Values are not always healthy

Values are not always healthy

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(Values of Children and Teachers: Representation of Larger Narrative)

By Sibte Hasan and Qudsia Kalsoom

Education has many facets but the most emphasized aspect of education all over the world is imparting subject knowledge to the students. John Dewey, the great philosopher, affirms that heavy dependence on subject knowledge and methods is fatal to the best interests of education. Instead, education should focus on the cultivation of a mindset which is self-reflective and directed towards value-education. Learning is beyond the importance of knowing or understanding mere facts and schooling should serve emancipatory interests of the society by making children act for collective needs.

John Holt in his book ‘How Children Fail’ argues that the teachers and schools tend to mistake good behaviour for good character. Behaviour can be temporary and may be adopted to please someone or to achieve some objectives. This might not be the part of one’s character. Holt emphasizes that teachers and parents reward docility and suggestibility. They value most in children what children least value in themselves. For example, teachers generally value respect and total submission in children but children do not like respecting unrespectable teachers nor would like to submit before them. To survive in school they would pretend to be respectful and show sham submission as a strategy. They would compensate the stink of showing false respect and sham submission by making fun of these teachers.  This kind of bevaviour ultimately promotes false self and the values of docility among the children. Respecting pertains to observing certain rituals or for that matter a set of mannerism. Rituals and mannerism merely create a spectacle and this is used by the authoritarian persons to publicly assume and establish their awe. Through these rituals they ensure allegiance of their subjects. In personal relationships these things do not prove anything. Real respect is respecting and safeguarding others’ rights. Respecting nature is conserving nature. Similarly, respecting our elders is looking after them when they are week and feel redundant.

Schwartz, a sociologist, identified a set of ten basic and fifty-six auxiliary human values. He also found that these basic human values are linked with the environment in which people live (home, school and society at large) and their education. For example, he noted that in these institutions, education correlates with the value of ‘achievement’. The constant grading and emphasis on competitive performance in schools promotes aggregation of individuals and hence, discourage individualism. All children are expected to follow a socially accepted standard of competition. Such standards are considered the only key to success. For example, all parents want their children to be doctors or engineers and nothing less than that. Children are expected to work very hard to achieve high marks and in the course of this struggle they are deprived of other activities which may enrich their personalities i.e. games, music and literature etc.  When such children grow up, they become socially reticent and withdrawn from social activities. They become robotic without any sense of pleasure. In this milieu of competition, people always look towards external standards and ignore intrinsic stimuli. Children brought up under this kind of values have an inclination towards submission and become easy target of any authoritarian system.  According to Howard Gardener, every child has exclusive abilities. We cannot treat every child with generic standards of abilities. If a child is allowed to follow his exclusive abilities, he/she would not only enjoy pursuing activities rooted in them but would excel beyond any limitation.

Values are essentially part of curriculum at all levels i.e. preschool, formal school and university. For Habermas, the German philosopher, the task of value-education is two-fold:

  1. To establish an environment of respect, trust and care. Learning is a human activity. Human beings are involved in this process. When human beings gather to accomplish the process of learning, they influence each other. Influencing is actually creating an enabling environment for experience. Accepting influences means you are ready to experiment. Experimenting opens the door to panoramic vistas of experiences. You would experiment when you trust influences. If influences and experiences do not permeate trust, learning would not grow. Care creates trust. In orphanages, children are looked after but not cared. That is why they never learn to trust anybody and for that matter learn to trust themselves. Value of trusting others and oneself creates a safe world. It is the insecure people who create destructiveness for others and for themselves.
  2. To push students towards knowing of self and challenge one’s own deep seated comfort zone of beliefs and behaviours. The challenging task, in other words, is to transform, and in Freire’s words ‘re-birth’ of man. Transformation is painful at any stage of life, however, the longer one stays in one’s comfort zone, the harder the transformation becomes. Transforming beliefs and behaviour does not mean imposing yet another set of beliefs and values on students substituting those they came in with. It is about questioning beliefs and developing critical consciousness as a value position.

