Call to keep morality out of school

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The Independent Online
Government advisers on the National Curriculum should steer clear of morality, a right-wing think tank warns today.

A pamphlet from Politeia says plans to issue a list of moral values for schools will harm rather than help the teaching of morality and threaten academic study. Dr John Marenbon, the author, who is a fellow of Trinity College Cambridge, ridicules the proposal from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which has drawn up the list, that morals should be taught in all lessons including the humanities, science and even PE.

"Moral mathematics is not discussed but no doubt the best brains in the authority are working on it," he says. The guidelines, says Dr Marenbon, are vacuous. They are neither precise rules of behaviour such as "Don't lie" or "Keep your promises" nor general moral first principles such as "Act so as to maximise the balance of pleasure over pain in the universe" and "Act in accord with what you believe to be God's wishes."

Instead, in their desire to avoid disagreement, the advisers have resorted to a set of middle-level principles, many of which are contradictory. For instance, the pamphlet says, children are told they must "try to understand their own character, strength and weaknesses" and immediately afterwards "to develop a sense of self-worth".

"But what human is there who does not value himself less the better he knows himself?" asks Dr Marenbon. Equally questionable, he says, is the idea that pupils should "preserve areas of beauty wherever possible." It is rarely impossible to preserve a beautiful area but this may conflict with other principles in the list such as increasing economic prosperity.

t A Moral Maze: government values in education from Politeia, 28 Charing Cross Road,

London. Price pounds 5.