This article is a reflection following the murders in France. A printable version is available here15/01/15
Recent heart-rending events in Paris; witnessing the cold-blooded murder of innocent people, are cause for deep reflection.
Values-based schools may find it helpful to reflect on the impact their work with students may have to help reduce divisions in society.
Teachers in VbE schools appreciate that by thinking about universal, positive human values, such as respect and compassion, pupils are immersed in an ethical vocabulary, which helps them to develop ethical intelligence. Such intelligence feeds the mind so that it is more focussed on altruism and peace.
A Values-based Response
The response to the Paris shootings was a immense outpouring of support for the universal values of liberty and tolerance. In this context, the hope for liberty is based around freedom for people to live their lives as they choose, without interference from others. Tolerance is intensely entwined around this type of freedom.
It is no accident that the response was peaceful. Talking about and sharing values is a deeply unifying process, and one that provides enormous security and comfort. The French response may be considered as the model of a values-based response to a human atrocity.
Schools can be seen as a microcosm of society. Many of values-based schools are made up of very diverse ranges of families, with potential for the same sort of pressures that we have witnessed in France. When schools work effectively with values, they give their students first hand experience of using values as the basis for problem solving. It raises students' awareness of their own values, helping them to bring those values to influence their behaviour.
It is not surprising that such values development helps to create harmony even in diverse communities. Students are more aware of each other’s desires; they are sensitive to their own and to each other’s needs, and they have a common language to resolve their differences.
Reflections for Primary Schools
In the light of the terrible events in Paris, we invite schools to explore the values of freedom and tolerance. When considered along with the many other values that values-based schools work with, they will help to prevent the unrestrained welling up of hatred and mistrust.
Reflections for Secondary Schools
Students at secondary schools may wish to extend their reflections. Less than a week after the shootings, there were already worrying murmurs from the Muslim Banlieux (impoverished suburbs) that their way of life was not being given the same level of respect that the mainstream French communities enjoy. How can values-based schools create a unified or common understanding of values? Are there any lessons for community leaders in establishing a common way forward, based in mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance of other people's way of life? What barriers must each community break down from inside to achieve this freedom for everyone to live as they choose?
Values-based response to the murders in France
What is it that possesses three healthy men in the prime of life to believe they are better off murdering over a dozen people, and dying in the process?
Such behaviour is a manifestation of a deep mental sickness within many advanced societies that affects many people, well beyond the terrorist extremists who carried out their bloody attack in Paris last week.
Such atrocities occur when people fail to realise that the goal of life is happiness for all. An understanding of happiness, not as a fluctuating superficial state of mind, based on circumstances or mood; but, a deep appreciation that the goal of life is the flourishing of the human mind.
As arresting as the violence of the terrorists was the contrast of the peaceful response by French citizens. It came from millions, as an outpouring of controlled, sincerely felt emotion, centred on deeply held human values. Just as people who think they are worthless in the eyes of others feel worthless themselves, people who are part of a community with strongly shared values feel a sense of belonging, comfort and security.
Values can be seen to unite people, irrespective of their beliefs.
So it was especially notable that the French response focused so deeply on freedom and tolerance. The discussions around freedom focused on the freedom to live life however you choose. Tolerance is the value that drives one person's behaviour to give another the sense of freedom. By discussing these values so explicitly, and discussing what is meant by it, communities were able to come together in unity, around a central set of values.
Yet there are now murmurs from the Muslim Banlieux (impoverished suburbs in France) questioning why their way of life is not being accorded the same level of respect that the mainstream French communities demand? It is a valid question, not one that justifies murder and self-destruction in most people's eyes, but one that does question the integrity of the values being espoused by some.
Values have the transformational power to heal divisions and create a sense of togetherness and unity within even the most diverse communities, providing people are willing to engage authentically with their own values, and to apply the values they wish of others to their own behaviour. Discussion of what values are important is a start, providing it leads onto a discussion of what the entwined values mean in practice. This creates a shared understanding of specific values that provides the basis from which to develop positive, enduring relationships of mutual respect and support.
Dr Neil Hawkes
Founder of the International Values-based Education Trust (IVET)