A blueprint for moral education in a pluralistic age.

Are America’s public schools graduating a generation of moral illiterates? The question has stirred intense public debate. One educator joining the chorus of questioners is Christina Hoff Sommers. Fifteen years of teaching ethics at the university level has convinced Sommers that something in the classroom has gone fundamentally wrong. “We may be one of the few societies in the world that finds itself incapable of passing on its moral teachings to young people,” she told CT. When it comes to character development and moral education, it is as though “we’ve forgotten several thousand years of civilization—the great moral, religious, and philosophical traditions.”

Two experiences in particular convinced Sommers that public education must find a better way. One was becoming a parent. She saw firsthand how public schools retreat from the “traditional task of helping parents to civilize the child.” She therefore felt grateful to be able to enroll her child in a private Jewish school where the teaching staff was “not afraid to teach ethics and kindness, where morality was woven into the daily lessons.”

What she saw in her college students was just as unsettling. She came face to face with a “surprising number of young people who think there’s no right or wrong, that moral choices depend on how you feel.” While many were decent and kind, and “the vast majority could never really harm another person or steal, they could not justify or defend ethical values.” They had no sense that morality could be normative and absolute.

While Sommers realizes that separation of church and state may not encourage the use of specifically religious texts in government schools, she does believe educators ...

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