The Courage to Teach Right From Wrong…writes Rabbi Laibl Wolf

August 25, 2014 by Rabbi Laibl Wolf
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Teaching ethics to kindergarten children? Sounds like a progressive school, sophisticated, forward thinking.

Exactly what is needed at a point in history when moral relativism prevails and amorality is rife. So I tuned in to the television report. And what a letdown it was.

Rabbi Laibl Wolf

Rabbi Laibl Wolf

By way of preface, what’s the most significant influence on children’s future lives? Mothers? Friends? Media? Genes? Modelling? All of the above? Political science statistics indicate that 77% of children vote later in life exactly as their parents did. Parents are the most influential factor in shaping their children’s life decisions.

The problem is that parent/child time has shrunk drastically in one generation. We know statistically that Gen Xers spent less time with their parents than previous generations of children had. Divorce was common. Gen Xers learned that their parents were human and fallible and often found themselves treating their parents like older friends. Autonomy and self-reliance, rather than respect for authority, was a natural by-product of the Gen X childhood. Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen Xers grew up in an era of Watergate, Three Mile Island, Bhopal, the Iranian hostage crisis, Iran-Contra and the Clinton-Lewinsky debacles. Geo-political and societal modelling was not exactly exemplary. Whereas computers were the size of whole buildings when their parents, the Baby Boomers, were doing their growing up, the computer now became a desktop appliance for Gen Xers. The result – even less bonding time with parents.

So I was very interested in this media report to see how the education system was attempting to take up the slack. What did I see? Children of four and five being asked to volunteer their views on ethical challenges like bullying, stealing, saying nasty things, and more. So far so good. Then came the punch line: the reporter explained that the educational program was totally ‘open-minded’ – meaning: the ‘teacher ethicist’ would only ask the children questions but never ‘characterise’ the child’s behaviour as good or bad as that would mean ‘imposing’ her or society’s views on children. Huh? You, mean the ‘ethicist’ cannot tell the child when it is right or wrong? The ‘ethicist’ can’t help the child move in the direction of affirming good from bad?

Why has society become so ‘grey-minded’ and fearful of making moral and ethical commitments? Is it that society doesn’t know? Or is society confused? Or deeper still, has society stopped believing?

Society has been hijacked and hoodwinked by a generation of amoral leaders and moral relativists. It has become fashionable to be ‘non-judgmental’ – be ‘accepting’ of ‘differences’. In a fairly homogeneous western world dominated by Judeo-Christian values that worked well. One wouldn’t judge between this Christian denomination or that one, and we all were urged to our differences as varieties of a positive belief system. But in a world where beheadings captures the imagination of susceptible minds, where the distinction between attacker and defender is not recognised in the Gaza war, where consenting adults (and some say adults and children) can practice whatever they want in the privacy of their home, where debate rages whether drug addiction is a disease or bad choice, where the law is unclear whether donor or carrier is a child’s legal parent – in our blurred world we sorely need clarity. Unfortunately, strength of conviction, belief in absolute values, a bedrock of axiomatic beliefs about life’s meaning purpose, have all gone AWOL.

Moral equivalence that lacks the distinction between right and wrong is aided and abetted by parents and teachers who maintain that everyone’s view is equally legitimate. “Mummy, you believe our religion teaches that it is wrong to kill. But if their religion teaches them that it is right to kill why can’t they practice their beliefs over there just like we do here?” This is the I’m Ok-You’re Ok generation, and in this set-up there is no wrong answer in the multi-choice exam called life. Pragmatism rules. Everyone’s right. No-one is wrong. (Back in the sixties I heard it said that you can be so open-minded that your brains can fall out).

I am not scared of distinguishing right from wrong, good from bad. Nor should schools fear moral decisiveness. Equality does not mean ‘sameness’. It means equal opportunity to a meaningful life. To facilitate life and to murder are not ‘equal parallel rights’ governed by ‘different moral systems’.

Schools must teach absolute values, teach right from wrong, good from bad –even from kindergarten age. This requires the courage of belief in a compassionate Creator and a blueprint of creation that seeks life, not death, that promotes empathy not indifference, that teaches love, not hate.

Rabbi Laibl Wolf is the  Dean, Spiritgrow – The Josef Kryss Center, Australia




One Response to “The Courage to Teach Right From Wrong…writes Rabbi Laibl Wolf”
  1. Kevin Herbert says:

    You’d have to go a long way to hear such vacuous self serving sophistry.

    Really Rabbi Wolf – if that’s your version of a moral argument in support of the Israeli Government’s current invasion of Gaza, then I suggest you’re dealing in matters you don’t understand.

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