Every learning system creates a grand narrative. Narrative provides a holistic frame of learning comprising of knowledge, emotions and attitudes. For example, in oppressive societies, a specific narrative is projected regarding the status of women. Specific knowledge is taught about their being. For example, women are just bodies made for the pleasure of men. They are custodian of men’s sperms and therefore any trespassing would not be tolerated. This sense of possession has created an emotional and sacred halo around women. As anybody cannot dare to trespass any sacred boundary, violating body of women is similarly considered sacrilegious. The narrative woven around women also embellish the effect by narrating sentimental stories of women as well as men who sacrificed their lives for the safeguard of this value. These stories not only create emotional suggestibility but also create a specific attitude towards women. Women become passive and men become paternalistic. Herein lies the roots of the tradition of honour killing developed under the value system pertaining to women. Once a relative have just a semblance of violation of this tradition, he/she is predisposed to take action already suggested in the same narrative. Even mother would kill her own daughter and she would feel gratified.

Schwartz has described values as beliefs linked to affect or goals and which motivate action.  According to him, values provide criteria for actions and do not prescribe specific actions.    Moreover, people prioritize their set of values. This prioritization characterizes them as specific individuals. For example, do they attribute more importance to achievement or justice, to novelty or tradition? Value preferences of individuals are influenced by socio-economic and cultural factors.

People transform their lives according to the given narrative and by following that narrative, they keep this narrative alive. Narrative imitates life and life imitates narrative. Narrative is predominantly present in very sphere and level of life and people’s psyche. It creates a set of values. People by following such values automatically perpetuate this narrative. Narrative in oppressive societies like ours deprives people of their agency to undertake journeys into the autonomously explored worlds.

Any narrative lives on until it becomes redundant and people stop creating meanings through the values set by narrative. At present under world economic system, narratives based on traditional and cultural values have become redundant. With the global movement of capital, national boundaries have become soft borders. There is no doubt that the world economic system is equally oppressive but relatively leaves some space for personal agency as compared to traditional oppressive narratives. Societies frozen in traditional values cannot survive as their progenies cannot survive on the basis of learning based on such values. Any person with critical thinking can succeed in world economic system because this system thrives on innovation but the traditional values do not allow such learning.

People living in traditional societies urgently need transformative learning. Traditional ways of learning reinforce the narrative of oppression. Transformative learning questions this narrative to its core. Transformative learning fundamentally helps in creating new values for paradigmatic change. In the course of transformation, people do experience chaotic feelings regarding their existence because their consciousness in its minutest elements is representing the narrative of oppression and questioning their own being through the prism of transformation provokes anguish. Narrative of oppression also has its defense mechanism and it does activate itself to maintain itself. For example, shaming any person’s behavior is a way to control his/her behavior. When shaming is embedded in a social fabric, it automatically helps in controlling people’s behavior. For example if a person has been stopped from dancing or singing a song in his/her childhood, by saying some body ‘you should be ashamed of singing with such a sonorous voice. A donkey might sing better than you.’  If he/she feels like singing later in his/her adult life, this shaming preserved in his/her mind would stop him/her from singing. Shaming takes away spontaneity from any person  and he/she becomes slave to traditional values.

2

Recently, a study was conducted to know what kind of value system is being promoted in our schools through the teaching learning materials (TLMs) and what impact these have created on students and teachers. This study has been designed around Schwartz’s model of human values which considers conformity, self-direction and tradition as basic human values. Schwartz has presented a model of 10 cross-culturally acceptable values. The model was validated in 50 countries. These ten values have 56 auxiliary values. The following ten values of Schwartz make theoretical framework of the study:

