Curriculum for Value Education
An immediate stimulus for this post is this comment trail suggesting that freethought outreach programmes for kids devote due attention to values besides facts about the world, however fascinating those may be. A fuller discussion on what shape can value education from a freethinking and humanistic perspective can take seems in order. We are all aware of challenges in this regard: Building a fact-based discourse devoid of factoids and urban legends is itself not a given, and building a value-based discourse involves additional challenges of ourselves not being entirely confident of having figured out the most beneficial ways of going about it, and the difficulties in forging any kind of intersubjective consensus. Also, we have a clearer idea of what implementations of such programmes are not preferable, than what we would actually like to have implemented.

So here are some questions to get started:

1. Among the activities and readings you have seen employed in value education curricula during either your schooling or that of your children, what are the items which in your judgment are worth retaining and popularizing in a freethinkers' value education curriculum?

2. Are there excerpts from biographies, travelogues or other real-life (including first-person) accounts which you would like to share that can serve as useful illustrations of particular values we would like to impart to children?

3. What is the social context in which it is advisable to ground the discussion on values and draw instances from? This involves questions like, to what extent is compliance to parental authority valued [1], to what extent is instilling a sense of belonging to a nation useful in eventually developing all-embracing humanistic solidarity [2] and how a balance maybe struck between values traditionally espoused by groups with different political affiliations [3], some of which emphasized on accountability and living up to expectations and others which emphasize respecting of preferences and entitlement to rights.

4. What are the ways in which available media can be used to compile resources and conduct programs that can serve as a basis for developing our curriculum of value education? Please add to the discussion here, suggest or author articles on related themes for the main site and recommend or volunteer to deliver a lecture or lead an interactive session with children.

Selected references:
1. Sheena Iyengar : The Art of Choosing (TED talk)
2. Patriotism: Is it necessary/ethical? (Nirmukta thread)
3. Jonathan Haidt: The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives (TED talk)
I recall the tale of Sudama with some degree of fondness. Long story short-- Sudama, a poor man, has his hand forced by poverty and by his wife's insistence, to visit his old buddy Lord Krishna. Feeling awkward and hesitant, Sudama visits Krishna with a bag of beaten rice, that Sudama knows Krishna enjoyed as a kid. Krishna welcomes Sudama, they chill out and have a blast. Sudama, in his happiness at having met Krishna forgets what he came to ask for: wealth and a way out for his wife and kids.

However Good Guy Krishna knows his friend's predicament and asks Rukmini to conjure up some wealth when Sudama reaches home. Sudama returns to find a palace where his dilapidated house used to be and his kids in brand new clothes.

The story teaches you about the power of friendship and modesty. Sudama was perhaps a proud man who did not want to pressure Krishna into helping him financially, much less wanting to see what a poor state he was in.
The story might however give a wrong impression that devotion to god will always be rewarded or that god is watching our struggles and has not forgotten our deserved reward (whether or not we actively seek it). This might cause people to endure enormous troubles and assume that their patience will be rewarded by Good Guy Krishna.

Not always the case. Lol
"It's alright, I rarely meet anyone who's able to read it properly. Although personally, I never thought that it to be an odd of a name. Once I give people the pronunciation, they tend to remember my name by easily associating me with it. A unique face, a unique moniker."
(25-Aug-2012, 11:39 AM)nick87 Wrote: The story teaches you about the power of friendship and modesty. Sudama was perhaps a proud man who did not want to pressure Krishna into helping him financially, much less wanting to see what a poor state he was in.

Actually, this also brings up another important point pertaining to the above question of : What is the social context in which it is advisable to ground the discussion on values?
Should attempts to assist those in a state of destitution be contingent upon acts of individual goodwill?
Or should a genuinely concerned citizen be expected to undertake efforts in economic, social and political reform to mitigate the conditions of destitution itself?

Krishna scores well in terms of individual goodwill and as a benefactor of friends. However, notwithstanding the good deal of political influence he enjoyed in Dwaraka, his record as a reformer is fairly non-existent. The only significant reformist act from his early youth is during the Govardhana episode where he functioned as a cultural critic and spokesperson of regional rights when he spoke out against expensive, ritualistic, Aryanized Indra worship and in favour of local traditions more in concord with the natural surroundings and the aspirations of the locals. The co-option of the cowherd Krishna into the Yadava confederacy power-structure meant a downhill course for the reformist in him and by the time we get to the Bhagavad Gita, we end up with a system-justifier extra-ordinaire. The cow-herd who spoke out against Brahmanic ritualism, now as the prophet in the Gita upholds rituals as integral to the sustenance of the world-order (Verse 3:10) and that it is a crime to desist from those (Verse 3:12). What a fall that was, my countrypeople!

