Study materials for Religious Education

Section 11: Teaching morality in religious education and some ideas about of moral/values education
This section looks at some issues relating to the way that morality might be studied in classroom religious education. It also gives attention to the ideas of moral education in values education that have sometimes been applied across the school curriculum in all school types not just in church schools.

As for all sections, view the introductory video. Then listen to the content lecture audio while attending to the main text file on this page. Arrange to have the audio file and the text page open together so you can work your way through both in an integrated fashion.

Introductory video to this section

1. Introductory video giving an introduction to the content covered in this section.Click the icon or here to view the introductory video in streaming mp4 format. Or right click if you want to download the video using the "save link" option

Brief overview of content of this section

When it comes to educating young people in morality and values, one of the principal difficulties is that there can be unrealistic expectations that the classroom can actually bring about moral change in the students. In keeping with the ideas developed throughout this unit, it is suggested that there is a need to explore how the classroom can help educate young people with respect to morality and values. Any real change in their morality and values would have to come from within the individuals themselves.

This section will be strongly oriented to the practical – to strategies and techniques that have been used to inform young people about morality and moral issues. Special attention will be given to the notion of values education. The national values education study which commenced in 2003 will be referred to.

Examples of a range of strategies used for educating young people in values will be given. This will include approaches like moral biographies, simulation games, values clarification, and conflict resolution.

Finally, some consideration will be given to ethics – the systematic study of how to deal with moral issues.

Audio mp3 file lecture of this section

2. The audio file lecture
Click the icon or here to listen to the mp3 audio lecture or to download the complete file, right click and use the "save link" option.
This presents the content for this section -- the main presentation and principal source of information on the topic. The audio lecture (34 minutes) will refer every now and again to particular parts of the accompanying text below that will easily be identified -- here you will need to pause the audio and look at the pertinent parts of the text. At times you will also need to pause the audio to look at particular sub-presentations such as video clips and powerpoint presentations. The audio lecture and the text go together.

The written text for this section (Study the text in conjunction with the audio lecture)


The changing sociocultural world and an emerging educational interest in spirituality and values in the school curriculum
Some general comments about values education in public education and in church schools
(the National Values Education Study; Living Values Project; Virtues Project; the Sydney Catholic schools Sense of the sacred program)
Values Education Pedagogy: The Trait approach and Moral Biographies
Values Education Pedagogy: Simulation Games
Determining when it would be appropriate and ethical to plan to stimulate the emotions of pupils in the classroom
Values Education Pedagogy: Values Clarification Exercises
Evaluation of Values Clarification as a pedagogy
Values education pedagogy: Analysing Moral situations and Moral Dilemmas
Values Education Pedagogy: A brief look at Conflict Resolution strategies
An example of ethical issues needing resolution and the use of ethical theory to inform decision-making
Brief note on different ethical theories that can be used
An example of the need for ethics for dealing with conflict of interests and conflicts of responsibilities
An interview with a professional ethicist

The changing sociocultural world and an emerging educational interest in spirituality and values in the school curriculum

As the social fabric has changed, those values that traditionally underpinned society have become less defined, much harder to identify and have gradually been replaced by philosophies and values systems that are indifferent, depersonalised, motivated by self interest, ambivalent and ambiguous. In a relatively short period of time the traditional points of anchorage to which our value systems were tied, such as the family and the church, have been overwhelmed by these dramatic changes in society and its core structures. The emerging values milieu is reflected in such realities as the secularisation of society, the growth of consumerism and materialism, the emphasis on economic rationalism, the development of a culture of individualism and the privatisation of faith, and increasing dependence on digital social communications.

These changes have been accompanied by the appearance of a number of deeply concerning social side effects which include, significant levels of marriage, family and relationship breakdown; accelerating growth rates in the number of suicides, particularly among the young; the emergence of a significant youth drug culture; significant evidence of low self esteem among young people; the practice of self destructive and significant risk taking behaviours, particularly among young men, and a growing sense of alienation and meaninglessness. Young people, in particular, are finding it increasingly difficult to identify the solid ground on which to build the foundations of a sound personal ethical code and hence feel isolated, uncertain, insecure and powerless. All of which contribute significantly to poor self esteem and a loss of meaning.