  1. Self-Direction: Thinking independently and then choosing action upon what has been thought. This process constitutes the value of self-direction. People having this value exhibit curiosity, creativity, freedom, independence and self-respect. These people are driven by their intrinsic stimuli and bother less about their public image. These people create their own ideas and pursue their implementation.
  2. Stimulation: Stimulation involves excitement, novelty, and challenge in life. People with this value are impressionable and demonstrate variety in life by taking challenges. These people also have the gift of spontaneity and feel themselves as an integral part of nature and people around. This value cajoles people and especially children to enter into new worlds and undertake experiments.
  • Hedonism: This involves pleasure or sensuous gratification from one’s interaction with nature, people and creativity. Hedonists exhibit self-indulgence and pleasure in life. Anything which gives a human being pleasure and feeling of joy becomes nearer to his/her heart. Therefore, value of hedonism keeps human beings attached with life.
  1. Achievement: Personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards. People with this value are ambitious and pursue success. They strive to be capable and enterprising.
  2. Power: This value is about social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources. The people with this value are authoritarian, coercive, manipulative, self-centered and expansionist. Sometimes they are benevolent.
  3. Security: It involves safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships and of self. This value is about following and maintaining social order, family security, national security, clean environment and sense of belonging.
  • Conformity: Conformity is about following the set norms. People with this value are obedient, self-disciplined, loyal and responsible. People with this value are best adjusted in ideological groups.
  • Tradition: Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one’s culture or religion provides. Values of tradition and conformity are motivationally close to each other; they share the goal of subordinating the self to socially imposed expectations. Conformity entails subordination to persons with whom one frequently interacts—parents, teachers, peers and bosses. Tradition entails one’s subordination to more abstract objectives—cultural customs and abstract moral ideas.
  1. Benevolence: Preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact. Benevolent people are helpful, honest, forgiving, and responsible.
  2. Universalism: Understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people irrespective of religion, colour, socio-economic class or ethnicity. This value also promotes conservation of nature. These contrasts with in-group feeling and focus on xenophobic values. Values related to universalism are essential for the survival of diversity and individual or group identities. People who value universalism are broadminded and they promote social justice, peace, environment protection. They show inner harmony and thus promote peaceful coexistence.

Above set of ten values includes conflicting values too. Stimulation and traditionalism are contrasting values as stimulation believes in ‘openness to change’ while traditionalism asks for ‘conservation’ and conformity. Similarly, universalism requires ‘self-transcendence’ while the value of achievement strives for ‘self-enhancement’. Some values contradict one another e.g., benevolence and power whereas others are compatible e.g., conformity and security.

3

The study on value system in teachers and students has been done to answer the following two questions.

  1. What are the dominant values of 13-15 years old school children in Punjab?
  2. What are the dominant values of high school teachers in Punjab?

The results of this are as under:         

Measure of Students’ Basic Human Values

  Value Girls School 1 Girls School 2 Girls School 3 Girls School 4 Boys School 1 Boys School 2 Boys School 3 Boys School 4 Students average
  %age %age %age %age %age %age %age %age %age
1 Self- Direction 45.83 64.72 49.72 57.78 48.89 64.17 56.67 33.06 52.60
2 Universalism 35.74 41.67 36.67 40.74 37.78 49.63 37.96 23.89 38.01
3 Benevolence 33.89 37.22 35.28 41.39 36.11 45.56 40.83 28.06 37.29
4 Tradition 48.06 42.22 38.33 47.50 46.11 50.28 44.44 36.94 44.24
5 Conformity 40.28 51.67 44.17 51.67 38.33 47.78 46.39 33.61 44.24
6 Security 33.89 49.44 40.56 51.39 32.50 58.06 50.56 42.50 44.86
7 Power 64.72 79.44 75.00 75.00 45.83 68.61 64.44 61.94 66.88
8 Achievement 59.72 63.61 67.22 75.00 43.61 70.56 68.06 64.72 64.06
9 Hedonism 52.50 79.72 66.11 82.50 46.67 67.22 65.56 76.67 67.12
10 Stimulation 53.06 51.39 44.17 59.44 48.89 61.67 51.67 48.33 52.33

