National School Lessons Teach Skepticism of Moral Truths

Contemporary public school education teaches children what amounts to moral relativism. That's a serious problem, explains philosophy professor Justin McBrayer.

In contemporary public school education, a core concept that teachers emphasize is the difference between facts and opinions. But the simplicity with which these terms are defined results in teaching what amounts to moral relativism, explains Fort Lewis College philosophy professor Justin P. McBrayer at The New York Times.


There is no question that schools, teachers, and creators of the Common Core curriculum (which emphasizes the distinction as a crucial learning tool) have good intentions. At first glance, the distinction seems like a credible way of teaching topics ranging from media literacy and rhetoric to basic scientific competency. Let's look at how the terms are defined:

Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

There are several problems with this simplicity, says McBrayer, such as the many "facts" proven true at one time by incomplete science, e.g., phrenology and the claim that the Earth is flat. Also, facts obtain their potency through our belief in them, so facts and ideas are not exclusive concepts. But more troublesome still is that the distinction prevents moral claims from being thought of as factual. 

Statements like, "Copying homework assignments is wrong," and, "All men are created equal," are classified as mere opinion because they make claims about our values, which, of course, we think, feel, and believe to be true.

"In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths."

McBrayer points to increased rates of cheating on college campuses as a moral hazard that results from a curriculum that treats truth as something only verifiable by rudimentary scientific tools rather than by the strength and validity of moral feeling. McBrayer says understanding which moral truths are valid and which are not is hard work, but that we shouldn't shirk our responsibilities just because of that.

"Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true, but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct. That’s a hard thing to do. But we can’t sidestep the responsibilities that come with being human just because it’s hard. That would be wrong."

Read more at The New York Times.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Brain study finds circuits that may help you keep your cool

Research by neuroscientists at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory helps explain how the brain regulates arousal.

Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP/ Getty Images
Mind & Brain

MIT News

The big day has come: You are taking your road test to get your driver's license. As you start your mom's car with a stern-faced evaluator in the passenger seat, you know you'll need to be alert but not so excited that you make mistakes. Even if you are simultaneously sleep-deprived and full of nervous energy, you need your brain to moderate your level of arousal so that you do your best.

Keep reading Show less

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America

A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
  • The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
  • According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
Keep reading Show less

How pharmaceutical companies game the patent system

When these companies compete, in the current system, the people lose.

Top Video Splash
  • When a company reaches the top of the ladder, they typically kick it away so that others cannot climb up on it. The aim? So that another company can't compete.
  • When this happens in the pharmaceutical world, certain companies stay at the top of the ladder, through broadly-protected patents, at the cost of everyday people benefitting from increased competition.
  • Since companies have worked out how to legally game the system, Amin argues we need to get rid of this "one size fits all" system, which treats product innovation — "tweaks" — the same as product invention.