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The Values Clarification Approach
by Sidney B. Simon, Leland W. Howe

This is taken from the book, Values Clarification : A Handbook of Practical Strategies for Teachers and Students

Why Values Clarification Wonít Work

Values clarification is a complex system of behavioral modification involving various concepts, ideas, and applications. In the current school systems, the level of intellectual ability has decreased to the point where many high school graduates are incapable of reading, writing and performing arithmetic at any mediocre level of competence. The public schools, through mandated curricula and teaching methodology, have minimized the importance of the development of mental-thinking-cognitive skills, and instead have placed greater attention on the alteration of beliefs, values, and behaviors.

Like so much of modern psychology, it may sound wonderful in theory, and possibly even might work IF it could be applied 100% in each case. But sadly, due to a combination of the current thinking disability of modern students (due to public educationís failure), and the inability of teachers to uniformly get the psych-oriented materials applied, the too-often net result of the application of methods such as values clarification (moral relativism, situation ethics) is a general reduction in ethical standards and a rise of crime and immorality.

First, the modern student has been betrayed by being denied a valid educational basics, such as the ability to read. Unworkable methods, which enjoy continual support by the education establishment, such as the look-say (whole-language) reading method saddle the student with a mediocre vocabulary and a life long inability to expand their vocabulary, as compared to other students taught first in phonics (which isnít allowed in public schools - another decision of modern educational psychologists which guarantees poorer reading skills). No method for "learning how to study" exists anywhere within the field of modern education. Second, due to a avoidance of reading, writing and arithmetic, the student fails to develop a high ability in conceptual thinking, abstract conceptualizing, and analytical reasoning. Third, the notion of any firm code of morality or ethics is destroyed by educating him in the notions that "there is no ultimate right and wrong", and "every choice needs to be evaluated on your current feelings, beliefs, and the situation itself". And while this may be true for mature adults, with a good education, adequate analytical abilities and reasoning, who enjoy a solid framework of knowledge and experience to draw upon, this is absurd for young people just starting out in life with no solid foundation of experience or morality.

The basic notion behind moral relativism is that each person must decide for themself according to their own estimates of conditions and conseuquences, and that no one can decide for him or impugn the decision to which he comes. This is a basically true statement, but as done with SO MUCH in modern psychology, the context of workability of this is drastically altered. The above statement is true and applies to GROWN, MATURE ADULTS who have a fairly solid moral foundation, intellectual capability and experience of life. Attempting to teach children this notion, with NO FIRM MORAL FOUNDATION, is simply absurd. But that is modern psychology. The manner in which they take situations out of context and apply them to completely different and non-applicable situations is not a rare case but more a typical occurence in this field.

Every child needs to be taught a simple, exact, and strict code of conduct or morality, because a child does not yet possess the intellectual capability, experience or stability of character necesary to effectively apply the ideas of moral relativism. But instead, the modern educationists declare all "moral teachings" as "arbitrary" (which they are), attempt to teach children how to make "moral decisions" (which they can't), and subsequently prevent them from developing a firm moral basis which would give them a sensible guide for determining right and wrong behavior.

Children must FIRST be taught some exact code of behavior. They must be told what is expected of them in no uncertain terms. If it is left "up to each person to decide" the actual result will be children who turn into immoral, wishy washy, and "unable to take a firm position on anything" type people. Of course, possibly that is what the psychologists desire, because this is what results when their theories and methods are applied.

Moral codes can tend to be authoritative, general and even often pass their usefulness as times change, BUT that doesn't change the fact that children require SOME clear, simple, exact and comprehensive moral code of conduct or behavior if they are to ever become a functional member of society who can comfortably take a firm position and act decently and responsibly through life. The modern philosophers and psychologists have reacted so hysterically against any and all past moral systems, which usually have come from relgions, that modern children are left with a complete moral and ethical vacuum - they have criticized past moral systems so hard and for so long that they are now incapable of taking a firm stand, or encouraging anyone else to take a firm stand, on anything.

The net result is more often than not the eradication of morality, and any concept of right and wrong. The students simply lack the mental prowess necessary to observe, analyze situations, compare results, anticipate consequences, and make decisions based upon firm commitment to goals and ideals, which is all a part of the values clarification process. In fact, many adults have a hard time doing this. If the system of values clarification were clear, straight-forward, workable, and able to be followed the correct thing to do would be to teach each student the theory and let them each apply it themselves. Instead, the teachers act as facilitators, choosing at whim which strategies to use. Also results are extremely random because the use of the subject is so very subjective - different teachers choose and use varying strategies with the same students, and see the situations differently simply due to the nature of the subject involving attitudes, beliefs and values.

