A New Assault on Values

Erasmo Calzadilla

Cuban university students. Photo: Caridad

In elementary and secondary school, and even at the university level, there are certain types of questions that show up on exams, like: “What do you value as much or more?”

But what’s behind these questions?  Generally the evaluation has already been made (the teacher dictated it in previous classes), so what they’re wanting is for it to be regurgitated.

Do you remember the evaluations we made of historical figures?  “Evaluate Antonio Maceo,” they would demand; and we would respond, “He was brave, determined and… capable.”  In this way they prostituted the verb “to value,” which came to be the same as thinking.

In Cuba, at least people don’t usually associate the words “values” and “to value.”   Values are the children of evaluation, but these are children who are stiff, dead and stripped of the least semblance of the thought that gave birth to them, which is to say evaluation.

Values are like diamonds that dazzle but fail to engender life; they’re both sterile and sterilizers.

Values are of course a magnificent tool for dominating from “within,” and thus exercising total power.  After instilling them (that’s to say installing them), the manipulation of people is quite easy.  It’s as if they were marionettes.

The effort —if the aim is to develop free-thinking people— should not be in instilling values, but in promoting in each person the ability to value the best way possible for them – which is to say thinking for themself.

9 thoughts on “A New Assault on Values

  • This is a good discussion.

    When my first kid came along, my mother-in-law had this habit of lying about things. She would tell a kid or a person anything, in order to get her own way or to get the kid to behave in a certain way. With my wife’s support we made a rule that, no matter what, we would always be truthful.

    We followed this rule in all cases. We apprised our three kids of it, and established truthfulness as a value for their lives. Now, they may not always live up to this standard, but at least they have it, and they know how to inculcate it to their future kids.

    We tell our kids, “If he will lie to someone else, he will lie to you.”

    In the US they teach kids to “be truthful like George Washington, who told his father that it was he who chopped down the cherry tree.” It turns out that this was a made-up story for the purpose of inculcating the value of truthfulness. ha!

    Perhaps the point is: teach values by good example, not hypocrisy.

  • Erasmo’s ultimate message is certainly true. Children in families and citizens in countries need to be supported as they let their own consciences lead them to realize what they value. The intrinsic joys of sharing, for instance, can never be truly internalized by a parent saying “share!”. Parents, schools and communities do have a role of instilling values but not by teaching them outright, but by fostering the child’s natural learning processes to discover their own truths for themselves. The same can be said of a country’s leaders having a responsibility to aid their citizens in realizing for themselves what they hold important. Making sure that people are physically and mentally nourished so they can sanely decide what indeed they do value. Today’s system of the media and political leaders trying literally to “install” hurtful false values to justify their wrongful actions is despicable and something we need to learn to counter as soon as possible.

  • Grady
    I am sorry to disagree with you again. I used to be a math teacher.
    Math multiplication table memorization has no relation to academic or later vocational life.
    Memorization does not equates to use of intelligence.
    A kid may not know math table and still be very good at math because math is not about memory is about reasoning and logic.
    Now with regards to the statement about values. I do not think he said that values should not be taught. Its that we should let people arrive to values on their own as oppose to be stamp with preset set of values.

  • Well, if I took Erasmo’s rap the wrong way, I’m not too proud to eat crow. While I stand by my reaction, I do apologize for being a bit brutal. I apologize for being, or for seeming rude.

    Even so, may I say that this article reminds me of the great “new math” mentality that swept the US a few decades ago. These really smart people decided that elementary students ought to be taught how to think about math, rather than memorizing things like the multiplication tables by rote. The result was a whole generation of kids–especially working class kids–who did not memorize their multiplication tables by rote, & thereby were crippled academically and vocationally/professionally for life.

    So, here comes Erasmo & he pontificates about teaching values without teaching how to think being counterproductive, & that teaching values ought to be discontinued, or something like that.

    I just don’t follow his wisdom, & still reject his rap as, at the very least, naive.

  • Grady I do not think is juvenile what he is talking about.
    I believe he is talking about the paternalistic state that sets values into people’s minds instead of let people arrive to those values on their own free will.
    There is a big difference when you get something from above compare to when you actually arrive to those conclusions yourself.
    So his point is valid. You should not take what he writes literally.

  • GRD, I find your post very condescending. I am a parent and the most important value I can instill in my children is to encourage them to not accept things at face value (especially from those in authority) but rather to think for themselves.

  • On this one, Grady, I think you are mistaken. What Erasmo is trying to do is to question definitions and premises. Didn’t Socrates do the same thing? (And look what it got him!) Of course the best way to teach values is by example. When my kids were younger, I would start cleaning the house on a Saturday morning, eventually asking for their assistance, which they usually offered. (On the other hand, the example of my critical comments the contents of mass culture seems to have rubbed off all-too-well on my oldest daughter, who already, at age 18, has a jaded view of the world.) Throughout the world society attempts to inculcate the values it wants carried forward through tired slogans and stale homilies. Once you graduate beyond teaching by example, however, the most effective way of teaching values is by–questioning the premises upon which they are based, as did Kant (though his style was wretched…too bad he couldn’t have written more like Nietzsche.

  • I agree with Erasmo. Cubans are being taught what to think, not how to think, which will end up being fatal to the society.

  • I’m sorry, Erasmo, but you continually come out with the most juvenile stuff.

    Not that you don’t have the moral right to come out with it, because you surely do. But a reader also has the moral right to point out that you are speaking like a juvenile.

    Are you a parent? It doesn’t seem so. If you were you would know instinctively that instilling values in children is a valuable and necessary thing–not only for society but for developing children, as well.

    Some things are difficult to explain because we assume that reasonable, intelligent people understand them by nature. You often evince a pre-adult, arrested-development state of mind that indicates you did not receive a very good upbringing.

    Please don’t be offended. Please take this as constructive suggestion. Please try to grow up.

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