The Priceless Value of Values

by B. Jane Kulp

Children today have a more difficult time deciphering right from wrong than their ancestors did. Parents used to be able to shield their children from the ills of society. However, modern media constantly bombards the public, including children, with visions of wars, murders, immorality, witchcraft, and other wickedness. Worldly values pervade television programming, movie production, and internet services. Depravity leaps out from the covers of magazines near the checkout isles in stores and hides itself between the covers of award-winning books (even some which receive the Newbery and Caldecott awards for best children's literature). In today's technological, mobile society, the ability to totally shut out the world's corruptness, even in the most carefully controlled home, is virtually non-existent. John W. Whitehead writes,

We live in a nation today where young men and women are exposed to a great amount of data and as a result are maturing at a much earlier age. The time has passed when it can be validly argued that the young must be shielded. Instead, they must be provided with an adequate educational base from which to confront a world that abounds with devastating crises.[1]

In other words, in order to become an effective decision-maker as an adult, a child needs to be taught the basic tenets of a strong set of values. Values are the standard, or the scale, upon which decisions are weighed. Values, principles of behavior, are the signposts which guide and direct actions. The Bible speaks of "righteousness" (good values) and "wickedness" (bad values). King Solomon wrote, "The righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way: but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness” (Proverbs 11:5). A good education must include the modeling and teaching of "righteousness" -- morally-right values built on a firm foundation.

That modeling and teach of values should begin in the home. When God gave the first published list of values statements, the Ten Commandments, to Moses, He said, "Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6:7). For the first five years of a child's life, the parents are the teachers.  President George W. Bush also stresses the importance of values education in the home:

Our Nation was built on a foundation of sound moral principles. The heroes of American history responded to threats to their freedom by choosing to fight for these timeless principles, assuming duties that superseded their self-interest. The character of America's founders was exemplified in their willingness to risk death in resisting tyranny and securing liberty and independence. . . .Parents should teach their children by word and deed to understand and live out the moral values that we hold, such as honesty, accepting responsibility for our actions, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.[2]

Obviously, although values education begins in the home, it cannot end there. The topic must also be addressed in school classrooms. Children between the ages of 5 and 18 spend approximately 30-35 hours a week in a classroom. That amounts to approximately 1200 hours a year spent under the influence of professional teachers, not parents. Therefore, classroom teachers must also share in the responsibility of teaching right from wrong.

This raises a number of questions. Since "values" generally have a religious base, is it legal today to provide values education in a public school classroom? If so, may values education in a public school classroom include presentation of distinctly biblical principles? How active a role may a Christian teacher in a public school classroom play toward instilling godly values in American youth?

Values Education in the Classroom

The founding fathers of the United States of America believed that good values must be instilled in children in order for them to become good citizens and thus preserve the freedoms our nation enjoys. For instance, John Jay, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, once said, "Let a general reformation of manners take place--let universal charity, public spirit, and private virtue be inculcated, encouraged, and practiced."[3] If "universal charity, public spirit, and private virtue" are to be "inculcated" (instilled through persistent instruction), then the classroom is obviously to be a major venue.

Samuel Adams, a leader in the fight for independence, urged lawmakers to make sure Christian values were a part of the educational system. " Let...statesmen and patriots unite their endeavors to renovate the age by...educating their little boys and girls...and leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system." [4] Another early patriot, Thomas Paine, warned in his booklet titled Common Sense, "It may not always happen that our soldiers are citizens, and the multitude a body of reasonable men; virtue . . . is not hereditary, neither is it perpetual." [5] If virtue "behavior showing high moral standards" is not hereditary, and it is not perpetual, then obviously Paine believed it must be taught as a major focus in education.

The fiery Patrick Henry compared morals to a protective suit of armor which the wearer must be trained to use effectively. "Virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone that renders us invincible. These are the tactics we should study. If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed . . . so long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger."[6] In America's classrooms children "study" and learn the skills and issues which will make them strong citizens. If they are not armed with firm values, they cannot be strong in the battles of life.

Early American educators understood the focus of the founding fathers. They wrote their textbooks and built their curricula around values education. The first textbooks used in America -- the Hornbook in the 1600's [7], the New England Primer in the 1700's, [8] and the McGuffey Reader in the 1800's and early 1900's [9] -- built basic instruction in "the three R's" (readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic) around moral concepts and biblical teachings. D. James Kennedy writing about the McGuffey Reader says,

Chock-full of tales of virtue, heroism, and noble sacrifice, this classic volume taught our parents and grandparents what it really meant to be honorable American citizens. By 1919...McGuffey's Reader was second in sales only to the Bible. Children disciplined in this book understood virtue, moral convictions, and the importance of making right choices.... It [moral education] was, by intention, a part of the public school curriculum, as it should be again today.[10]

Unfortunately, the dreams and goals of the founding fathers were soon obscured and threatened by Satan's emissaries. From the humanist philosophies of Horace Mann and John Dewey to the "values clarification" movement of Sidney Simon and Lawrence Kolberg to highly publicized Supreme Court cases involving schools and religion, the evil one has been doing his best to undermine the influence of Christian ethics in America's classrooms. As a result, many teachers today are afraid to discuss moral absolutes, or anything that might be considered "religious," for fear it will be considered against the law.

