■ By Miguel Zapater Cornejo / Contributed
Schoolyard bullying is just one more manifestation of violence in our society. Due to its negative effects on children, many school districts and the U.S. Department of Education have developed policies to address it. As with many other forms of violence, its origin comes from the fact that human nature is not naturally good, but can be improved with education.
The specific and proper aim of education is to train people to act the right way. But to fulfill this purpose, education must be comprehensive and encompass all the capacities and dimensions of a person, from physical to spiritual, including cognitive skills (senses, mind, memory, creative imagination), sensitivities (feelings, emotions and passions), and acts and virtues (prudence, strength, justice and temperance), all of which form the basis of moral education.
From ancient Greece until the 1970s, moral education was a priority in school. Today’s society is complex, with a recent crisis of values, the emergence of new technologies and their premature use by children and adolescents. Therefore, it is indispensable to insist, more than ever before, in youngsters’ moral education in different and successive phases of their development, including:
Functional disciplines – birth to age 3
The first stage corresponds to functional disciplines (everything related to nurturing, sleeping, washing, bladder/bowel control), and means a first submission to an order of societal morals. This stage is particularly important for structuring the child’s brain, by means of impressions from the outside world through the senses. It is therefore important to create a suitable family atmosphere. The genetic basis is modified by the number and quality of sensations the child receives.
Developmental stage ages 3-7
This is the stage where morals, good manners, habits, and values develop. Obedience is considered as the first of virtues. It relies, at the same time, on submission to the orders given and to prohibitions established, always in a reasonable way, after the age of 4. The child’s love for their parent rests on confidence and admiration. Moral education is made easier to a great extent when home and school offer the warmth and friendliness and the good examples they need.
Moral norms and rules – ages 7-11
This is the stage of moral norms and rules. Children have to accept behavior rules, whose sense and significance they begin to understand, and perform them during play. It is different from the previous stage, due to not being a compulsory demand, but being based on a standard considered as good and valuable for everybody. Its virtues or values are loyalty, mutual aid, and above all, justice as a central concept. This is the moment to begin learning school regulations, local laws, those of their autonomous community, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and for believers, the Commandments of God’s Law, even though these have a different origin.
Development of personal morals — ages 11 and older
This is when children develop personal, autonomous or post-conventional morals. This is a difficult age (preadolescence and adolescence), due to great changes happening in their bodies and minds. Some of these values include self-sacrifice, sincerity, compassion, heroism, courage, and respect for one’s word when it is given. Parents and teachers have to be vigilant to provide the aid required to help develop these traits.
And for this to happen, homes and schools at every stage of the education system must satisfy psychological and basic needs of affection, success, sense of life, and provide students with the necessary conditions for practicing every value and norm, in order for them to become good habits, without neglecting monitoring, especially for students with difficulties.
Miguel Zapater Cornejo holds a doctorate of science in education. He writes for the Independent Forum of Opinion.