Children’s Values: What’s the most important value to teach children?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Children's Values
Classroom photo in Wikimedia

THEY’RE WAITING. WHAT ARE WE TEACHING? (Photo by Anittos, provided via Wikimedia Commons.)

Children learn their basic values at home by observing their parents’ behavior and by talking with them. However, children may or may not learn the values that are the most important to you.

What values or qualities do you think are important to instill in children? Which value is the most important one?

In a new survey, the Pew Research Center asked Americans about the values they believe are especially important to teach children. Before I reveal any findings, consider the following list of 12 values.

Which one is the most important value to teach children?

  • Curiosity
  • Religious faith
  • Obedience
  • Tolerance
  • Persistence
  • Empathy
  • Creativity
  • Independence
  • Being well-mannered
  • Helping others
  • Being responsible
  • Hard work

(Note that respondents could name up to three values as the most important.)

Here are Pew results: More than nine of ten American adults (93%) say that “being responsible” is especially important to teach children, with more than half (55%) selecting this value as the single most important one. Belief in the importance of teaching responsibility is widespread. Across the political spectrum, from consistently conservative Americans to consistently liberal Americans, responsibility is seen as the most important value to impart to children.

For example, 96% of Americans who are consistently conservative say “being responsible” is important, with well over half (61%) naming it as the most important value to each children. At the other end of the political spectrum, 92% of consistently liberal Americans say “being responsible” is especially important to teach children, with 47% naming it as the most important.

There is even more common ground when it comes to the values that Americans believe are important to teach children, as we’ll discuss tomorrow. Of course, there are also sharp differences along ideological lines, which we’ll cover later in the week.

Do you agree that “being responsible” is most important on this list?
If not, which value tops your list—and why?
What are the top three on your list of qualities children should acquire?

Children’s Values: More Common Ground than You Think?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Children's Values
Wayne Baker United America front cover

AMERICANS SHARE MORE VALUES THAN YOU MIGHT THINK. That’s the message drawn from nationwide research that went into my book “United America.” Click on the cover to learn more about this book.

Americans generally agree about several values that are especially important to teach our children. “Being responsible” is #1, as we discussed yesterday. What other values are also widely considered to be essential?

As a reminder, here are the 12 values the Pew Research Center asked about in their recent survey of the nation:

  • Curiosity
  • Religious faith
  • Obedience
  • Tolerance
  • Persistence
  • Empathy
  • Creativity
  • Independence
  • Being well-mannered
  • Helping others
  • Being responsible
  • Hard work

Half of these 12 values are widely considered to be especially important to teach children. After responsibility, “hard work” is part of the common ground. At one end of the political spectrum, 95% of consistently conservative Americans say that hard work is one of the most important values to instill in children, with 44% naming it as the most important. At the other end, 82% of consistently liberal Americans agree, with 26% naming hard works is the most important value.

Large majorities of Americans across political lines also say that “being well-mannered” and “helping others” are among the most important qualities for children to learn.

“Independence” is very important to teach children. At least three of four Americans in every political category—from consistent liberals to consistent conservatives—agree that this value is among the most important.

And, “persistence” is a key value. There is somewhat less support for this value, compared to the other five, but at least six of ten Americans in each political category say persistence is among the most important values to teach our children.

Are you surprised to learn that there is so much common ground when it comes to the values we want our children to have?

Would you put these six values—responsibility, hard work, good manners, helping others, independence, and persistence—at the top of your list?

If not, what values do you consider to be more important?

Children’s Values: Is ‘religious faith’ better than ‘tolerance’?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Children's Values
Collage of world religions from Wikimedia Commons

A WIDE ARRAY OF FAITHS: All the world’s faiths are represented in the U.S., these days. (This collage of images comes from Wikimedia Commons.)

Americans have a lot of common ground when it comes to the values we want to teach our children, as we’ve discussed so far this week. But there is also a lot of disagreement.

Consider these two values: “religious faith” and “tolerance.” Is one more important than the other? Or, do we want our children to learn both?

The Pew Research Center asked about 12 different values in their recent survey. Six are widely shared (see Part 2 in this series). Religious faith and tolerance are not among the six. Some Americans emphasize religious faith as a value that is especially important to teach children; others say that tolerance is a more important value.