Additionally, modern psychologically theories claim many students are learning disabled in some way. This isnít true in the way they conceive it, and more often than not they cause the situation they then observe and call a "learning disability" through inadequate and absurd educational methods. But it is true students vary from one to the next; some students do well, some donít, and some fall somewhere in between. The most modern psychologically theories can do is observe, notice this fact, and pass it off as due to heredity or genetics (which is more errors in the assigning of actual causes). The point is that some students will grasp and get the values clarification information, and do well, just as they would probably do well wherever they were and whatever they do. But the others fail to understand it, much less apply it to any degree, and the result is that they understand the bare minimum which is "there is no right and wrong", and "morality is up to you". This degrades too often into blatant selfishness, hedonism, and forms of immorality. At least if they had been taught some simple standard of morality they would have some moral stability to rely on. But to the modern psychologist, social engineer and psychiatrist the thought of this is unbearable.

A similar situation occurs with ADHD children. Per the psychological and psychiatric texts, ADHD children should always receive help with understanding and controlling their behavior, and counseling, in addition to any drugging (which actually is always harmful). But, despite that, they usually fail completely to follow their own guidelines, relying on psychiatric drugs alone, while failing to do anything else to address the problem, even though the "professional" texts recommend and demand such be done. The point is that these fields routinely fail to apply what they claim is necessary to get minimum results. The same is true in values clarification, which is, above all else, a behavioral modification technique developing my psychologists - even if a internalized system which the student performs on themselves. The method is a hodge-podge of ideas, differing from one author to next, incapable of standard application, and almost always applied only in part or incompletely. The result is that the students an not really empowered, because they never learn how to use a workable method themsleves, except random bits and pieces, and they are deprived of any guide to decent living and behavior. Do often these methods degrade into "if it feels good do it".

Teachers don't have enough time to give students personal attention with basic study materials. How would they ever be able to give each student the personal attention necessary for what is basically a type of psychotherapy diagnosed and applied in the classroom by non-licensed therapists (i.e teachers!). First, psychotherapy shouldn't be in a classroom. Second it shouldn't be run by teachers. Third, no psycholgical method should be used without parental consent (I doubt every parent in every school is told about and asked to sign an authorization form for their children to participate in values clarification techniques).

Since when have psychologists taken over the public schools and decided to perform routine psychotherapy on our children? This is what values clarification is. Read through the following chapter from a leading book on the subject. These methods involve frequent teacher intervention, comments and evaluating for the students. The truth is that few therapies of any type succeed where the therapist (or teacher in this case) is constantly monitoring and correcting with comments and instructions. The few therapies that do get results tend to be of the sort which allow the person to freely take a suggestion, and then look and decide for themselves. But besides that, the most successful therapist tend to depend little on any techniques or approach, but are more often than not, simply good listeners who can sit back and let the person figure it out themselves with minor direction on their part. This can't be taught. To assume teachers, who are completely untrained for the task can successfully monitor and perform what is actually psychotherapy is ludicrous.

Morals and values are often the result of the experiences of people which are then passed along to the next generation. It is absurd to assume every person should "reinvent the wheel" and start from scratch, living and experiencing, and then determining a set of values that applies to them. First, people donít have a lifetime of mistakes to make to finally arrive at a sensible set of morals and values. Second, any morals and values of the past which have been widely accepted over long periods of common human experience tend to make sense and apply at any time. "Thou shalt not kill; though shalt not steal; though shall not commit adultery", and simply moral maxims such as "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", regardless of associations with religion or not, make sense are are useful to understand and apply. Children can be taught and explained how and why these things would make sense and apply today, even universally - the idea of which moral relativists abhor.

Children should be taught a firm basis of morals and values, from which they could feasibly later apply a system such as values clarification in new or unique situations. But again, the tendency is for it to degrade into no morality at all, because the modern students, with impaired cognitive abilities (caused by faulty modern education) are incapable of truly examining and understanding situations, facts, and the potential consequences of their actions. How can anyone seriously expect them to apply such a system when their reading level is too often that of comic books and their interest in life is at the level of MTV?

Last, and this is very important, it is highly suspect whether there is really any intention for students to learn and be able to successfully apply the materials of values clarification. The methods and approaches of values clarification are riddled with subtle and not so subtle hints and suggestions to alternative values and beliefs, such as sexual promiscuity, drugs, anti-capitalism, and anti-religion.