As society slips into a seemingly values free state, tolerance has emerged as the highest virtue in a world where 'anything goes' and 'everything is alright as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else'. The endless array of negative side effects that clutter the daily news screens suggest that just as all matter, including light, falls helplessly at an ever increasing rate into the singularity known as a black hole so to does society tempt a similar fate as it gravitates towards a moral vacuum. In a very real sense society is in the grip of a values crisis.

It is understandable that education authorities and education thinkers consider that something needs to be done in schools to try to address this situation, even if the school can only make a small contribution to solving the society wide problems. Hence there has been an emerging interest in spirituality and values in education. While the study of religion has always been concerned with educating people with respect to meaning, purpose and values, where religion is not a standard part of the school curriculum, there have been efforts to find other constructs that might be appropriate for use in public education. Remember the diagram at the start of Section 3 which showed the traditional religious sphere and the contemporary relatively secular sphere where spirituality (and also values) sit in a bridging position between traditional religious concerns and contemporary secular concerns about a spiritual and moral dimension to life.

A core component of educational practice and outcomes must be a desire to promote personal growth in our students. Education should help people find hope, meaning and value in their lives, build their esteem and help them to contribute positively to society. This change in educational theory, policy and practice has seen the development of the construct Values Education.

To gain a better understanding of the nature and role of Values Education it should be understood as part of the broader concept of education for personal growth and change and addressing the spiritual and moral dimension to the school curriculum. Education for personal growth and change is concerned with bringing about changes in values and attitudes, growth in maturity, the development of self awareness, the establishment of belief systems, aesthetic appreciation, deepening personal commitments and the like. At the heart of education for personal change we find a core set of aims. These aims as defined by Hill (1991) in Values Education in Australian Schools are:-

  • acquisition of a knowledge base concerned with traditional culture which help form contemporary culture.
  • empathy for the perceptions and feeling of others.
  • development of skills of critical and appreciative values appraisal.
  • practice and development of the skills of decision making and values negotiation.
  • encouragement to develop concern for the community and care for its members.

Before proceeding, it is crucial to differentiate between to key meanings of the construct values education. Unfortunately, if a distinction is not made, the conversation can become confused because people would not know for sure which aspect is being talked about. A worse problem is where talk about one aspect is vaguely presumed to answer questions about the second aspect.

The words values education firstly means the way in which values can be influenced by the social environment, organisation and activities of the school -- like a community osmosis influence on values development. This is the community and mainly socialisation dimension. More precisely, this is referred to as values in education. This dimension is about school community/ethos/social environment.

Secondly, the practical classroom/curriculum dimension is about how teachers conduct classes intended to help educate children with respect to values. This is about the classroom and is referred to as education in values. This dimension is about classroom and curriculum and teaching and learning processes.

Click here to download and view a short powerpoint about the values taught in two different schools in Annandale, Sydney. This raises questions about the use of the phrase teaching values. Is it more about values in education than educating in values?

Values education and moral education

Moral education is the broader term which means education that in some way might promote the study of morality and might also promote the moral development of students. Values education is a subset of moral education and is concerned with the study of values ( beliefs which people hold to be important and which can have a shaping influence on their behaviour). For most general purposes there is a significant overlap between the two. The usage here will be values education.

Some general comments about values education in public education and in church schools

Notes on the Australian Values Education Project

Australian National Values Education Project and the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools

In 1999 the National Goals for Australian Schooling in the Twenty-First Century were signed off by all of the State and Territory Education Ministers in a document that became known as the Adelaide Declaration. A key component of these goals identified the significant role that schools play in the moral and spiritual development of young people. In response to this in 2002 MYCEETA commissioned a Values Education Study to identify a framework for a national approach to values education. In 2004 the Federal Government announced a four year project to embed values education in Australian schools. This includes the launch of the Framework, school based values forums, a drug education strategy and an invitation to schools to apply for grants to assist with the development of values education projects that model best practice. In 2005 26 school clusters accessed grants of up to $100 000 to develop and deliver projects that modeled ways to integrate values learning into school practice. A second stage of this project have been launched in 2006. In June 2006 A values for Australian Schooling resource kit was developed to support schools with the implementation of the National framework.

