WHY JOHNNY CAN'T TELL RIGHT FROM WRONG by William K. Kilpatrick

WHY JOHNNY CAN'T TELL RIGHT FROM WRONG

Moral Illiteracy and the Case for Character Education

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A flawed but thought-provoking discussion about the moral education--or lack of it--of American children. Among the many chores that schools have taken on in recent years is the teaching of morality. Teachers sometimes do this in free-wheeling discussions that permit students to form their own opinions about classic moral dilemmas--sex and its consequences being a ubiquitous topic; this method is sometimes called ``values clarification.'' Here, Kilpatrick (Education/Boston College; Identity and Intimacy, 1975) pounces on the idea of values clarification and shakes it like a dog savaging a rabbit. Children are not born with virtue (i.e., knowing good from evil), he says, and a classroom dilemma about whether or not to steal is no dilemma if a child doesn't already think stealing is wrong. Children, he contends, need ``training in goodness.'' To accomplish that, teachers and parents should not only reiterate moral strictures- -that lying, stealing, harming another person are wrong--but provide examples both in their own behavior and in stories. Kilpatrick nails, not always convincingly, a host of villains for the new moral ambiguity. Among them are Rousseau, Nietzsche, feminist theorists, and, above all, the fathers of the human- potential movement, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. What Kilpatrick does not discuss--and the omission is major--are the institutions and individuals who preach morality and behave immorally, from governments that sidestep the law to evangelists who frequent prostitutes. A generation has grown up with would-be heros--from Presidents to preachers--who are hypocrites, and the institutions that Kilpatrick praises for instilling ``character'' in their charges--Roman Catholic schools, military schools, an orthodox Jewish sect--are not necessarily paragons of morality. Providing children with stories of right overcoming wrong--a list of recommended classics is included--is commendable, but the stirring tales may only highlight the morality gap, generating yet more classroom discussion of values.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-671-75801-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1992