Education and Chivalric Values
Prof. Carl Edwin Lindgren
Member, Royal Historical Society (
and Fellowship of Catholic Scholars
and Fellowship of Catholic Scholars
Abstract: Today, many educators, administrators, and parents are concerned over the startling rise in teen violence. Theories are expounded and old concepts are discarded. Still, within most school systems, violence, disrespect, and moral decay are quickly becoming the norm. Perhaps an alternative to advanced psychological and educational theories is in order. This article provides some insight into how these concerns may be addressed within the school environment by teachers, parents, and administrators.
One of society's most important duties should be teaching moral values. Whether studying mathematics, English or physics, ethical teachings can, in one way or another, be incorporated into the "lesson plan".
Today's muddle of lesson plans, meetings, restrictions, specialization, and new curricula, leaves teachers little time for teaching ethics, values, honesty or integrity. Many high school and college students graduate having disrespect for authority and order. These future leaders, scientists, politicians and parents are, in many ways, devoid of values and social consciousness. Replacing time-honored values are indecency, arrogance, snobbishness, and a general disrespect for moral values (Cobbett, 1829; Gopalan, 1990).
Moral Education in Our Schools
In an issue of Educational Review, Dr. K. Gopalan (1990) of Madras Christian College (India) suggested that educators establish a moral values course for college students. Most behavior is, however, well established before college entry. Instilling moral responsibility should therefore be assimilated into curricula throughout the lower grades. Rather than creating a specific course (a greater burden on the teacher), moral values and concepts should be inter‑woven into every course. With widely differing beliefs, religions and political views, such an undertaking is difficult. The rewards, however, would be innumerable (Miller, 1843).
There are primarily three theories explaining immoral activities. First, man is inherently evil. Without the intervention of a spiritual force (God) man will, if given the choice between good and evil, usually choose evil. Second, man is basically good. He, will in time, with guidance and direction, evolve into a "perfect" god-like creature. Third, some philosophers believe man, as a natural being, will do wrong if given the opportunity. In this latter theory man is not inherently mean, selfish, sinful or indifferent to the truth, but rather is, by nature, more willing to take the easy path. According to this philosophy, man has good intentions but should be trained to choose good over evil (Lindgren, 1977).
Regardless of which theory one accepts, peer pressure, surroundings and home environment play major roles in influencing behavior (Todd, 1846). Since children are involved in school activities for most of the day, every attempt should be made to impart ethics, chivalric behavior and moral values. Value teaching should not be aimed at creating perfect individuals but rather ones that perceive right and wrong and can choose those values society and environment deem correct and proper. Knowledge of higher goals or purposes, values or reasons is also inherent in most people. It is these principles which we should aspire to develop in the 21st Century. "Instructions in moral education [teachings] . . . should be devised in such a manner that the students would be trained in the intellectual skill [needed] for perceiving, identifying and communicating ... real issues in social transformation . . ." (Gopalan, 1991). As Gopalan (1991) states, "Any society achieving brilliance without conscience is dangerous." As we, of a civilized society, continue to grow intellectually and technologically, we have somehow lost our hopes, dreams, goals, ethics and morals, i.e. those attributes which denote chivalry or “the qualities of the ideal knight : chivalrous conduct” (Merriam Webster, 1999)
Unless good values are taught, and students trained in understanding ethical concepts, brilliant and inquisitive young minds will be swayed toward the 'darker side'. A person who possesses numerous degrees and honors but has learned neither ethics nor integrity is still like a small child and deserves little respect (Miller, 1843). He can easily be persuaded in either direction and his intellect and genius used to the detriment of mankind (Fanthorpe, 1991). As in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and other countries, citizens lacking a solid foundation of moral beliefs and values were easily influenced by leaders possessing intellect and cunning.
The Development of Moral Values
As children are spending less time with their parents than in previous generations, emphasis should be upon the impact of schools and their obligations of providing moral education (regarding responsibility of the school, read Hartford, 1958). Educational philosopher John Dewey felt the educational system should try to become more closely related to true life experiences if the system was to affect a child's moral outlook. Educator Max Lerner (1976), reinforced this view stating that, "the aim of education should be to teach and learn how to aim an education, for the whole person, in the total life span." Dewey, however, believed an absolute or fixed good did not exist. "Every moral situation is unique having its own un-replaceable good." (Jensen et al, 1981).
