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Values in Education: Democratic Values
Jul 1, 2012
"Sentences are correct if you are right."

Yunus Emre

People need to understand the values, ideas and practices in their society. Values relate to our purpose in life and are used as guiding principles. Hence, they are the indispensable basic principles of people and communities. The primary purpose of this study is to explain what we mean by values and then put into place the importance of democratic values in society and education. Therefore, I firstly describe values and the importance of values in society today. Next, I focus on defining democratic values in the educational system.

What are values? Parker (2005) defines values as what is worth striving for, what is right, wrong, and desirable, what is important, what is preferred, what constitutes worthy life focus, and what may be worth sacrificing one's life for. Values are the standards we use to judge human behavior. They are abstract conceptions and cannot be observed directly, but they emerge from our decisions and actions. In society, values change from culture to culture, but almost all societies have many values in common, such as, Aesthetic Values (what is right and wrong, or good and bad); Ethical Values (honesty, respect, reliability, love, trust, and gratitude); Moral Values (honesty, respect, responsibility, commitment, helpfulness, cooperation, courage, confidence, stability); Social Values (equality, pacifism, freedom, human rights, democracy, independence, environmentalism, social order, love, fairness, seriousness, civility, honesty, loyalty); Universal Values (multiculturalism, human rights, democracy); Democratic Values (an individual's fundamental rights and freedoms [right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness], justice, equal opportunity, and diversity).

As seen above, there are many kinds of values outlined in literature, most of which overlap and are hybrid combinations of one another. Social, Universal and Democratic values are possible to evaluate in the same category. All of these values complement each other. Individual and Social values are common in all societies.

According to Feather (1994), values are general beliefs about popular behaviors and goals which include the dimensions of good and evil and state a moral imperative and necessity. These values represent the best, most accurate and most useful things in a society. These are not personal desires or requests, but are values that have been accepted by groups and communities as good for everyone. They have the distinction of being desirable and validating communal properties (Cited Hogg & Vaughan, 2007). Silah (2000) refers to them as the most important mechanisms in society. They are integral and inseparable elements of social cohesion. A community that adopts and gathers around the same goal, establishes both individual and social values. These values are transferred and protected from generation to generation.

For some researchers, values such as loyalty, love and friendship, respect, the ability to accomplish something, honesty and responsibility, knowledge and understanding, satisfaction and a sense of peace, wealth, the impact on others, or power are generally accepted in all societies. Rokeach (1968) suggests that many values are similar throughout the world and are divided into two as main values and assistant values. Main values are values that are desirable such as living a comfortable and exciting life, a life with integrity (a sense of success), a peaceful world, a world of beauty, equality, family safety, freedom, happiness, interior layout, national security, satisfaction, liberation, salvation, self-esteem, social acceptance (recognition), real friendship, wisdom. Assistant values are desires and behavior, for example, greed (passion), open-mindedness, capable, cheerful, innocent, courageous, forgiving, helpful, honorable, creative, independent, intellectual, logical, loving, obedient, polite, responsible and self-regulatory. Most of these values emerged from social relations and are the basis of a society's cultural code.

Durkheim stated that society must maintain enough homogeneity to lead its people to live in order and this homogeneity could be possible only through an education educating the young equally. Creating and developing psychological, mental and moral occasions that society desires in a child are among the most important goals of education (Ergün, 2009). It is required that some values should be gained by each individual to enter into the educational system in order to maintain harmony in society and to help focus society on the same target by gathering them around the same goal (Tezcan, 1991). Thus, values and culture are protected by transferring them from generation to generation. Value-based education plays an important role in transferring values and culture to future generations. Value-based education is a process that assists students to choose values.

