If we teach literacy/English and other subjects well – in a way that interests and engages students and deals with “big ideas” – we will inevitably get into life issues and “values.” This in turn will help students build their way of life. They will not have to wait until they graduate to start figuring out how to be in the world.
Teaching about values or life issues is sometimes questioned on the ground that it involves indoctrination. However, schools already push values in strong ways, e.g., punctuality, hard work, academic learning. What is needed is to expand values teaching (usually in the context of teaching subjects) and find non-indoctrinative ways to do it. Constructivism provides a solution here, because both teachers and students say what they think and everyone learns from each other. In the end, students decide what way of life to adopt, but with the benefit of input from others.
As you may know, I (Clive) am a great admirer of the work of Nel Noddings. I recently found a statement of hers in The Challenge to Care in Schools (2nd edn., 2005) that bears very directly on these matters:
I have heard teachers say, We’re not trained for [discussing values with students]. That’s a job for psychologists (or counselors, or parents, or pastors). Pressed, many will say that they do not have a right to impose their values on students, but these same teachers impose all sorts of rules – sensible and mindless equally – without questioning the values thus imposed. Surely intelligent adults should talk to the children in their care about…qualities that most of us admire. This talk need not be indoctrination any more than mathematics teaching need be lecture and rote learning. (p. 39)
Speaking of values, what could be more immoral than subjecting young people to 12 years of narrowly academic schooling with little attention to life matters? The time has come to make education much more useful to students than it has been for the past two-and-a-half millennia. This requires helping them explore values and develop their way of life.