The manner in which the materials are presented, by that alone, encourage the student to question their religious notions, sexual morality, parents as guides and authorities, and many other things. The materials act to put their attention on areas where previously they may have felt fine and had a sensible code of conduct. Why fix the car if it's not broken? The actions of the psychologists cause the students to question their own views, morals and conduct. The methods cause introversion and self-questioning. It also tends to encourage "global" views, extreme tolerance of any form of deviance, and conformity. While values clarification promotes itself as encouraging individual thinking, it must be understood as it currently aligns with modern methods of outcome-based education, which is very much involved in establishing specific values, beliefs and behaviors - which are dictated external to the student and enforced upon them because these ideas are presented as "the way it is" and as the only options available.

Leave morals and values up to the parents. If they want to apply values clarification to their children that's their choice. Get psychotherapy and behavioral engineering out of the schools. If you can't understand why the methods and theories are simply false, at least wake up and confront the fact that the application of these methods is a chronic failure. First, the theories and methods, even when applied, result in failure. Second, too often, the theories and methods cannot be applied as given.


Every day, every one of us meets life situations which call for thought, opinion-making, decision-making and action. Some of our experiences are familiar, some novel; some are casual, some of extreme importance. Everything we do, every decision we make and course of action we take, is based on our consciously or unconsciously held beliefs, attitudes and values.

Students, no less than adults, face problems and decisions every day of their lives. Students, too, ponder over what and how to think, believe, behave. So often what goes on in the classroom is irrelevant and remote from the real things that are going on in students' lives - their daily encounters with friends, with strangers, with peers, with authority figures; the social and academic tasks that assault or assuage their egos. Young people are being asked and are asking themselves important personal and theoretical questions that will lead them to important decisions and action.

Should Bill and I live together before marriage? Shouldn't we know if we're really compatible?

School seems so irrelevant. Why not drop out and get a better education on my own?

Do we have to take to the streets, maybe even violently, to bring about any political change these days?

How do I know whether marijuana is really harmful to me or not?

Does religion have some meaning in my life, or is it nothing more than a series of outmoded traditions and custorm?

Do I care more about a girl's looks than about her personality?

What occupation shall I choose, so that I don't spend my life like so many others who despise the jobs they go to every morning?

Should I let my hair grow longer?

How can I really enjoy working and living, and avoid getting into the rat race for the convertible and the house in the suburbs?

What can I do to help improve race relations these days?

Why is it that at the end of every weekend I feel anxious and guilty about all I didn't do?

This is a confusing world to live in. At every turn we are forced to make choices about how to live our lives. Ideally, our choices will be made on the basis of the values we hold; but frequently, we are not clear about our own values.
Some typical areas where we may experience confusion and conflict in values are:
leisure time
love, sex
material possessions
culture (art, music, literature)
personal tastes (clothes, hair style, etc.)
aging, death
rules, authority
All of us, young or old, often become confused about our values. But for young people especially, the values conflicts are more acute.

The children and youth of today are confronted by many more choices than in previous generations. They are surrounded by a bewildering array of alternatives. Modern society has made them less provincial and more sophisticated, but the complexity of these times has made the act of choosing infinitely more difficult.

How then, does a young person learn how to direct his life through a world full of confusion and confict?

Traditionally, adults, motivated by a sincere desire to have the younger generation lead happy and productive lives, have guided them in the following ways:

1. Moralizing is the direct, although sometimes subtle, inculcation of the adults' values upon the young. The assumption behind moralizing runs sometimes like this: My experience has taught me a certain set of values which I believe would be right for you. Therefore, to save you the pain of coming to these values on your own, and to avoid the risk of your-choosing less desirable values, I will effectively transfer my own values to you.

One of the problems with this approach is that it is becoming increasingly less effective. The direct inculcation of values works when there is complete consistency about what constitutes "desirable" values. But consider the youth of today. Parents offer one set of shoulds and should nots. The church often suggests another. The peer group offers a third view of values. Hollywood and the popular magazines, a fourth. The first grade teacher, a fifth. The seventh grade teacher, a sixth. The President of the United States, a seventh. The spokesmen for the New Left and the counterculture, an eighth; and on and on.