The National Project funded curriculum development initiatives and a number of national forums on values education. But since Brendan Nelson moved from the position of Minister for Education it appeared that subsequent ministers, from both sides of politics, were not as interested and as committed as he was to the Values Education Project. They had other agendas like national curriculum, my schools websites, linking teacher pay to student performance etc. While it still remains, it appears to be on the wane.

Nevertheless, it is worth checking and perusing what was done in the program. There is a link to the Federal Government Departments Values Education site and also a link to the Educational Services Australia, which took over the role of the former Curriculum Corporation.

Have a quick look at the scope of the Government's Values Education website, related to the National Values Education Project. Material now located on the Cu

Click here to download the National Values Education Framework in pdf file format. Get an idea of its key understandings of what values education is about. But remember it is a 'big picture' overview document.It does not go into practical details.


Some values education programs tried in Australian public and independent schools

Some overseas programs in values education have been tried in Australian schools, as reported in the forums of the National Values Education Study. Below are links to two programs that can be looked at briefly.

For quick perusal

The Living Values Education Project follows up the UNESCO 1996 document A treasure within with an international values education project. The program is run by an international group.

The Virtues project is another international values education program that some Australian schools have tried out.

An example of a Catholic school program looking at spiritual and values content across the curriculum

The Sense of the sacred program was introduced within the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney to try to bring Catholic values into the whole school curriculum. Click here for information about the Sense of the sacred program. The program had interesting and helpful ideas for taking up values and spiritual content across the curriculum. However, some considered that the problem with the program was not so much its content but that it was perceived as a top-down imposition – as if Catholic education authorities were apparently trying to impose Catholic values onto secular subjects. Teachers were concerned that this might compromise the integrity of the subject matter if somehow their subject was being turned into an implied religious education – or religious education by stealth. Perhaps a more helpful perspective for the program would have been to acknowledge that values and spiritual issues often lie just beneath the surface of of the content in many curriculum areas; and it is good and healthy education to attend briefly to the spiritual and moral dimension as long as it does not compromise the integrity of the host subject.

Values Education Pedagogy: The Trait approach and Moral Biographies

This pedagogical approach to education in values presumes that there are pre-established traits or moral qualities such as compassion, sensitivity, generosity, commitment and so on, that are identifiable in the life actions of certain individuals. If these are demonstrated for young people, then they may possibly absorb some of them and become more moral. It is also presumed that responsible people can somehow inculcate or instill these traits into young people, although, just how this is done remains somewhat in question. The trait approach is based on the idea of moral absolutism that presumes that some characteristics or qualities are essentially good and others essentially bad.

An educational expression of this thinking is present in the learning strategy termed moral biography. This approach suggests that when students examine a biography involving a person making moral choices, or showing moral behaviour, the students are able to perceive these good qualities and somehow incorporate them into their own lives. In a sense it requires the student to identify the person at the centre of he biography as a role model. If the biography makes an impression on the student there is a possibility that the student may choose to model their actions, beliefs or ideals on those present in the biography. It is assumed that the use of moral biographies will influenced students in a positive way. It is also assumes some transference of learning takes place. Learning about and coming to understand a particular virtue is only part of the process of personal growth and change. For this approach to be successful it would be hoped that some change may take place in the actions of the student.

A biography presents a series of stories that may be used to indicate particular values and these can be discussed in class. The teacher may even help the students analyse the stories and highlight the presence of different values in the person's actions. It is unclear if the moral biography approach works without such teacher involvement or whether it is reliant on the efforts of the teacher to engage the students in the content and draw out those values that are at the centre of the biography. As with most values education strategies it remain unclear as to whether moral biography can bring about personal change. Some research evidence suggests that just studying a moral biography is ineffective in bringing about personal change. A question also arises about the effectiveness of any effort to actually measure a change in the values held by an individual.

