The moral education offered by dime novels is more correctly called moralizing: the direct inculcation of an adult’s values upon the young. This method is less effective now than in the past, when it was easier to define “desirable” values.
I am as uncomfortable with this method of education as I am with adopting a laissez-faire attitude. I do not believe that students will make “right” and beneficial decisions if they’ve not had the opportunity or experience of determining their ideals and values, their sense of right and wrong; stating their beliefs and reasons; responding to what they’re taught; choosing. Our students are trying to find moral answers for themselves through the daily steps they take, noticing what is just, what is unjust, making their decisions.
Values clarification education offers the opportunity of choosing. Values clarification is concerned with the process of valuing rather than with the content of a person’s values. This approach, formulated by Louis Raths, holds that valuing is composed of seven sub-processes:
1. Prizing and cherishing one’s beliefs and behaviors;
2. Publicly affirming beliefs, when appropriate;
3. Choosing one’s beliefs and behaviors from alternatives;
4. Choosing after consideration of consequences;
5. Choosing freely;
6. Acting on one’s beliefs; and
7. Acting with a pattern, consistency, and repetition.
Students involved in this approach actively apply these processes to already-formed beliefs and behavior patterns and to those still emerging.
To enable my students to do this, I must offer opportunities which will help my students become aware of the beliefs and behaviors they cherish. I must help them become aware of alternatives and consequences. The work we do in class, to be of any value, must lead to action, not merely analysis and reflection. We can lay the foundation for action.
I feel there is ample opportunity to do this by incorporating the values clarification approach into our subject matter, rather than presenting it as an isolated activity. Detective fiction, centering as it does on breaches of morality, seems an ideal vehicle for employing the values clarification approach. Some of the premises which underlie the creation of detective fiction are:
1. There is such a thing as cause and effect in the universe.
2. The human mind and computers can solve problems—provided they are fed enough correct information.
3. Much of this correct information is collected through luck, careful observation, and hard work.
4. Good detective stories attempt to minimize luck and coincidence as much as possible.
5. The human mind is fascinated by its own ability to think.
I will incorporate questions centering on values issues into our discussion of and writing about the stories of mystery, detection, and suspense in this unit. In order to get my students to become alert, active readers I must go beyond the “directed reading activity” approach and ask questions which really require students to think. Many of us learned to read—and were taught to teach reading—through involvement with the directed reading activity method. Briefly:
1. Teacher provides vocabulary and background material for the reading selection; tells students what the selection is about, and provides a purpose for reading;
2. The story is read;
3. The teacher asks questions which check comprehension through literal recall, interpretation, and judgment.
When discussion begins, it is all too obvious that students are going for the “right” answer, for the important details and ideas have already been decided upon. When “thought” questions are asked to encourage divergent thinking, students may be loath to answer for they’re used to going for the one right answer. Questions formed using the values clarification approach would help circumvent this. Piquing students’ curiosity by asking them to speculate about what they might read in a story will be stressed. Students will have to think in a logical manner about possible story directions, as they try to anticipate what will happen based on the few clues they’ve been given. They will hypothesize as they continue to read, speculate, and draw on their own experiences and beliefs. Students will be encouraged to
, justify opinions with evidence from the text, consider alternatives.
The time structure for T.A.G. classes dictates that short stories be used in this unit. This dictate is a happy example of poetic justice, for in America the detective story began as a short story with Poe’s Dupin. Tightly-woven short stories of detection deal with the unusual rather than the commonplace and demand a more active involvement on the part of the reader, as he/she follows the “ideal reader” in the story, the detective. The detective story depends on a reader who perceives himself as a super-reader, not an ordinary or casual one, following the material details of a story or identifying with the characters.
A major drawback with using short stories is that false leads all too often cannot be followed. The reasoning process may seem too pat, for it must be compressed.
Stories of detection and suspense, dealing as they do with violations of the social order, dovetail nicely with the values clarification approach. Stories which will be included in this unit have been chosen with particular attention paid to student interest, reader involvement, and application of the values clarification approach. I feel all the stories will help students develop better insights into themselves, their values, and the world they live in.
I’ve adapted an approach to formulating questions suggested by Leland and Mary Howe in
. After selecting the topic or theme I want to teach, I set up a grid labeled Fact, Concepts, Personal Experience, and Personal Values. Fact questions have right and wrong answers. Concept questions do not have clear-cut answers; they require thinking which results in a reasonable explanation. Personal experience questions will help the students to relate the facts and concepts to their own lives. Personal values questions and activities ask students to take positions on values issues related to the story under study. For the purposes of this unit, the questioning approach will be used primarily with mysteries. I believe it can be used with a variety of literature, and look forward to doing so.
“The Mother Goose Madman” by Betty Ren Wight is a tale of revenge. Julia Martell, an editor of children’s books, is being terrorized by a person whose threats, with allusions to Mother Goose tales, arrive in the mail. The safety of Julia’s world and apartment is violated. After some fairly elementary detection work, Julia learns the identity of her tormentor— almost too late.
In working through values-related questions for “The Mother Goose Madman,” my questionnaire would look like the grid on the following page.
In teaching this and other stories in the unit, a routine presentation would help deal with time constraints. After being told the title of the story we’re about to read, students will be asked to speculate about the story. All predictions are acceptable. Students will read until there’s a natural break in the story and will decide whether they want to stick with their predictions. Students are now asked to predict what will happen next and tell why they think so, relying on their logical reasoning. The discussion after reading would center on personal experience and values questions but not to the omission of fact and concept questions.
My fifth grade reader-detectives can participate in, think about, solve,and discuss baffling tales of mystery and suspense while discovering important aspects of their selves. The “Why?” question which unlocks the motive at the heart of a mystery can be tied in to values education. “Why?” will help students identify their values and realize their importance.