College students and teenagers have concerns about imposing a particular set of values on a diverse population, says the study, published in the May/June issue of Child Development. Younger children, however, are more likely to feel government should legislate the promotion of positive values such as racial equality, honesty, industriousness and patriotism as well as religious values.
"A challenge for any pluralist society is agreement on which values are to be passed on to future generations and how these values are to be taught and promoted," says U of T psychology professor Charles Helwig, who co-authored the study with graduate student Angela Prencipe. "Although there are many programs of values education in effect in North America, surprisingly, children's own perspectives on values education are often not taken into consideration by policy makers and researchers."
The researchers asked children aged 8 to 13 and college students what values should be taught in public schools and whether that teaching should be regulated. Although older children and adults approved of the teaching of character values such as work ethic, they believed it should be at the discretion of individual teachers and schools, not required by law, the researchers say. This older group was more receptive to laws requiring the teaching of other values, such as justice and democracy, which could be shared among individuals in a multicultural society. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council supported the study.