There is also a suggestion by some critics that there is a danger in the moral biography approach in that it presents a moral bag of virtues for young people. If we present students with a number of virtues or values they may simply choose those that suit them at a particular time and circumstance. In the 1960s the primary school curriculum, known in New South Wales as the Blue Curriculum due to the colour of the cover of the published text, included as part of the students learning moral biographies. Eventually this component was phased out of the syllabus, not because of the ineffectiveness of the strategy, but because of the difficulty in finding consensus on appropriate models of human behaviour to present. Throughout the centuries different lists of values and virtues have been proposed including: Aristotle's list of moral values, The Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the key values in different religions, lists of the Seven Deadly Sins, Boy Scout's Code of Honour, and so on. Within confessional settings the selection of core values is possible due to their focus on the creeds and doctrines of the faith. In secular settings the wide array of beliefs and viewpoints present in such communities makes the identification of a core set of values very difficult to say the least.

As reported by all of the developmental theorists, growth and development take place in a series of stages. The cognitive and moral development of students, particularly in primary years may not be able to appreciate or comprehend the significance of the actions of the person in the biography. The moral biography approach tends to highlight qualities and virtues from adulthood. Regardless of what they understand of the biography the values and virtues presented may not necessarily appeal to young people or they may be different from what are important values for them at that stage in their lives. Moral biographies are often presented about the lives of extraordinary people. For young people this may make the values being portrayed seem unattainable or unrealistic. The students might in fact become so concerned about their own inability to live up to those values that their self image and self-esteem may be affected. It could also be argued that young people are more likely to be impressed by the actions of someone who is like them or fits into their understanding and experience. For moral biographies to be most effective they must seem realistic and highlight the efforts of individuals the students would recognise as ordinary people. If they do not meet this basic criteria than the students will either view them as fantasy or beyond their realm of possibility.

Values Education Pedagogy: Simulation Games

Simulation Games involve students entering into a role and acting out that role in a given situation in a game format. Students may play themselves in the role or play the role of someone else during the simulation. Simulation games are separate to what most people would term role plays. For most people their understanding of the term role play is what would be correctly termed play acting. Simulation games are distinctive from play acting in a number of ways. During a simulation game the facilitator provides different members of the group with various pieces of information which will impact on the roles of the other players and the direction of the simulation. In a play acting each member of the group is fully briefed prior to the experience and a solution or scenario is developed in response to the situation by those involved in the play. In simulation games the students must respond to an unfolding or unfamiliar situation. In doing so it is hoped that the responses of the students will be genuine and that this will provide the foundation of learning in the follow up to the simulation. Simulation games aim to help people gain insights into their values development, make links between values, actions and consequences, raise awareness of the circumstance of others, and to develop a range of skills necessary for making moral judgments and building positive relationships.

Simulation games are a form of experiential learning. The student learns vicariously through the experiences tied to the role they undertake. Working through an unfamiliar or unfolding set of circumstances challenges the student to embrace the role they have been given. The need to evaluate the circumstance and respond quickly means that the student responses become closely linked to gut reactions and intuition rather than calculated and predetermined ideas. As a result of this students are more likely to fall into the role and therefore gain a genuine experience of the circumstance of the individual who they are playing. If the simulation involve the students playing themselves then their responses are more likely to be a genuine reflections of their own beliefs and values. Experiential learning is a powerful method of learning because it engages both the cognitive and affective domains of the individual a well as testing the impact of these on student behaviour, albeit simulated.

The most significant and important educational component of the simulation game is the debriefing. The debriefing involves a series of steps included de-rolling, reflection, discussion, analysis and synthesis. De-rolling involves the student distancing themselves from the role and situation and rejoining the group. It is very important that this take place before the debriefing continues. De-rolling can be assisted if student are required to change location or make some symbolic gesture that represents a leaving behind of the role. For example, at the start of the simulation the students could moved from their normal seating position or place on their person an item of clothing or a name tag or pick up a prop that they would link with the role they are taking on. At the end of the simulation the students could reverse this action as a symbolic gesture of leaving the role behind.