Christian teachers in public school classrooms need to develop a more positive, more constructive outlook. God does not need defeatists on His team. Those who answer His call to serve in public classrooms must trust that He will provide the opportunities to carry out their calling. One such opportunity is in the area of values education.

Government guidelines make it clear that religion is not totally banned from America's classrooms. Teachers may discuss religious topics if the lesson meets certain specific criteria (see my article Shining His Light in a Dark Place). As for teaching values, which necessarily overlap with religion, the government has issued this statement:

Teaching values: Though schools must be neutral with respect to religion, they may play an active role with respect to teaching civic values and virtue, and the moral code that holds us together as a community. The fact that some of these values are held also by religions does not make it unlawful to teach them in school.[11]

These words make it abundantly clear that teaching moral absolutes is perfectly legal, regardless of the religious implications. The government guidelines mandate schools to actively teach those values which make good citizens such as honesty, kindness, charity, respect for others, courage, patriotism, service, obedience, honor, responsibility, etc.

Biblical Principles in Values Education

All these virtues which Americans hold dear, these moral values which make us a free people, come straight from the Bible. They were instituted by the Creator of the world, taught from generation to generation, and therefore can be found repeated in all the major religions of the world. That is why good morals cannot be taught without incidentally teaching religious principles (i.e.,biblical principles).

Each of the Presidents of this great nation has understood and supported the fact that values education is important for the continued success of our country, and each of them has emphatically proclaimed that religion and morality walk hand-in-hand. For instance, at the end of his second term, George Washington made the following observation:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens . . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.[12]

Similarly, our fourth President, James Madison, said, "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind of self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."[13] The ability to govern, or control, ourselves comes from knowing and living according to the values taught in God's Word. The nation which teaches those values to its children will shine above all other nations. King Solomon wrote, "Righteousness exalteth a nation" (Proverbs 14:34). However, the nation which does not teach those "righteous" values to its children will become lawless and will fall into evil hands.

"We shall have to realize that the highest law is consideration, cooperation, friendship, and charity," said Calvin Coolidge, thirtieth President of the United States. "Without the application of these there can be no peace and no progress, no liberty, and no republic. These are the attributes that raise human relationships out of the realm of the mechanical, above the realm of animal existence, into the loftier sphere that borders on the Divine. . . .Its most complete expression is the Golden Rule."[14] Jesus told his followers, "Therefore, all things whatever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets" (Matthew 7:12). The students who learn to live by this precious "golden" law will not become a threat to this great republic.

Harry S. Truman, thirty-third President also stressed the importance of the moral framework of our nation when he said, "The basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don't think we emphasize that enough these days. If we don't have a proper fundamental moral background, we will finally end up with a government which does not believe in the rights for anybody except the State!"[15] God promises, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Psalm 33:12). But He also says, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God" (Psalm 9:17). One way for our nation to show honor and glory to God, and thereby receive His blessing, is to teach His precepts in our classrooms.

Christian Teachers in Values Education

Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence and founder of public education in the United States, wrote, "The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty- - -"[16] This basic concept has altered little through the years. Wise educators still acknowledge the importance of values education, teaching our children to live virtuous lives. The fact that our public schools are told to teach values plus the fact that good morals are biblically-sound teaching makes this part of involvement in public school education a true joy for Christian teachers.

Dr. Tim LaHaye writes, "Without values, an individual does not build character, which is more important than knowledge because what we are determines how we use what we know. . . .There are right and wrong answers. It is either wrong to kill, steal, lie, and commit adultery, or it isn’t; and Christian teachers need to be more aggressive than ever in teaching these moral absolutes."[17] King Solomon wrote for teachers as well as parents when he said, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Values education isn't a curriculum, although some school systems have tried to turn it into one. Values are taught moment by moment every day of the year. Lessons on values start with a copy of the Golden Rule permanently displayed above the board at the front of the classroom. As the teacher is going over all the necessary details on the first day of school, some youngster (usually a boy) is going to point and ask, "What is that for?" The Christian teacher had better be prepared with a good answer, because that child is going to re-read that message and think about it every day of the school year. He is going to watch his teacher to see how that message is lived out in someone's life. He is going to sagely repeat those words as a warning when a classmate gets in trouble. When the year ends, he is going to carry those words with him for the rest of his life because they have become written on his heart.

Values should also be reflected in the poster at the front of the teacher's classroom which concisely states three to five classroom "rules." Having such a list of rules posted is a standard classroom management procedure, and teachers have the freedom to create their own lists. Stating rules in a positive format is generally preferred; therefore using a Ten Commandments format with "thou shalt not" would probably be frowned upon. However, using famous maxims (i.e., "Honesty is the best policy") or portions of scripture verses (i.e., "Speak the truth") could work well. Some key words which might be included in a list of rules are honor, respect, obey, honesty, kindness, etc. The classroom rules should be clearly explained including the source (see my article Daring to Discuss Religion in the Classroom), modeled by the teacher, and firmly (but lovingly) enforced at all times. 

