Developing Healthy Values in Public Schools

by Bob Bhaerman

Recently I attended a workshop sponsored by the Institute for Science and Human Values. The focus was on what public schools should be doing to develop healthy values in their students. Three important questions were raised:

  1. Why has values education been a failure or no-show in public school historically?
  2. What needs to be done to overcome the identified problems and obstacles?
  3. How can specific methods not only achieve our desired objectives but also result in higher learning levels as well?

One of the presenters provided excellent answers to these questions: Dr. Stan Friedland of Syosset, New York, a former teacher, guidance counselor, high school principal and adjunct college professor. Although retired from these positions, Dr. Friedland is far from being retired as an educator since he continues to actively assist teachers through his consulting work.

Dr. Friedland cited the work of Louis Raths, Merrill Harmin and Sidney Simon in defining the term “values.” For example, a value starts with “a belief you were proud of and were willing to affirm, where you had chosen it from alternatives with regard to possible consequences and free from outside pressure to choose any particular thing, and where you had taken action on this belief other than to talk about it and had done this in a regular pattern, not just sporadic times.”

To answer the first two questions, values have been handled as a separate entity, i.e., they have been “outside of the curriculum” and must be integrated so that they can be legitimized, and values education must be included in both pre-service and in-service teacher education.

For the third question, Dr. Friedland outlined the major components of Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy (with which all teachers are familiar). The three domains of learning which Bloom identified are psycho-motor, cognitive and affective. With regard to specific instructional methods, he outlined three Confluent Education, Cooperative Learning, and Service-Learning. All three can serve as the foundation for integrating values into the classroom. Let’s take a brief look at each:

Confluent Education: Based on the work of educators such as George Brown, confluent education involves instruction that integrates the affective and cognitive domains within the same lesson. Therefore, it focuses on students’ feelings and values as they relate to the content being taught and is an important means of promoting holistic learning and the development of students’ full potential.

Cooperative Learning: Cooperative learning is a teaching strategy in which small teams, each with students of different levels of ability, use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject. Each member of a team is responsible not only for learning what is taught but also for helping teammates learn, thus creating an atmosphere of achievement. Students work through the assignment until all group members successfully understand and complete it.

Service-Learning: Service-Learning is a strategy that integrates meaningful community service into the curriculum with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and develop desirable character qualities for participating students.  Students–from  kindergartener to college—use what they learn in the classroom to solve real-life problems.

This, of course, has been an abbreviated lesson. For more information about developing healthy values in students, please contact Dr. Friedland at  Be sure to ask for a copy of his paper on “Effective Values Education: What Schools Are Not Doing Today.” He has agreed to share his over 34 years of experiences in attempting to integrate values into the curriculum and to make it a continuing part of teacher education.

Bob Bhaerman, Ed. D., is director of the Kochhar Humanist Education Center of the American Humanist Association.