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Clarification of values can put youths on the right track

"Why do I have to do that?" "Why can't I go? Everyone else gets to go." "You can't make me wear that. No one would be seen in it." "School sucks." In general, we are all concerned about what we see as a decline in moral values. I define values as those elements that show how a person has decided to use his or her life. Children and young adults are offered many more choices than in previous generations. It is easy to drift with the crowd. We are an increasingly mobile society. We do not grow up as our parents did with generations of mores to govern us. We are not sure what is expected of us. Guns and knives were never brought to school, nordid my peers come to school high.

Television and magazines increase our sexual awareness with a bewildering array of alternatives, but not the criteria on which our choices should be made. Even the attempt to offer equal opportunities for women has confused the issues. Men who knew their right role are uncertain and frustrated. Women find they are working eight hours at home after a full shift elsewhere. One out of every three mothers is working while one of five families has a single parent, usually the mother. The divorce rate increases. We were taught about venereal disease, but now it is life-threatening AIDS.

At every turn we are forced to make decisions about how to live our lives. There is conflict in values in politics, religion, work, leisure time, education, sex, family, material possessions, art, music, friends, money, race, war and peace, rules and authority.

It is not enough to moralize, as there is no consistency about what constitutes good values. Parents can offer one set of shoulds and should nots. The church suggests another. A peer group offers a third view, and the president of the United States another, as does the latest Hollywood film or the latest offering on MTV.

Even then, what is spoken is often not what is acted upon. For instance, our son who played football in high school was told by his coach to get his grades down to a C, as his straight A's indicated he wasn't serious about football.

His home life had given priority to education, but the glamor of the sports world was emphasizing something quite alien.

This coach went on to lead the program at a major university. Compare the salary of the coach with the salary of the chemistry or English professor who generally has a doctorate. Certainly we are confronted with a value statement with a $600,000 package for a football coach. It is one thing to be homeless on a freezing night and quite another to complain of rolling blackouts that interrupt creature comforts.

Young people without values often experience conflict and confusion. A teen-ager often escapes to temporary and desperate excitements. There is no need for a decision when one is exhilarated by using crack or numbed with "Columbia Gold."

How do we help students build their own value systems? Value clarification is a legitimate way. It helps the student examine his or her own life. Keeping a journal helps focus on issues he or she faces. A teacher or parent can stimulate thinking and explore attitudes, beliefs, actions, convictions, goals and purposes with some basic questions: On Saturday I like to .

.

. If I had 24 hours to live .

.

. If I had my own car .

.

. I feel best when people .

.

. If I had $1-million I would .

.

. Secretly I wish .

.

. My children won't have to .

.

. My advice to the president would be .

.

. I believe .

.

. If I were five years older .

.

. If I had a gun I would .

.

.

A belief in oneself and the belief that one can change not only oneself but one's environment is the beginning of improvement.

It sounds simplistic, but those of us concerned will begin to regulate TV programs, will emphasize environmental concerns, will work to cure political apathy and, will challenge the status quo.

We will help youths to choose thoughtfully and reflectively, cherishing such basic values as honesty, loyalty, sympathy and self control. We will be consistent and non-judgmental.

Jan Nussbaum is a retired English teacher, writer and poet.

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