DYCHE | Teach our children well - WDRB 41 Louisville News

DYCHE | Teach our children well

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By John David Dyche
WDRB Contributor

Is it more important to teach children religious faith or tolerance? According to recent polling by The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conservatives are putting a relatively high priority on the former and a relatively low priority on the latter, while liberals reverse those priorities.

The Pew Research Center describes itself as a "nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world." It "conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research," but "does not take policy positions."

It recently asked participants in its American Trends Panel about "teaching 12 different qualities to children." The qualities were independence, hard work, being responsible, creativity, being well-mannered, helping others, persistence, religious faith, obedience, empathy for others, curiosity, and tolerance.

According to the report, "Responsibility ranks as the most important child-rearing value for every group – consistent conservatives, consistent liberals and those in between." There was also widespread agreement across ideological lines that "hard work" and "good manners" are among the most important qualities.

But "the starkest ideological differences are over the importance of teaching religious faith," with 81% of consistent conservatives thinking it is especially important, but only 26% of consistent liberals. Those results appear to reflect the fact that 42% of consistent liberals "are religiously unaffiliated, compared with just 6% of consistent conservatives."

Consistent conservatives ranked "religious faith" and "responsibility" together at the top. Consistent liberals put "empathy" in second place behind "responsibility."

The study shows that, "Men and women have similar value priorities for children for all but a handful of qualities. To the extent there are differences, women are more inclined to prioritize helping others and empathy."

Older people put a higher priority on teaching religious faith, and younger adults value creativity more than their elders do. College graduates put a premium on teaching "empathy, curiosity, tolerance, and persistence," while those with a high school education or less prize "obedience, religious faith, and being well-mannered" more.

African-Americans place greater importance "on teaching children religious faith" than do other groups. Almost 70% of them say it is especially important.

So what are Americans to make of this largely stereotype-reinforcing data? Our initial reaction should perhaps be relief and celebration that so many adults still believe that it is appropriate for them to teach values to children at all!

Second, while it is interesting to learn how people prioritize these qualities, it might be even more important to know how many children have an adult in their life who is actually teaching them any of these traits. So bad are some economic and social trends that one reasonably wonders, indeed fears, that many children get no exposure to even the widely agreed upon qualities.

Third, just because we pay lip service to teaching a quality to children does not necessarily mean that we are doing a good job of it. The proof is in the pudding, of course, and Americans must collectively and individually make a candid assessment of our success in conveying the traits we say are important.

Fourth, there is, or at least ought to be, overlap in the values that conservatives and liberals ranked as most important. Empathy and tolerance are essential aspects of religious faith, for example, just as responsibility and hard work transcend ideological divisions. We may disagree on definitions, but can still find common ground.

Fifth, forget the children for a moment and realize that there is a need for a revival of these qualities in the lives of adults, too. Every grown up would benefit from a frank reappraisal of how her or his own life reflects the values believed to be vital to instill in our children. The young will, after all, do as we do as much or more than they do as we say.

Finally, we must renew our faith in the future and our dedication to the proposition that our children will have better lives than we have. This includes, but must not be limited to, material well-being. Americans have always dreamed big and lived large, and we should imagine a good world in the broadest possible sense for the next generations.

The Pew Research Center's research provides a valuable service not only by informing us, but also by provoking us to what ought to be an urgent consideration of these issues. Teaching our children what it means and takes to live truly good lives may be our highest calling.

John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is jddyche@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.

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