Robert Peal describes the madness of PSHE — Personal, Social and Health Education:
From teenage pregnancy to cyber-bullying, PSHE teachers are expected to teach away an ever-increasing list of society’s ills.
However, these high hopes for PSHE lessons fatally misunderstand how young minds work. As anyone who has tried to reason with a teenager knows, you cannot rationally teach ‘values’. You have to instil them. Values are transmitted culturally, by placing a youngster in an environment that encourages their cultivation. Our school environment is, to be blunt, one that cultivates laziness, anti-academia, reliance on teachers, disrespect and bad manners. The year sevens who arrived in the school in September were, for the most part, polite little angels. But they are already taking on the mores of their environment, and rudeness is replacing politeness, laziness replacing hard work. Our school makes pupils worse.
In an age of moral relativism, schools have become scared of actively promoting virtues. Instead, they treat pupils as perfectly rational creatures who only need to be educated on matters to ensure they make the right decisions. Thus, we teach lessons on the health dangers of cannabis, but turn a blind eye when pupils come into lessons visibly stoned. We teach lessons on the need to foster a good work ethic, but passively tolerate lazy, disengaged behaviour in the classroom.
Humans are not rational, and virtues (or as they are more commonly known, values) cannot be taught. Instead, they are developed through our cultural surroundings. What Aristotle wrote two millennia ago about virtue ethics is still relevant to schools today: ‘we acquire virtues by first having put them into practice.’