Receiving the Givens

The year that the US celebrated 200 years of independence from Britain, educational pundit Howard Kirschenbaum offered a working definition of the popular educational theory dubbed “Values Clarification.” He offered this definition:

“An approach that utilizes questions and activities designed to teach the valuing process and to help people skillfully apply the valuing processes to value-rich areas in their lives” (Kirschenbaum, 1976, p. 103-4).

The Journal of Education Leadership offers this additional commentary on Kirschenbaum:

“Kirschenbaum did not assert that values clarification will be the one true answer for humankind, as it does not provide all of the answers. Yet, Kirschenbaum’s work does explain a process for valuing. The author posited if people engage in this process, their lives will have more positive value and they will become constructive global citizens” (Kirschenbaum, 1976).

“Does not provide all the answers?” Gee, ya think?

This is wrongheaded, and quite different from what we are trying to do at Evangel Classical School.

Values Clarification’s baseline assumption is that values are things to be discovered. At ECS, we believe that values are things to be given.

Our aim is not to help students discover what is true or false, good or bad, beautiful or ugly. We don’t need to discover what God has given any more than a car needs to discover gasoline. It needs to receive, and then operate accordingly. Rather we want for them to know and love what is true, good, and beautiful.

Education is fundamentally moral, and to try to educate without a defined sense or morality is like trying to sail without a boat. Further, without a fixed standard, we are the determiners of what constitutes the moral or the valuable.

This is silly! There is a fixed order to the universe, physically, morally, and otherwise. If it were not so, the laws of physics would be the suggestions of physics, and we’d have no bridges with structure under tension, nor would we have internal combustion engines, utilizing a series of controlled explosions to get you from Arlington to Marysville. We’d have reckless robbery and murder in the streets and chaos would reign. A man today is considered courageous when he says he’s a woman, but a man who is five feet tall is thought to be a bit imbalanced when he identifies as a seven-footer.

Every math teacher ever has realized that 2 + 2 = 4, yet few can (or will?) say why that is the case. I have no interest in helping grammar students discover the sum of 2 and 2, but I want them to know it as a fact; I do want to train them to figure out more of what God has ordered.

With a fixed starting point, we can sing Happy Birthday harmoniously and beautifully; without a fixed starting point, it sounds like the cacophony of a hundred voices singing in 103 different keys.

We believe that culture is a baton to be passed on to the next generation. Values are inside that baton of culture, and our values must be based on the revealed word of God, not the fluid and real-time discoveries of fallen men.

Yet it’s been said that the best of men are men, at best. Our notions of what God has said may be wrong. But here we have the grace of God’s Word to which we can appeal to retreat. And this is where the academic part of education comes into play. With our educational model, we are working to train students to better understand the world that God has created and ordered, with little interest in moral self-discovery. And when their training is complete, they will have not only something to say, but the ability to say it, with the authority of men under authority.

Let us abandon any efforts to help our children discover their values and instead help them to love what God values. Doing so will prove infinitely better than letting them determine their own morality.

  • —The U.H.