Bombarded by all these influences, the young person is ultimately left to make his own choice about whose advice or values to follow. But young people brought up by moralizing adults are not prepared to make their own responsible choices. They have not learned a process for selecting the best and rejecting the worst elements contained in the various value systems which others have been urging them to follow. Thus, too often the important choices in life are made on the basis of peer pressure, unthinking submission to authority, or the power of propaganda.

Another problem with the direct inculcation of values is that often it results in a dichotomy between theory and practice; lip-service is paid to the values of the authority, while behavior contradicts these values. Thus we have religious people who love their neighbors on the Sabbath and spend the rest of the week competing with them. And we have patriots who would deny freedom of speech to any dissenters whose concept of patriotism is different from theirs. And we have good students who sit quietly in class and wouldn't dare speak without raising their hands, but who freely interrupt their friends and parents in the middle of a sentence. Moralizing so frequently influences only people's words and little else in their lives.

2. Some adults maintain a laissez-faire attitude toward the transmission of values. The rationale here is: "No one value system is right for everyone. People have to forge their own set of values. So I'll just let my children or students do and think what they want without intervening in any way; and eventually everything will turn out all right."

The problem here is that everything doesn't usually turn out all right. Young people, left on their own, experience a great deal of conflict and confusion. In our experience, most young people do not need adults running their lives for them, but they do want and need help.

3. Modeling is a third approach in transmitting values. The rationale here is: "I will present myself as an attractive model who lives by a certain set of values. The young people with whom I come in contact will be duly impressed by me and by my values, and will want to adopt and emulate my attitudes and behavior."

This approach acknowledges two realities-first, the importance of setting a living example for a learner to follow; and, second, the necessity in teaching values for the deeds to match the words.

However, the fact is that the young person is exposed to so many models to emulate. Parents, teachers, politicians, movie stars, friends, all present different models. How is the young person to sort out all the pros and cons and achieve his own values? When it comes time to choose an occupation, or a spouse, or a candidate, or to decide how far to go in the back seat of a car on a Saturday night date, how does the young person choose his own course of action from among the many models and many moralizing lectures with which he has been bombarded? Where does he learn whether he wants to stick to the old moral and ethical standards or try new ones? How does he develop his own sense of identity? How does he learn to relate to people whose values differ from his own?

4. The values-clarification approach tries to help young people answer some of these questions and build their own value system. It is not a new approach. There have always been parents, teachers, and other educators who have sought ways to help young people think through values issues for themselves. They have done this in many ways.

However, the values-clarification approach we are discussing in this book is more systematic and more widely applicable. It is based on the approach formulated by Louis Raths, who in turn built upon the thinking of John Dewey. Unlike other theoretical approaches to values, Raths is not concerned with the content of people's values, but the process of valuing. His focus is on how people come to hold certain beliefs and establish certain behavior

Valuing, according to Raths, is composed of seven subprocesses:

PRIZING one's beliefs and behaviors
1. prizing and cherishing
2. publicly affirming, when appropriate
CHOOSING one's beliefs and behaviors
3. choosing from alternatives
4. choosing after consideration of consequences
5. choosing freely
ACTING on one's beliefs
6. acting
7. acting with a pattern, consistency and repetition
Thus, the values-clarification approach does not aim to instill any particular set of values. Rather the goal of the values-clarification approach is to help students utilize the above seven processes of valuing in their own lives; to apply these valuing processes to already formed beliefs and behavior patterns and to those still emerging.

To accomplish this, the teacher uses approaches which help students become aware of the beliefs and behaviors they prize and would be willing to stand up for in and out of the classroom. He uses materials and methods which encourage students to consider alternative modes of thinking and acting. Students learn to weigh the pros and cons and the consequences of the various alternatives. The teacher also helps the students to consider whether their actions match their stated beliefs and if not, how to bring the two into closer harmony. Finally, he tries to give students options, in and out of class; for only when students begin to make their own choices and evaluate the actual consequences, do they develop their own values.

Get The Book!

Values Clarification : A Handbook of Practical Strategies for Teachers and Students by Sidney B. Simon, Leland W. Howe, Howard Kirschenbaum - this book is written by psychologists and endorses the use of values clarification. Reading it though does clearly show the obvious basis in behavior modification techniques and should get any parent to ask the question what psychotherapy is doing in the public schools as legitimate subject material!

Suggested Reading List - the Demise of the Educational System - OBE (Outcome-Based Education), NEA (National Education Association), educational psychology, German psychology & influences, demise of public education, educational sabotage, Wundt, Pavlov, Dewey, Skinner, Watson.

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