            Measure of Teachers’ Basic Human Values

  Value Female Teachers in Boys school 1 Female Teachers in Girls school 1 Female Teachers in Girls school 2 Female Teachers in Girls school 3 Female Teachers in Girls School 4 Male Teachers in Boys school 1 Male Teachers in Boys School 2 Male Teachers in Boys School 3 Male Teachers in Boys School 4 Average
  %age %age %age %age %age %age %age %age %age %age
1 Self –Direction 33.06 11.94 8.61 45.56 17.22 13.89 12.50 10.83 14.72 18.70
2 Universalism 23.89 7.59 7.59 26.11 10.56 9.81 11.11 7.96 7.04 12.41
3 Benevolence 28.06 8.06 8.33 31.39 7.78 10.56 12.78 7.22 6.67 13.43
4 Tradition 36.94 11.94 11.94 33.06 11.94 13.89 13.33 9.44 10.83 17.04
5 Conformity 33.61 10.28 8.61 29.17 10.28 12.50 10.83 8.89 8.06 14.69
6 Security 42.50 6.11 10.28 28.33 8.89 13.06 11.67 10.83 11.11 15.86
7 Power 61.94 19.44 18.89 46.94 23.61 15.00 18.61 12.50 19.17 26.23
8 Achievement 64.72 20.00 17.50 57.78 20.83 21.94 18.61 21.39 20.83 29.29
9 Hedonism 76.67 18.06 19.44 50.83 21.94 19.72 20.56 20.56 19.72 29.72
10 Stimulation 48.33 20.00 13.33 50.56 24.17 19.17 16.11 17.50 15.56 24.97

 

 The analysis of this study is as under:
  1. The analysis and the internal comparison of cumulative percentage scores on each category indicate that the students have relatively greater value of benevolence, universalism, conformity, tradition and security. It is interesting to note that school children in Punjab are least concerned about power. It is also noteworthy that students experience constant grading and pass-fail phenomenon in schools; however, they have not demonstrated value of achievement. Similarly, they lack in the value of stimulation and self-direction too.
  2. Teachers’ responses indicate that teachers in schools in Punjab have clear inclination towards conserving the tradition, conformity, security and related ramifications in the domain of universalism and benevolence. However, the domains indicating change and self-enhancement have received relatively lower rating compared to confronting values like self-transcendence vs self-enhancement, and conservation vs openness to change. Unlike students, teachers have demonstrated clarity on value orientation.
  3. This study shows that the basic human values of teachers and students are relatively more inclined towards self-transcendence and conservation. The reason could be religion and culture which promote benevolence. However, students’ values are not fully developed which may be due to their younger age and lesser experience. The reason could be their age and experience. At this stage they are unsure of their preferences, particularly the ones which are related to change and self-enhancement. Usually, parents decide the career paths of their children. Teachers make decisions about students’ subjects and specializations on the basis of students’ grades. As a result, many students never experience any important decision-making in their student days. Only a fewer students learn to value achievement and put in serious efforts to excel in academics. Some students value achievement at the cost of self-transcendence and they try to achieve their targets at any cost and by any means. The study respondents did not demonstrate the value of ‘achievement’. The reason appears to be lack of competition in schools or lack of personal achievement targets as students are not allowed to make decisions for them.
  4. Overall data gathered from teachers show that they have all ten basic human values though some are less prominent. This finding is important as these ten values have conflicting values like self-transcendence vs self-enhancement. Similarly, openness to change and conservation are also conflicting values. A person cannot be open-minded and conservative at the same time. Likewise, a person who values power cannot promote equality and equity. If people have a mix of all these values then it may be assumed that they have naïve or eclectic values which are in fact not fully developed. Internal comparison of percentages of teachers’ values shows that though teachers have eclectic values, they value universalism, benevolence, tradition, security and conformity much more than power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation and self-direction. The values of self-direction and stimulation represent openness to change. It is notable that teachers as well as students do not hold the value of change or openness.
  5. National curricula have included global values like celebrating diversity, equity, self-direction, adaptability etc. as important curricular targets. Similarly, these global values have been made part of National Professional Standards for Teachers in Pakistan. However, this study shows that teachers in Punjab, value tradition more as compared to change and students value tradition but they have not yet developed an orientation of change. These findings are helpful in understanding the reasons for an over-emphasis on behavior modification of the children in schools and resistance to change.

Conclusion:

Though our experiential knowledge clearly encourages us to believe that our learning system especially in public schools is dangerously irrelevant as it silently promotes inhuman values, yet this diagnostic study provides evidence to this effect. As strategizing learning requires informed knowledge, therefore study on Schwartz’s model of human values identifies areas of values where conscious intervention is required.  This study also necessitates developing and implementing a new narrative based on the values of universalism. This cannot be done unless total transformative approach is adopted in the field of TLM development and their implementation. In this respect, parents, teachers, educators and society at large become partners.     

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