Today in many countries, all classes and levels of students are educated to become future citizens and adult members of their society. Value-based education is usually a part of a country's education system and these values are mostly individual and social values which generally are directly recommended by authorities. They are not only taught in the education system, but also presented in textbooks and curricula. In a developing society, it is schools which reflect the values of the society, values such as self-discipline, consensus, equality, tolerance, fairness, loyalty, honesty, freedom and so forth. According to Parker (2005), personal values refer simply to what individuals like, preferring films to television, yellow to blue, bicycling to jogging. Today, industrialized societies involve an incredible amount of choice: how to spend our time, what career to choose, what clothes to buy and to wear, where to live, what brand products to consume, what hobbies and leisure-time activities to pursue, and how to spend money. In fact, each decision offers choices of individual preferences. Therefore, in schooling, educators must be taught democratic values rather than personal values.

Many countries today place individual and social values in their educational system, however they neglect democratic values. Parker (2005) stated that democratic values are what people hold in common alongside their many differences. Democratic values are general values. They emerge from historical encounters and conflicts. While individual values are based on cultural and societal standards, democratic values depend mostly on regulations. In the United States, democratic values are expressed in legal and public documents. For example, the philosophical foundations of democratic values are based on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United Sates, Bill of Rights, the Seneca Falls Resolution, and the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and many others. Democratic values are more commonly adopted today, however, there are good examples in history in which core components of democracy were legally practiced. After the conquest of Istanbul, Sultan Fatih Mehmet formed the Ottoman National System (Osmanli Millet Sistemi) framed by democratic values. According to this system, different confessional groups were able to pursue their legal issues in separate courts designed according to their religious and cultural traditions.

A value code is hard to separate from other democratic values. Individual rights demonstrate both democratic and social values, as well as individual values. Today's social changes show modern values replacing traditional values for social reconciliation in the world.

We generally teach individual and social values in the educational system. But can we also teach democratic values in the school system? The answer is simply yes, we can teach democratic values and we must. It is difficult to explain all the reasoning here, however, I want to explain the concept of diversity in order to clarify the issue. Diversity is inevitable in a democratic society and this concept is perceived as a value with growing importance. Today, teachers have to work with students who are highly diverse, particularly in regard to language, culture, race and so forth. Therefore students will want to learn differences in all aspects of life in a democratic society. Individual values are required but they are not enough on their own so value-based education should also be a part of democratic society. In order to build citizens of the future and to be a citizen of the world, students must embrace democratic values and the society of the future must be built on this. Today, developing countries have many problems related to region, religion, race and sex, most of which results from the lack of democratic values. These problems have melted in democratic values. In many countries now, value-based education is given in education systems. As mentioned above, the United States is one of these counties built on democratic society that is true and it is possible to see such democracy in different layers of society.

The societies that have embraced democratic values generally have no conflict or major social problems arising from differences in race, sex, religion, region, color, and so forth. There are many reasons for this. Democratic values are catalysts in the prevention of conflicts that are likely to arise between different groups, peers, friends, and nations; they provide social integration, acceptance, and recognition. In a democratic society, individuals earn a perspective that covers both local and universal conditions, and they are expected to fulfill an essential service to the community related to a common good. Each person enjoys freedom of speech and opportunities to express their ideas and feelings, as their rights of protection and happiness are reinforced. Today, many individual and social values exist in our world and the topic of democratic values has increasingly attracted the attention of education in recent years. This being the case, students should learn and embrace values from both the formal and the hidden curriculum. In fact, both curriculums have a profound impact on what students learn about values particularly individual and social values. The reality is that the education system of many states has not yet received enough democratic values in both curricula. Unless schools or educational intuitions are offered a program of democratic values and behavior, students will not learn efficiently from them. Howe and Covell (2005) claim that "democratic values must be reflected in both the formal curricula, through explicit teaching, and throughout the hidden curriculum codes of conduct, mission statements and classroom interactions that model democracy and respect for the rights of all." Democratic citizenship can emerge by reflecting education through democratic values in both curricula. In this direction, we are responsible for helping children develop an appreciation of core democratic values and we must help them develop a sense of commitment and attachment to those values.

Sarimurat is pursuing a PhD degree in social studies education in the US.


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