The Puranic authors often provide a negative example to avoid emulating, accompanying a positive exemplar to emulate. On the topic of friendship and modesty, if Krishna-Sudama are the positive exemplars, Drupada-Drona are the cautionary tale. Incidentally, or perhaps by design, the Puranic authors choose both these characters of Sudama and Drona who are indigent visitors to be Brahmins, leaving a contemporary reader to wonder if these tales were meant to be counsel for modesty and friendship or simply a reiteration of the injunction of almsgiving to Brahmins!That concludes my rather long Puranic aside.

Returning to the question of voluntary small-scale goodwill and larger-scale actions for welfare and reform, the two begin to constitute a dichotomy when resources are inadequate to do both. This dichotomy makes the liberal-conservative divide most apparent. Conservatives in general seem to abhor taxation on principle and emphasize voluntary contribution in local communities under the aegis of a church of some kind. Progressives offer arguments for, well, progressive taxation (as Tom Clark explains here). Nicholas Kristof examines this difference here (and his article is critiqued here).

Since we are building a curriculum for school-children, it goes without saying that we should spare them the above conservative-liberal squabbles, but there is nevertheless this takeaway that there are different ways of doing good and that the importance both of small acts of kindness and bettering the lot of the many need to be emphasized. One action item can be to come up with real-life instances and also secular fictional instances of small acts of kindness as well as acts that better the lot of the many.

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Here is a quick compilation of some case studies of attempts to formulate a curriculum of secular ethics in different parts of the world, in secular states.

Sonja Eggerickx, President, IHEU, speaks about the introduction of 'non-confessional ethics' as an option in Belgian schools, and how children under this option relate to their classmates who undergo faith-based value education.

Turning east, China has been attempting to modernize its value education curriculum by drawing upon its ancient lore which is largely free of explicit theological baggage, but serves to uphold notions of filial piety which may seem oppressive to contemporary readers.

As China Ages, Beijing Turns to Morality Tales to Spur Filial Devotion

The article lists some examples of stories which were routine fare in Chinese textbooks that are more egregious than typical Indian legends on filial piety.
Quote:Reading it now, six centuries after Guo Jujing wrote this paean to parental devotion, “The 24 Paragons of Filial Piety” comes off as a collection of scary bedtime stories. There is the woman who cut out her own liver to feed her sick mother, the boy who sat awake shirtless all night to draw mosquitoes away from his slumbering parents and the man who sold himself into servitude to pay for a father’s funeral

Thankfully, there has been an attempt, however imperfect, to replace such anachronistic notions of filial piety:
Quote:“The New 24 Paragons of Filial Piety,” despite its ham-handedness, tries to address the root causes of loneliness.

It urges children to throw their parents a birthday party each year and listen attentively to their stories from the past. It even asks that children help widowed parents remarry, a task that some parents found objectionable.

In India too, attempted secular curricula for 'moral science' put great stock on such virtues as 'obedience', especially to parents and teachers. 'Being a good son/daughter' or 'being a good student' maybe easier to illustrate with examples to children, than the broader notion of 'being a good person'. 'Being good to strangers' seems an integral part of being a good person, that has nothing to do with obedience or respect to elders. An exercise in timed writing which parents can perhaps undertake, is to start a clock and write in a manner intelligible to their school-going children an essay on 'Who is a good person?'. Such an exercise can help capture what is foremost on one's mind on this topic, yet never explicitly acknowledged so far. Parents seem specially equipped to undertake this exercise because it is hard for others to naturally pitch the language and references in a manner that is most intelligible to children, though similar experiments by others maybe worthwhile too.
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Here is a list of freely available resources that were tried in the classroom by a Teach For India fellow currently serving in Pune.
Value Education for Secondary Grade Students
Many of the video resources seem suitable for watching in family settings and also during gatherings like youth camps to start off discussions. The content is not explicitly religious to alienate any viewers, and a lot of it is not explicitly didactic in a manner that may make children tune out. It's a suggestive list that teachers and parents elsewhere can work off of, and adapt to their local settings.
Value systems need to teach kids democratic values. Unfortunately religion appropriated to itself the name of values without any substance what so ever.

We need to produce content on democratic morals and values as also to reinterpret the existing content.

Let me narrate a story .

Once upon a time there lived a family compromising of a new couple and the mother-in -law of the bride . One day the old lady while returning from the village well notices a beggar returning from their house . She inquires and comes to know that the younger lady refused alms.
She brags to be the owner of the house and commands the beggar back . The hopeful beggar follows her only to be told that she , the mother -in-law, the owner of the house refuses any alms.

This small story could be used to explain the futility of bloated ego.

Similar and divergent stories and anecdotes should be liberally used to promote and establish democratic values among children .
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