Cornerstone Values More Than A Programme

John Heenan

Early in October 1996 a flyer introducing principals and boards of trustees to Cornerstone Values - A Values Education Curriculum was posted to all New Zealand schools. At the time trustees of The New Zealand Foundation For Values Education Inc. were cautioned not to be disappointed if only 1% of schools responded but to be encouraged if the response rate reached 3%. At the end of about six weeks 9% of New Zealand schools had responded to the mailing.

Notwithstanding that the flyers arrived at a busy time of the school year and that many would have been discarded with little more than a glance, the 9% response in fact represented a cross section of New Zealand schools in terms of location, type, size and socio-economic classification. The representative nature of the response makes it highly significant.

Media reports generated further responses. From the responses some common themes emerged. Concern and apprehension about student behaviour, anxiety that if the changes in student behaviour of recent years continued unabated effective teaching and school management would be placed in jeopardy, and a lack of confidence in the likelihood of either current interventions or thinking to redress the situation.

Comment was made that Cornerstone Values, unlike many curricula, was readable, that it did not attempt to say all things to all people and that it preserved an integrity by the unequivocal statement of its basic assumption that right and wrong do exist.

The response confirmed the impression of The New Zealand Foundation For Values Education that there is in this country, as in many others, an emerging receptivity to the understanding that individual character and the development of civility and responsible citizenship are inextricably interwoven. That there is a link between private and public virtue and that the hands off position of the relativism of recent decades is not nearly as neutral as it professes to be.

Even though the curriculum includes detailed teaching and learning objectives and an appendix of resources some expressed surprise, even disappointment, that Cornerstone Values is not a package of model lessons, worksheets, overhead projector transparencies, video tapes and the like. While these may be welcomed by the busy class teacher they are secondary to an understanding of the principles that are the basis of the publication.

Cornerstone Values is much more than a programme with an array of attractive resources. It is a curriculum which involves the teaching and practice of a set of simple values which inform and influence everything that happens in a school community regardless of whether it is in the classroom, the school corridor, the playground or the staffroom. This set of values underpins teaching and learning, administration and management, the selection of programmes and resources and the conduct of the complex web of relationships that is a school.

It acknowledges that there is a set of universal values that is worthy of any school aspiring to.

Cornerstone Values encourages a school to develop an ethos built upon a shared set of values that are consistent, universal, transcultural and which inform an individual's actions and activities.

A true universally accepted value builds character which produces behaviour that is beneficial for both the individual, others and the community. These values enhance the well being of all; prevent harm to both individuals and society; are the essence of healthy personal relationships and build a sense of community.

The eight Cornerstone Values are honesty and truthfulness, kindness, consideration and concern for others, compassion, obedience, responsibility, respect and duty.

All have only positive and constructive outcomes which benefit others as well as self. They reproduce themselves as they are practised. They are given as they are gained and gained as they are given. Their reciprocal character makes them an essential ingredient of open and positive interpersonal relationships.

Honesty, for example, is returned as trust, respect and loyalty. consideration as courtesy, gentleness and helpfulness.

In addition to presenting the links between the development of character, civility, responsible citizen and community, Cornerstone Values outlines a three step decision making process and emphasises the importance of accepting responsibility for one's own behaviour and actions.

As all teachers know parents are best able to impart Cornerstone Values. They are the child's first and most important teachers of values. Indeed, nothing can ever replace the home as the place where cornerstone values are taught and observed.

It is in the home that with or without parents' help children during their earliest years begin developing values and attitudes. This is both a conscious and unconscious process that takes place simply by watching their parents, being.

What is taught and observed in the home is far more influential on children than what is taught in a school or in any other way. Nevertheless, there is an important role for the school to play in the teaching these precepts. Apart from precept and example this is best achieved by drawing attention to the traits of character that are most desirable, teaching what they are and why they deserve both admiration and allegiance.

This is best achieved by building a moral literacy; the ability to recognise and practise Cornerstone Values and virtues.

Moral literacy is absorbed from stories and literature. Through these children of all ages are able to see what Cornerstone Values look like, what they are in practice , how to recognise them and how they work. Children develop in their mind a picture of the way things should be , and how people can act, when they are at their best.

Because there are thousands of finely crafted stories, from all cultures, that make Cornerstone Values come alive for children there is no need for the busy teacher to reinvent the wheel.

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