We recently had postings from Shelley on fostering student “well-being” through “mindfulness” and Yiola on “mental health” education. Both these topics are increasingly prominent today. In Ontario character education has been stressed for several years, and currently mental health education is an MOE emphasis.
I (Clive) did my PhD in moral philosophy and researched, wrote, and taught in values or “way of life” education for a couple of decades. I even developed grades 1-12 learning materials in the area. But finding that teachers had very little time for separate values instruction, I broadened my work to teaching and teacher education in general – and haven’t regretted the shift.
However, it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that teaching well requires a sound set of values and approach to life, society, and the world. Educational issues are ultimately life issues, and we can’t resolve one without the other.
Fortunately, the scope for addressing life issues in subject teaching is enormous. In literacy/literature, for example, a large proportion of the discussion and project work could be on values related matters. What is needed is for teachers and teacher educators to take up this area in a systematic way in the context of promoting subject learning, which is our main occupational mandate.
This in turn requires a much deeper understanding of the nature and importance of values, and the need to have an articulated approach to life. We’ve been used to leaving values up to philosophy and religion, or to saying (especially since the 60s) that it’s just a personal thing. But the task is extensive, fundamental, and something we must all engage in – together. Each person will have their own way of life but there are important general elements, and teachers and students should work together on both.