“A Lesson of Value”
A Joint Statement on Moral Education
in the Public Schools
By The Interreligious Affairs Committee
of The Synagogue Council of America, and
The Bishops" Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
of The National Conference of Catholic Bishops
June 19, 1990
American public schools feel inhibited about teaching moral values, yet we are losing our
Drug addiction, depression, suicide, promiscuity, crime, alienation, AIDS, academic
failure, emotional illness, teen pregnancy, alcoholism, intolerance, violence -- the litany
of problems besetting American youth seems to have no end.
What have we done -- or failed to do -- that has brought this plague upon our children? What
must we do to fight it?
Obviously, there are no simple answers. But from our perspective as religious leaders,
these maladies are only symptoms of a deeper and more basic problem: a lack of fundamental
These values, like honesty, compassion, integrity, tolerance, loyalty, and belief in
human worth and dignity, are embedded in our respective religious traditions and in the
civic fabric of our society. They are the very underpinnings of our lives.
There is broad consensus among Americans, regardless of religion and cultural background,
concerning these values.
In a world where short-term gratification is pressed upon children by their peers, the
media, and many adults, to raise a young person without a basic value system is to cast him
or her adrift. Yet we persist in cheating our children of this critically important
education -- necessary if they are to grow to respect, cherish and care for themselves and
Traditionally, the family, the church or synagogue, the school, and the government have
worked to educate children in basic values. But in recent years, there has been a growing
reluctance to teach values in our public educational system out of fear that children might
be indoctrinated with a specific religious belief.
All major religions advocate these values, as do the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,
much of the world"s greatest literature, and ethical business practices as well. We are
convinced that even apart from the context of a specific faith, it is possible to teach
these shared values.
In fact, public schools do teach values all the time -- but they are not necessarily the
core moral values. Indeed by deliberately excluding these shared moral values from the
curriculum, the educational system actually undermines them. Children naturally look to the
school to provide them with important knowledge. It is all too easy for children to assume
that information not taught in school cannot be very important.
To raise a generation without an understanding of values is to assure disaster. Children
are the future. The specter of a nation with an amoral citizenry is terrible to contemplate.
The damage would be irreversible. If we cannot teach our children values, who will teach
their children values?
We recognize that parents have a responsibility to teach values. Indeed, in such a
morally apathetic environment, that so many parents have instilled strongly grounded values
in their children is testimony to the unique role parents have in shaping their children"s
lives. (In fact, these children are important resources both as role models to their peers
and in values education.)
But in our society parents can use all the help they can get. Therefore it is urgent that
there be a national effort to implement moral public education in our schools, integrated
into the total curriculum, and corresponding to student needs and community consensus.
There is a groundswell of support from parents, teachers and government, religious and
community leaders who are struggling for a renewed moral vision within the public schools,
grounded in the common bond of humanity that links all races and religions. They realize
that our country is more than a land; it is a people -- a people historically admired for
its biblically based values and religious traditions.
In some parts of the country, major strides have been made in the herculean struggle to
develop our schools into moral communities. Many school systems have developed excellent
values education programs. We recognize and praise the efforts of these dedicated parents
and teachers who have fought the paralyzing fear that prevents values education. Yet,
substantial even drastic systemic change is still necessary if we as a nation are to salvage
the moral fiber of our children.
To bring about that basic change, we urge that:
- Those responsible for schooling at the local, state, and national levels convene the
administrators, teachers, parents, students, and citizens to address the moral
educational needs of children and young people. We call for state governors and
legislative leadership to create committees to promote values education in the public
- Public schools introduce moral education into their curricula; that the schools use
text books, resources and teaching methodologies that emphasize basic civic and personal
values. (We repeat that this can be done apart from teaching a specific religious
faith.) We call on school boards to state clearly the values they will teach and how
they will teach them.
- All faiths work together to bring about systemic change and to encourage the teaching
of values in public schools. To facilitate this effort we will strongly recommend a
joint commission to meet quarterly to evaluate matters pending in the courts and before
the Congress that will affect the promotion of values education in America.
- Foundations underwrite values education programs in public schools.
- The media, especially television, promote civic and personal values in their
- For our part we will:
- Establish within our Consultation an ad hoc committee to discuss this issue and make
recommendations on the substance of value-based curricula and teaching methodologies.
We will assist in providing teaching materials and guides reflecting our shared moral
- Ask that Catholics and Jews begin a widespread dialogue about moral education in the
public schools; we ask that this dialogue take place in state Jewish Councils,
Catholic Conferences, and ministerial associations.
- Support educational opportunities to teach values -- and values teaching -- to
- Within our own educational institutions, emphasize anew our commitment to moral
values which come ultimately, from divine revelation.
Children are not born with values any more than they are born with math and reading
skills. In a nation that spends billions of dollars to influence youth as to which cars to
buy and which clothes to wear, it is a national disgrace to fail to teach basic values in
the public schools.
Our children need those values. Our society requires them. We, as a nation, can teach
them. We must teach them now -- before we lose our children.