Most Canadians think schools should teach morals and values, but which ones?

By Ian Holliday

January 21, 2016 – One of the most surprising findings from the Angus Reid Institute’s recent poll on morality was the widespread agreement with the statement “Public education should put more emphasis on teaching morals and values.”

Fully three-quarters of Canadians (76%) agree with this statement, including solid majorities of each of the four population segments identified in the poll (see the infographic describing the segments here).

As might be expected, the two most heavily religious segments – the Traditional Absolutists and the Religious Moralists – are especially keen on putting additional emphasis on teaching morals and values in public schools (86% and 85%, respectively, agree).

More interesting, however, is that the largely non-religious segments are also fairly heavily in favour of teaching morality in schools. Seven-in-ten Non-religious Moralists (70%) and more than six-in-ten Amoralists (62%) agree with the statement.

Obviously, despite their broad agreement on this statement, there are still some significant differences between the segments. These differences are driven almost entirely by how many respondents in each group “strongly agree,” as seen in the following graph:

Angus Reid Institute

One possible explanation for the high rate of agreement with this statement could be that schools are not currently perceived to be doing a good job teaching children about morality, values, and ethics.

Countless articles have been written over the years about the idea that public education should have a larger role in teaching children to live moral lives.

The problem with these proposals, of course, is that what’s considered moral or immoral can vary significantly from person to person, and crafting a morality curriculum that everyone can agree on is therefore easier said than done.

Given what we know about what each segment believes to be morally acceptable and what each believes to be morally wrong, it seems fair to say the Traditional Absolutists have a very different idea of what it would mean for schools to teach morals and values than, say, the Non-religious Moralists. The same is true of the other two groups.

It’s tempting to wonder if there might be some baseline of morality that everyone agrees upon. ARI’s recent poll suggests that “don’t cheat on your spouse” might be a good starting point. Roughly nine-in-ten Canadians (89%) say doing so is either always or usually morally wrong.

While they weren’t included in the poll, “don’t hurt other people and don’t kill them” seem likely to garner similarly universal responses. Perhaps, then, the moral values people want schools to teach could be summed up as “the Golden Rule:” To treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself.

Beyond that, though, it might take a follow-up poll to figure out exactly what morals and values Canadians would like public schools to teach.

Image Credit: Alvin Trusty

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