Values training should also be evident in the teacher's classroom expectations. The teacher must model these expectations and refer to them frequently. For instance, using a paraphrase of Isaiah 40:31, the author of this article challenges public school students to "S.O.A.R. like eagles." The acronym "S.O.A.R." stands for Scholarship, Organization, Attitude, and Responsibility -- the four areas in which students are expected to give their best at all times. Pupils are warned that they won't "get off the ground" in her class if they don't at least try to live up to these expectations. Every key lesson on values/morals which children need to learn can be classified under one of these four categories of expectations.

Another area through which a Christian teacher can instill values is that of classroom discipline. An important aspect of training children is enforcement of rules and expectations. The word "discipline" means "to condition or train" and comes from the Latin disciplina "instruction, knowledge." Discipline involves chastisement which brings about correction of behavior or attitude. Although many discipline strategies have been touted and/or denigrated over the years, the Christian teacher needs to focus on the strategies of the greatest Teacher of all. His strategy was to show disapproval, but provide correction with kindness.

An excellent example can be found in Mark 10:13-16. The followers of Jesus were called "disciples" which indicates they were being conditioned or trained in the knowledge of their Lord and Savior. They were His students. When the disciples turned away people with small children away, Jesus was "much displeased" or "very indignant." Yet He merely spoke to them about their attitude and went on to demonstrate the correct way to behave, explaining why their action was wrong. All this was apparently done in the presence of a crowd of parents and children since Scripture says He took the children up in His arms even as He was speaking. Were the disciples embarrassed? Probably. Were their tender psyches damaged? Well, perhaps wounded, but just enough to make them more considerate in the future. Did they remember the lesson? Undoubtedly! Did the reprimand make them angry and rebellious? Apparently not. It couldn't when they heard compassion in the Master's voice and saw love in His eyes. Through discipline, the Master taught a mini-lesson on tolerance and acceptance while modeling such virtues as self-control, gentleness, patience, peace, and love (Galatians 5:22-23).

An old maxim says "Actions speak louder than words." Christian teachers need to remember that a large percent of what they teach is through their example rather than their words. Students need lessons, not sermons. Providing values education in a public school classroom is not only legal, but it is encouraged by government guidelines. According to the guidelines, schools may not shy away from providing values education simply because the values coincide with those held by various religions. The values which our government holds dear, and directs the school to teach, are basically biblical principles since those were the principles on which our country was founded and on which it must operate in order to continue as a strong democratic republic. Thus, Christian teachers working in the public school mission field have the God-given, government-sanctioned, responsibility to teach good morals, to set a godly example, and to be willing to discuss the principles of right and wrong.


  1. John W. Whitehead. The Rights of Religious Persons in Public Education. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991, 222.
  2. Quote can ve viewed at National Character Counts Week Proclamation
  3. See quote at Presidential Prayer Team Newsletter, June 20, 2003.
  4. To view this quote and others by founding fathers read "Original Intent: Founding Fathers Wisdom," by Larry A. Rice.
  5. Thomas Paine. Common Sense, Appendix, 1776. The entire "Appendix" is available at
  6. J. David Gowdy. "Quotes on Liberty and Virtue." Available at
  7. For pictures and more information about "Hornbooks" go to "Really Neat Books."
  8. Publication began in the 1690's. There are no extant copies of the earliest editions. To examine a copy of a later edition go to "Pages of 1805 New England Primer."
  9. For information on William Holmes McGuffey go to The Memory of McGuffy, by Kevin Wilson (Ohio: Miami University), 2006.
  10. D. James Kennedy, Character & Destiny: A Nation in Search of Its SOUL. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994, 208.
  11. To read the entire document go to Government Guidelines.
  12. Mathew Staver. "Religion and Morality Are Indispensable For Civil Government" [on-line article]. Orland, FL: Liberty Counsel. Accessed at
  13. "United States Presidents: James Madison." The Junto Society, copyright 2002. Accessed at
  14. Calvin Coolidge, Address Before the Pan American Conference, Havana, Cuba, January 16, 1928.  Accessed at
  15. Harry S. Truman. "Address Before the Attorney General's Conference on Law Enforcement," February 15, 1950. The entire speech is available at Truman President Museum and Library.
  16. David Barton. "Quotes from the Founding Fathers: The Importance of a Moral Society". Last updated October 2007.
  17. Tim LaHaye. The Battle for the Public Schools: Humanism's Threat to Our Children. Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1983, 197 and 199.

The contents of this article reflect the authorís views acquired through research and experience. The author is not engaged in rendering any legal professional service. The services of a professional person are recommended if legal advice or assistance is needed. The author and disclaim any loss or liability to any person or entity with respect to loss or damage caused, or alleged to be caused, directly or indirectly by the utilization of any information contained in this article.

All right reserved. Copyright ©2003 by B. Jane Kulp

This material may be quoted in written form but give credit where credit is due (authorís name, title of article, and web site address: It may not be reprinted for commercial publication. It may be copied or reprinted for distribution as long as it is given away and no charge is made for copies, shipping, or handling.

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