Education and Moral Ethics for a Better World?

I recently attended Montreal’s second annual Peace through Religion Conference. Created in response to the September 11th attacks in New York City, the conference aims to promote dialogue and respect between all world faiths and religions. In hopes perhaps, that peace can be achieved through religion; only when understanding is enhanced between all belief systems.

The conference was filled with McGill professors of various religious facilities as well as religious leaders; the keynote speaker being none other than His Holiness himself- The Dalai Lama.

Standing in front of hundreds of people, he remained humble. He even stopped to put on his matching maroon visor so to see the faces in the crowd more clearly.

Although his English can be rather broken, a few of his words really got me thinking. For he preached the idea that morals should be taught as part of every child’s education, holding the same importance as say mathematics.

Can the integration of moral ethics into educational systems bring forth a more peaceful world? Would this educational reform produce a generation of socially and politically conscious individuals?

Having been through an educational system where value systems were only taught as a side note in two of my favourite teacher’s English classes, I am aware of this gaping hole. It was only because of extremely passionate teachers that I became interested in social  and political issues both within my community and on a global scale. Those two teachers made a huge impact on my life, and the choices I made when deciding what I wanted to do with it. But what if I never had those teachers? Would I still have found it within myself to follow my passions? Or would I have joined the ranks of my so called “apathetic generation”? When boiled down it’s almost a question of nature verses nurture, but I’m an arts student so what do I know about psychological theories.

The vision of this progressive-thinking generation looks beautiful, and the idealist in me wants to say that yes, indeed, we can build a more peaceful world by teaching our children moral ethics.

Yet the overwhelmingly skeptical side of me begs to differ. I can’t help but think of the countless examples where human beings did awful things to one another due to religious and faith conflicts even after receiving an education based on ethical choices and being raised a “good citizen.” The most obvious example I think would be our history of genocides, but perhaps more topical an example is our outstanding low turn out rates in youth voting. Especially on a federal level, voter turn-out is shockingly low. Given the fact that our votes account for the future of our country. And by extension the future state of our international affairs.

As students, we were all given the same Social Studies lesson on the Canadian governmental structure, our educational system gave us the knowledge on where our votes go and how are political parties are set up. Yet by the time our 18th birthday rolls around, only a few of my friends made the effort to research their candidates and vote. If we all had the same education, then how come the majority are apathetic to voting? Well, this is the part where the psychology major argues how the crowd mentality forced everyone to conform. A valid point, no doubt, but it does not account for the few individuals who did in fact make the choice to actively participate in political policies pertinent to them and their communities, in hopes of speaking up for political change. Admittedly, a lot more could be done to increase youth awareness on political issues, and their accessibility to the voting poles. For example, only a few youth know that you only need proof of residency and a valid I.D. to cast your vote. This information should be taught in all educational institutions, as well as over all public airwaves. Youth should be aware of how important their vote is, and how easy it is to research the issues and caste their vote.

Yet even then, only the minority of youth feel it necessary to take the time to vote. So if we had a universal educational system based on values, would we live in a politically just world?  It seems to me that it is within each of us to make the right choice- a moral dilemma as it were. We all struggle with our personal battles of the heart, no matter if we were taught to be ethical individuals. For the most part, all religions preach peace and healthy communities, yet there are hundreds of communities and nations without stable political structures. Mostly due to the majority not putting their energy into creating or sustaining a political voice for themselves. There are countless examples of governments and corporations changing their policies and codes of conduct because the masses raised their voices against unjust policy or business practice. Levi jeans improved their labour code of conduct after thousands boycotted their jeans in protest against their “sweat-shop” production system. A group of women in Liberia banned together to protest the violence and political instability tearing apart their country, and as their numbers grew so did their protests. The government, and the international community took notice and the government went into talks with the rebel groups to reach an agreement of peace. So, great change can come from social and political involvement. Perhaps we just need to take the negative connotation out of the word politics, and youth would  take a greater interest in getting involved.

In respect to teaching moral ethics in schools as a way to promote peace through religion, perhaps the Dalai Lama is on to something. Creative learning and values should be as huge a part of schooling as Math is, I do not think teaching every child moral ethics could bring forth more interfaith understanding. However, when it comes to social and political involvement, I do not believe a value based education is the cure. It is the individual choice to stay informed while keeping a strong moral compass- socially and politically.