Following this process the student should then be invited to reflect on their experience. This might involve the students responding to a series of simple questions relating to how the plot unfolded, what were the implications for their role of these events, how did they feel at certain stages and what was their relationship to the other characters?. The content of their reflections then provides the basis for a discussion. The discussion is aimed at drawing out the significant experiences of each student so that the group can gain a deeper awareness of the impact and implications of the various stages of the simulation on different people and their circumstance. The discussion should then move towards an analysis of the significance and implications of the experiences of the various members of the group. The facilitator should explore with the group the key themes present in the experiences and responses of the group. This phase identifies and categories the outcomes of the simulation, outlining the impact of various events on different members of the simulation and naming truths and messages present in these.

The process of synthesis helps the students bring together all their learnings and draw conclusions from the simulation experience. Up until this point often students will have a gut and instinctual understandings but lack the language and framework knowledge to articulate these. The facilitator can help student synthesise their understandings and give some formal structure and language to them. This part of the debriefing process may extend into further class work, the introduction of new content or involvement in other opportunities related to experiential learning.

There are many advantages to using simulation games in the classroom. The provide a safe environment for students to experience the implications and consequences of various actions and decision. The nature of experiential learning provides for effective simulation of reality, therefore allowing students to gain realistic insights and experiences. They have the potential to build within the student empathy for various people and their circumstance. They deepen student understanding of the relationship between cause and effect. Simulation games provide students with skills and knowledge that can enhance their decision making ability. They allow student to explore complex issues in a concrete and tangible way. Simulations are an effective strategy in the promotion of learning.

One of the major concerns of using simulation games is their potential to produce inappropriate or excessive emotional responses. Facilitator need to be particularly careful when choosing content matter, roles and students for their simulation. The facilitator should avoid highly emotive and sensitive issues and monitor the simulation to ensure that students maintain an understanding that it is simply a orchestrated learning experience. De-rolling is a very important component of the experience. If the students involved in the simulation become highly emotive it is best to stop the play and enter into the debriefing process even if only to diffuse some of the emotion before assuming the roles and continuing with the simulation. With such potential for emotional responses it can expose the student to potential manipulation by the facilitator of the game. Providing direct stimulus to the emotions or trying to stimulate specific emotional responses is not appropriate to classroom based learning. While the manipulation or promotion of deep and significant emotional experiences may be suitable in other settings, such as psychological therapy, they are not valid in the classroom.

Click here to read the commentary relating to simulation games from Mary Ruth Marshall's article The use of Values Clarification and Simulation games in Religious Education.

Determining when it would be appropriate and ethical to plan to stimulate the emotions of pupils in the classroom

The first thing to note would be that an activity which stimulated excessive emotion would have to be questioned because this could be manipulative on the part of the teacher. To avoid any such manipulation, it would be important for the teacher to consider in advance what sort of emotion and what level of emotion might be stimulated by particular classroom activities.

It would seem a normal part of motivation to have some emotion generated in students during a stimulus activity related to classroom learning. When the emotion is the bi-product of an educational activity or when it is an integral part of a learning experience then this would seem natural and appropriate enough in the classroom because there is a natural emotional component to holistic learning - that is learning that relates to all aspects of the individual's human experience and development.

It would seem to be a matter for concern when the teacher is setting out to stimulate emotions for their own sake. This is different from accepting the experience and expression of emotion as a natural bi-product or integral part of classroom learning. The teacher would need to make some judgment about the type of emotion that might be generated and how it does fit in to the overall learning process. As noted in earlier documents, perhaps the main role for classroom teaching/ learning as regards emotions would be to help students get their experience into some overall perspective. In other words, an understanding of emotions. This point relates back to the discussion of educating the emotions at the end of Module 7

Interpretation and Verbal Expression

Part of the understanding of emotion, and part of getting emotion into some overall human perspective means interpreting emotion. This means understanding its meaning and its relationship with the individual's life and experience. Part of the process of interpretation is verbal articulation of the emotion. That is where individuals can express in words the emotions they are feeling or the emotions they see demonstrated in others in particular circumstances. Being able to interpret emotions in words can be an important indication that emotions are understood within a larger context or in better perspective. Being able to articulate emotion in this way can help with the acceptance and harmonisation of emotions within the individual, relating them to other aspects such as knowledge and understanding, convictions and commitments, etc. An inability to talk about one's emotions can be an indicator of a lack of emotional integration. If individuals can't talk about how they feel, this could be a symptom of the "bottling-up" or the repression of emotion. This can compromise communication because it will be saying something that is contradictory, or totally different from what the individual is feeling.

