Ask Dr. Blank: Do you think respect and responsibility should be taught in school or is it the parent’s job to do at home?

In a large and growing number of schools around the country, students are learning more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. They are learning what character education advocates call the fourth and fifth R’s: respect and responsibility. Do you think this should be taught in school or is it the parent’s job to do at home?

This is a very important question since it touches on pressures that schools increasingly feel. As society recognizes the multitude of issues facing students and families today, there is a growing movement to have schools expand their curricula to take on the teaching of non-traditional subjects. This applies not simply to areas such as respect and responsibility but to more highly charged areas such as suicide prevention and sex education. Unfortunately, far too little thought, time and effort go into whether and how sensitive and complex areas such as these should be taught. Many of the areas do not lend themselves to the didactic approach that schools use in teaching basic skills such as reading and math. Often they require techniques from other fields such as those used in group interaction and behavioral modification. Teachers rarely have the training needed for using these techniques. If our society is willing to commit the time and resources required to develop effective programs in these non-traditional areas, it could expand our students’ world in important ways. However, unless and until that is done, it seems that we are adding to the load that already overburdened teachers are facing.

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