Americans who are consistently conservative in their views are very likely to stress the importance of religious faith. Over eight of ten (81%) say religious faith is especially important for children to learn, with a majority (59%) ranking it among the most important values. In contrast, consistently liberal Americans say that religious faith is very unimportant for children to learn. Only a quarter (26%) say that is especially important.

We see the opposite pattern for the value of tolerance. Almost nine of ten consistent liberals (88%) say that tolerance is especially important to instill in children, with 22% saying that it is the most important value. In contrast, consistent conservatives are the least likely to say that tolerance is very important for children to learn. Only four in ten (41%) say it is especially important, with 3% saying that it is the most important value for children to have.

Do you believe that it is more important for children to learn religious faith than tolerance?
Or, is tolerance more important than religious faith?
Would you rank them both the same in importance for our children?

Children’s Values: Just how much curiosity do we want?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Children's Values
Colorado school students protest conservative curriculum

Click this collage of headlines to jump to the Los Angeles Times story.

“Curiosity” is a good value to teach our children, millions of Americans agree—however, the Pew report we are examining this week shows that liberals and conservatives are likely to disagree on its relative importance.

The eruption of protests among students and teachers in a suburb of Denver, this week, may reflect this difference. Pew did not ask specifically about the Colorado case, but a political split over “curiosity” appears to be part of the Colorado conflict.

THE NEW  YORK TIMES REPORTS, in part: “ARVADA, Colo.—A new conservative school board majority here in the Denver suburbs recently proposed a curriculum-review committee to promote patriotism, respect for authority and free enterprise and to guard against educational materials that “encourage or condone civil disorder.” In response, hundreds of students, teachers and parents gave the board their own lesson in civil disobedience. On Tuesday, hundreds of students from high schools across the Jefferson County school district, the second largest in Colorado, streamed out of school and along busy thoroughfares, waving signs and championing the value of learning about the fractious and tumultuous chapters of American history.”

The students are concerned about more than “curiosity,” but their comments in national news media make it clear that their desire to be curious is a prime motivation. In the hundreds of news reports streaming out of Colorado, teenagers are quoted as saying that they want to ask probing questions in their American history classes. They are wary of being taught from textbooks that they fear may be slanted, now, toward conservative viewpoints on our history.

PEW FOUND—Liberals are much more likely than conservatives to value curiosity as a quality they would like to see in children, according to the new Pew survey we’ve been consulting this week. Over eight of ten consistently liberals (86%) say that curiosity is especially important for to teach children. A third say it is among the most important values. Just over half of consistently conservative Americans (55%) say that curiosity is a very important value for children, with 6% saying that it is among the most important.

What do you think about the school protest this week?

Do you think the protests are motivated partly by curiosity—or other motives?

How would you resolve the Colorado conflict?

Children’s Values: Glass Half Empty, or Half Full?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Children's Values
THE PROVERBIAL GLASS OF MILK: Is it half full, or half empty?

THE PROVERBIAL GLASS OF MILK: Is it half full, or half empty?

What values should our children learn?

The new Pew study we’ve consulted this week asked about 12 different values, discovering that Americans have common ground—six values that most people agree are important to teach children. There is disagreement about six other values.

Should we interpret the findings as a “glass half full” or a “glass half empty”?

As we discussed this week, “being responsible” is the topmost value Americans believe is especially important to teach children. Common ground also includes hard work, being well-mannered, helping others, independence, and persistence. Big divides appear when it comes to the values of religious faith and tolerance, as well as the values of obedience, empathy for others, curiosity, and creativity.

It is interesting that Pew decided to emphasize the divides in its report. The subtitle, for example, is “Sharp Ideological Differences, Some Common Ground.” The first sentence of the report notes the general trend of increasing political polarization, and says that “differences between conservatives and liberals extend their long reach even to opinions about which qualities are important to teach children.”

The survey results split right down the middle—widespread agreement on six values, disagreement on six other values. An equally valid subtitle could be, “Common Ground, Some Ideological Differences.”

Why did Pew decide to emphasize the divides?

Controversy sells better than good news. Emphasizing that political polarization extends to how we raise our children is newsworthy and eye-catching. The good news of agreement on many values for children is not an attention-getter.

Do you interpret the Pew results as a “glass half full”?
Or, as a “glass half empty”?
Does good news or controversy draw your attention?