According to Dewey, (Strayer, 1920) "interest in community welfare, an interest that is intellectual and practical, as well as emotional ‑- an interest, that is to say, in perceiving whatever makes for social order and progress, and in carrying these principles into execution -‑ is the moral habit." Moral habit, therefore, comes not from force or demands, but rather from educating the individual in perceiving and understanding the rationality and benefits of possessing a chivalric spirit and in helping and strengthening society's customs and beliefs. If a person conforms only out of fear or laws then he is basically unmoral and may, when provided the opportunity, become immoral when restrictions are removed. Another point worth considering is blind habit. Traditions in most cases are good. Some are not. Habitually following traditions, beliefs or laws does not denote possession of moral values. Without intellect and a rational thought-provoking interpretation of each moral belief, non‑moral conduct exists. If we, as intellectual, thinking creatures, create a rule or law and then follow that law, because the law strengthens society then morality exists. If, however, in time the law becomes detrimental and we still persist in following this rule due to tradition, then we no longer operate on a moral basis as we are no longer using the powers of perceiving rationalized conduct. According to George D. Strayer and Naomi Norsworthy (1920), "Morality requires that men have a reason for the faith that is in them."
The Kinetic Theory
A moral idea or belief does not become morality until the individual possessing those beliefs implements it into his or her behavior. A man may profess the highest chivalric beliefs or values, but may, in his actions, be immoral. Only through physical manifestation of one's good beliefs or highest moral conviction is morality attained. As the old adage states, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." So too, is the concept of moral conduct. Good intentions or beliefs are worthless without implementation. The statement, "Faith without works is dead", which appears in the Book of James (Bible, 1611), applies well to this situation. (Belok et al., 1966).
Responsibility Lies Within
Although teachers should provide moral education, this does not always mean making decisions or supplying rules of do and don't (Gopalan, 1990). Rather, moral education means the student is taught that morality is conduct which is consistent (Hall, 1975) and individualized, leading toward the betterment of one’s self and community without destroying others.
Habits of Good Society
"There is little or no means of punishing the seducer, the cheat, the habitual drunkard and gambler, and men and women who indulge in illicit pleasures except ... [through the] verdict of perpetual expulsion pronounced by good society . . . Society, then is forced to judge by common report, and though it may often judge wrongly, it generally errs on the safe side." (Habits, 1866). Often, society may deem a certain act or behavior immoral (English Gentlewoman, 1845). This declaration may be tradition based or upon what is good for the betterment of mankind. It is the individual's responsibility to intellectually and rationally pick the correct and moral course. One must "establish fixed principles of benevolence, justice, truthfulness . . . and adhere steadfastly to them, despite the allurements of the world, the temptation of ambition or weariness of self‑conflict" (Lunettes, 1886).
In identifying moral and chivalric judgment, Lawrence Kohlberg recognizes six stages of moral judgment forming three levels of morality. According to Kohlberg the sixth stage, referring to the concept of 'right', states that "[r]ight is defined by the decision of conscience in accord with self‑chosen ethical principles appealing to logical comprehensiveness, universality and consistency. These principles are abstract and ethical. . . ." (Sullivan, 1975). Kohlberg, however, believes that there are ten universal moral issues. They are: (Herst et al, 1979).
1. Laws and rules
3. Personal roles of affection
5. Civil Rights
6. Contract, trust, and justice
8. The value of Life
9. Property rights and values
Motivating the student toward moral and chivalric learning is therefore the educator's primary responsibility. Encouraging this type of awareness, the instructor should relate the information which the student has learned and memorized to specific situations that have moral meaning (Lindgren, 1977). It is also the educator's duty to provide opportunities allowing the student to apply new moral concepts to actual problems. In order to assist in ethical education, a teacher should possess good understanding, clear comprehension, sound judgment and the capacity for reasoning (not only teachers but also preachers) (Haygood, 1895).
It is hoped that chivalric education will assist the student in obtaining three principles or goals: (1) heightening moral awareness, (2) developing more adequate reasoning in regard to moral questions and (3) that the above two items will affect moral behavior. (Hersh et al, 1979; also note Kay, 1975).
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