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Teaching values is nothing new!

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Having given us some tips for teaching values in the classroom, Susan Banman Sileci, co-author of the new Primary course Everybody Up, now considers whether this is a new phenomenon or not.

EFL teachers, especially those who teach young learners, know instinctively that they’re standing in front of a group of kids teaching more than English. One of those things is values – how to behave at school, at home and out in the community.

I recently spent some time online preparing for a presentation on teaching values and found a few sites expressing worry about this generation of children “The world is on the verge of collapse,” the sites suggest. “What will become of the world with kids like these in it?” Some sites say the biggest problem is video games. Others say it’s divorce. Others blame today’s social woes on bad teachers, rap music, reality TV, the Internet, cell phones and political corruption. If you believe those sites, we’re in trouble.

But then I look back on my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States. I remember a lot of talk from the adults around me about how terrible my generation would turn out. There were drugs everywhere. There were rock festivals, disco music, political scandals, race riots, girls wearing boys’ clothes and guys with long hair. Every night we watched the Vietnam War on the news and mourned the assassination of our leaders, from President Kennedy to Martin Luther King, Jr. It wasn’t an easy time either.

I asked my mother about her generation. For kids of the 1950s, listening to Elvis Presley was the end of the world to the adults around her. Before that, moving from the farm to the city was trouble. Even Plato and Socrates worried about their own disrespectful kids and teenagers.

There was, and is, a lot of finger-pointing going on. Yes, this generation of kids has trouble-makers and families who aren’t working hard enough on basic skills and values. But from a bigger perspective, every generation has had these individuals. Every generation has had its set of unique issues, issues that worry and challenge those who are older.

English teachers – and teachers of all subjects, for that matter – are an integral part of making sure that each generation, like the generation before it, learns what it needs to know to succeed in the world. It’s sometimes frustrating and tiring, but it’s nothing new. We were taught the values and good manners we use today by our own families and teachers a generation or two ago. And our job is to not give in to doomsday predictions and stop trying to pass on what we know kids need.

I have a question for teachers: What is one value that is important to you that you worry is lost to the current generation of children? And what can you do as an EFL teacher to make sure your students understand this value? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Songs are a great way to teach children values. Check out the animated values songs on our Young Learners playlist on YouTube and get involved in the Global Sing-along!

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

7 thoughts on “Teaching values is nothing new!

  1. Not sure who I am addressing. I don’t see a name here. Nevertheless, I would like to respond. Firstly, I think the way you initially set up the issue of what is happening to children leads to a dismissal of an issue that deserves to be thought about. In what terms? It is not a matter of terrible kids potentially bringing society to any kind of brink. Quite the opposite. Societies in Europe and the US are more tightly knit together now than in the 60s, and the way they are knit together is itself a cause for concern. What is disturbing is not so much the behaviour of the children, rather it is the environment the adults are creating for children to grow up in. I look at one nanoscopic instance of this here:

    http://tornhalves.blogspot.com/2011/09/back-to-school-with-spark-notes.html

    There is a heck of a lot that needs to be said here, but I guess comments are supposed to be shorter than the passages they are appended to.

    In your penultimate paragraph you ask for suggestions about the value that seems to be lost to the children. My suggestion is this: autonomy. We talk a lot about freedom, and we have this idea that we in the West are free. We are free to choose whether we will have Coke or Pepsi. Autonomy is more than this, and it has a lot to do with a freedom of thought that is also a strength of character. However, what concerns me is not so much the lack of autonomy itself, rather it is what I see in the children who do not yet have that strength of character. What I see is fear. Bertrand Russell said something somewhere I half recall about the need to keep fear out of education. We need to keep fear out of society, and especially in relation to the young. The blog post mentioned above gives an example of stuff that spreads fear among the young. Not the fear of terrorist attacks and bomb blasts, but the fear of not fitting in, of not coming up to scratch. My priority would be to help children counter all those influences that inculcate those utterly unnecessary fears.

    • Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more, Tom. It is awful to see how fear is used as a method of “managing” a group of children, a whole school, including parents, and it is very much the case in a lot of schools I guess. At least this is what I have experienced in Hungary and Romania. Just one example – though, unfortunately, the list would be very long – kids are not allowed to make notes or write questions …anything in their school-books and notebooks, because teachers don’t like them. They are told off for doing so. By this they are killing their motivation that is left after all the “telling” rather than engaging them in activities where they would be encouraged to find their own questions and answers about the language and about the world. So yes, I find myself teaching children of my own and in my English classes to think and behave quite the opposite of what they are expected at school.

    • Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more, Tom. It is awful to see how fear is used as a method of “managing” a group of children, a whole school, including parents, and it is very much the case in a lot of schools I guess. At least this is what I have experienced in Hungary and Romania. Just one example – though, unfortunately, the list would be very long – kids are not allowed to make notes or write questions …anything in their school-books and notebooks, because teachers don’t like them. They are told off for doing so. By this they are killing their motivation that is left after all the “telling” rather than engaging them in activities where they would be encouraged to find their own questions and answers about the language and about the world. So yes, I find myself teaching children of my own and in my English classes to think and behave quite the opposite of what they are expected at school.

      • Erika, you are right about the use of fear in schools, but I think Susan’s question was not specifically about values in schools, but about the values – or lack of – we might see manifest in the lives of children generally – a lack that we might then want to do something about in our work in the classroom. In making my point about fear I was thinking about children first and foremost outside school. My feeling is that the ultra-commercialised world that the adults have created is too quick to cultivate a whole bunch of unpleasant anxieties in youngsters – anxieties about whether or not they are cool, with-it, sexy, etc. The spontaneity of childhood gets snuffed out by anxieties like those far, far too early now (IMO).

  2. You could’t say it better.This is nothing new .There are many ways directly or indirectly to achieve values.

  3. Pingback: Teaching values is nothing new! | Teaching English to Young Learners | Scoop.it

  4. Pingback: Teaching values is nothing new! « eltocean

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