Ala. County Issues Order: Teach Values
School officials in Limestone County, Ala., have instructed their teachers to add a fourth "R" to their "reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic" repertoire.
The extra R stands for what is right, as spelled out in a school board resolution to teach moral values--a document that has stirred up a great deal of confusion about whether students will be graded on their morals.
Superintendent Don Osborne insisted that his and the school board's intentions have been misinterpreted. Others have said they are not so sure.
Consequently, some teachers said they fear that parents may suspect their children's grades will end up tainted by what a teacher perceives is morally right or wrong.
"I'm afraid it's going to leave us on a limb," said Anita Raby, a district high school teacher and a board member of the National Education Association.
Once completely rural, Limestone County is rapidly growing into a bedroom community for Huntsville, Alabama's third-largest city.
Despite the growth, the 7,200-student district has been relatively free of the violence that has hit many districts. In Limestone County schools last year, only three weapons--one nonfunctioning pistol, one fake pistol, and a rifle in a truck--were confiscated, all without incident, Mr. Osborne said.
But to keep the schools safe, officials decided to "start emphasizing morals as a preventive measure," Mr. Osborne said.
So the school board late last month unanimously adopted the resolution "authorizing the teaching of traditional moral values."
The values cited in the resolution are: determining right from wrong, honesty, integrity, accountability, self-discipline, sexual abstinence, self-restraint, sincerity, loyalty, love of country, and respect for and value of human life and property.
"Whereas, exemplary citizenship is encouraged and taught through written guidelines for determining individual student citizenship performance each grading period," the resolution continued, "Now therefore, be it resolved that the Board of Education encourages the administration to reinforce the teaching of traditional moral values enumerated above."
There were to be no written guidelines for teachers to follow. Each was left to his or her own discretion for teaching values, as teachers have been since they began a few years ago to hand out citizenship marks--roughly the equivalent of conduct grades that were prevalent in many school systems until the late 1960's.
Factoring in Morals?
When the board passed the resolution, The Decatur Daily newspaper reported it, along with the board's discussion. The story quoted Mr. Osborne as saying teachers should factor in moral values when determining citizenship grades. It also quoted Joel Glaze, the school board member who sponsored the resolution, as saying that the resolution was meant to encourage teachers to express their moral views, citing opposition to abortion as one example.
The Associated Press picked up the story, as did television stations in Huntsville. Soon after, letters to the editor arrived at newspapers, parents and teachers called the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama for counsel, and leaders of the Alabama Education Association issued warnings.
To clear up what he called a misunderstanding, Mr. Osborne, a part-time pastor for the local Church of Christ, issued a memorandum to teachers. The memo states that "the teaching of moral values is not headed toward citizenship grades on the report cards."
"Simply stated," the memo continues, "your superintendent and your board want you to know that you will be supported when you try to help a young person think 'right' instead of carrying out the precepts of the evil world about them."
The memo further states that religious beliefs and church doctrine are not to be taught in class.
"The teachers's first objective is to teach 'reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic,' but as occasions arise and if a child is receptive, feel free to guide him/her toward what is 'right,'" the memo concludes.
But the memo apparently stirred up more confusion, and Mr. Osborne distributed a second memo.
In the follow-up memo, he said the evil forces he referred to were outside the school system--in gang activities and depicted in film, music, and printed materials.
"There is no way you can grade children on most of the right and wrong values listed in the [resolution]," he wrote. "But you can be encouraged to continue teaching them. And keep on giving citizenship grades as you've done for years past."
Still Not Clear
For some teachers, the second memo still failed to clarify the matter. "It still worries me beÄÄcause the resolution is on record; it's in print with that phrase in it," Ms. Raby said.
A classroom teacher for 25 years, Ms. Raby said she teaches values every day in her government and U.S.-history classes. "We always discuss these things openly and try to bring in all sides." But she fears getting "into the realm of trying to say this is the right way."
In hindsight, Mr. Osborne said the resolution's wording could have been better. "Probably the thing we did wrong was use the word 'morals' when we should have used the words 'character' or 'values,'" he said.
Yet, he said, the controversy has had a positive side. "In some ways, this has been an eye opener to some people. People have called and said, 'Go ahead, hooray!'"