ways and at the same time, unique in many ways. We are not born equal and perfect, equality is a lofty ideal, but a distant dream. We are not born equal. Some are born rich and others poor. Religions offer an unverifiable explanation for the inequality of men, but the same remains a mystery. We are not born equal in terms of physical or mental endowments. Thus the starting point is not the same. One may resist this aspect of nature and be an activist advocating equality or merely accept it. David Henry Thoreau claimed that he tried many professions, but the one he did not attempt to pursue due to intense competition was philanthropy. To work towards alleviating human grief and the upliftment of mankind is laudable, it is perhaps more important to be grounded in reality and the greatest reality is that it is futile to fight nature. That each one of us must strive to improve the world is desirable, to attempt to oppose nature is to fight a losing battle. That the world order has changed by the anomalous initiative of great men and women is clear, what is not clear whether the change has been for the better or worse. From political doctrines to medicine and technology, every problem that has been solved has given birth to a fresh set of problems. The starting point of values is the acceptance of the world as it is and then attempt to change it, if at all.
If we accept the world as it is, it becomes easier to accept ourselves as we are. Of course, it is preceded by a reality perception and self awareness. To know that I am not the best and at the same time that I am good enough makes for healthier relationships. To compete with others is fun, the insatiable desire to win is unhealthy. Just as nature has made some people tall and others short, perhaps nature has made some people more intelligent than others is also a reality which we must accept in all humility. Just as it is arrogance to be proud of our natural physical endowments, it is also arrogance to be proud of our intelligence. To accept ourselves as we are, does not in any way negate the notion of self improvement. We must continuously compete with ourselves and strive to become better human beings. Celebrate your achievements, challenge and test yourself, be proud of yourself and at the same time celebrate the success and achievements of others. It is this acceptance that will enable a bonding of love and affection. The realization that the world belongs to all of us, men, women, animals and plants and a willingness of peaceful co-existence is the harbinger of love. A healthy society is characterized by love and mutual respect. Respect is the fundamental right of each and every person, animal, plant and inanimate object. You cannot respect others unless you respect yourself and you cannot respect yourself unless you are fundamentally a good human being.
Any discussion on values would be incomplete without a reference to religion. Swami Vivekananda states that religion is the biggest unifier; it is also the biggest divider of mankind. Religion is the biggest source of peace; it is the biggest source of war. In the absence of intelligence to tell us why and religion to tell us what, mankind is doomed. The practice of values can be based on an intelligent interpretation of reality or a belief in God. Religion as a spiritual practice can build a healthy society and a mindless pursuit of it’s dogmas can break it. Virtually all religions preach equality and tolerance and dissuade conspicuous consumption. However, the practice of religious dogmas and fundamentalism can be countered by intelligence alone. It is then imperative that schools establish the relationship between intelligent questioning of religious practices and their validity in the contemporary times.
Perhaps, the ultimate truth is nature and the laws of nature are immutable. Nature has cause and effect built into it. Nature has a process which is universal. Nature has inter-relatedness in all spheres of life. Nature has co-existence of all and supremacy of none. Nature is beautiful and enchanting. Nature is uncompromising and harsh. Einstein suggested that if all bees die, then mankind will perish in seventy five years. That is the inter-relatedness of all the elements of nature. Nature is powerful and vulnerable. Nature is the best teacher of values. Nature holds the world in balance and ruthlessly carries out the course corrections now and then. All that we wish to inculcate in children is present in nature. The virtues of patience, tolerance, perseverance are evident in nature. Can we allow children to be close to nature and help them interpret it? Can we help children appreciate nature and marvel it’s myriad manifestations?
The list of desirable values that we would wish to inculcate in children is long, but at the core are only two. The first core value is to refuse to take what is not your’s and the other is to refuse to participate in unhealthy competition. As the saying goes, attitude determines altitude. I am confident that from these two core values would emerge positive behavior and that shall lay the foundations of a healthier and saner society.
In my next article, I shall discuss the role of the school in inculcating values in children.