Already this year, we’ve seen a lot of evil: suicide bombings, the attacks in Paris, religious persecution, Boko Haram and ISIS. These have all outraged the world—and rightly so. But here’s a question worth pondering: will our kids be able to recognize evil when they see it? Do they even believe in moral facts?
Well, that’s the question one educator asked recently in The New York Times after making a surprising discovery about what his child was learning in school.
Justin McBrayer, an associate professor of ethics at Fort Lewis College, says he couldn’t figure out why the high school graduates showing up in his classroom had no concept of moral truth. The overwhelming majority of freshmen, he says, “view[ed] moral claims as mere opinions that are not true,” or are true only in a relative sense.
McBrayer was puzzled about this until he visited a school open house with his second-grade son. It was there that he encountered a pair of signs hanging prominently in the classroom. The first read, “Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.” The next one said, “Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.”
Startled by this oversimplification, McBrayer was sure it must be a fluke. So he went home and Googled “fact vs. opinion.” And sure enough, he found lesson plans from educators around the country that alarmed him.
“…students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions,” McBrayer writes. “They are given quizzes in which they must sort out claims into one camp or the other but not both.”
The problem with this, he explains, is that many claims don’t fit nicely into either category. Many claims are both facts and opinions, because opinions, of course, can be true or false. And he decided to test whether his son understood this.
“I believe that George Washington was the first president,” he said to him. “Is that a fact or an opinion?” And the second-grader’s blank expression when the statement didn’t fit his categories, McBrayer writes, said it all.
But it gets even worse. A little digging reveals that public schools today teach, as a matter of course, that all value claims are opinions, not facts. One grade-school worksheet, for example, categorized the statements “copying homework is wrong,” “cursing in school is inappropriate,” and “all men are created equal,” as opinions—not facts…
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