This thinking makes some sense of the problem where individuals who are close friends or who are in love with each other have difficulty communicating at an emotional level. In these situations, a good relation implies a capacity for emotional communication.

Setting Limits to the Scope of Emotional Communication

While it has been suggested that it is important for individuals who are good friends or close to each other personally to have the capacity for talking about their feelings, and while it would also be appropriate to have emotional sensitivity in communication with others, this is not to suggest that there should be a strong emotional component in all of an individual's communication in the classroom. It will depend on how well they know the other person with whom they are communicating. For example, most professional interactions would not require a high degree of emotional interaction.

Values Education Pedagogy: Values Clarification Exercises

Values clarification is a learning strategy that was developed in the early nineteen seventies by Kirschenbaum and Simon which helps people identify those values and values networks that form the foundation of their attitudes and behaviours. Values clarification covers a variety of techniques including personal response surveys, values naming or identification activities and activities requiring individuals to prioritise or rank a series of competing items. Values clarification is a non threatening activity which encourages participants to identify and explore those beliefs and attitudes that determine their everyday actions.

Helping individuals clarify and deepen their understanding of their own values agenda and framework will hopefully promote self awareness and self reflection leading to opportunities for personal growth and change. The process of values development in an individual is complex, cyclical and encompasses the many dimensions of the human person takes place at various levels of consciousness and is influenced by a range of factors. As a result the values agenda and network of each individual develops almost subliminally. Values clarification strategies provide participants with an opportunity to consciously recognise and identify those values that have developed and to consider there impact on their behaviour and actions.

In their book, Readings in Values Clarification, Simon S. and Kirschenbaum, M (1973) identified that values development involves a series of skills that can be enhanced by values clarification strategies.

"The skills are:

  • seeking alternatives when faced with a choice;
  • looking ahead to probable consequences before choosing;
  • making choices on one's own, without depending on others;
  • being aware of one's own preferences and valuations;
  • being willing to affirm one's choices and preferences publicly;
  • acting in ways that are consistent with choices and preferences;
  • acting in those ways repeatedly, with a pattern to one's life."

An analysis of this list of skills highlights the relationship between values, choices and behaviour. In a sense this list of skills defines what values are and represents a criteria for their identification. It has been suggested that the presents of several of these components in an individual may be value indicators or signposts of values development. When developing values clarification strategies and resources consideration should be given to incorporating activities that require students to evaluate their application of the full range of skills.

An important element of values clarification exercises is the promotion of an environment that encourages personal sharing. Students must feel free to share at a level at which they are comfortable. This includes allowing students to pass if they are not prepared to reveal or discuss anything of what they have concluded. Teachers are also encouraged to take part in of the process but as an equal member rather than a commentator or facilitator of discussion about the comments and values being presented. Many proponents of the process of values clarification suggest that the purpose of sharing ideals is to raise and deepen awareness and that in such a subjective realm of human understanding the views, beliefs and values of each individual are as valid as any others.

Peruse quickly the following examples of values clarification activities to get an idea of what they look like and of how they prompt thinking about values.

An example of a Values Clarification activity used on a retreat for senior secondary students
Student Handout
Activity in Values Clarification, together with a summary of the key ideas in Values Clarification

Take each item listed below and note in very brief form the first impressions, thoughts and feelings that come to mind when you think of the meaning that the objects might symbolise for you. Then in the separate columns, put in further information as to whether your responses relate in any way to people, money, the future. Then try to order the symbols in a sequence of priority from 1 to 10 based on the values that you seem to associate with each symbol.

Item The images and Ideas symbolised by this item for me Do my ideas include people


Do my ideas include money


List the items in order of the value or importance they have for me
Car keys        
Wedding ring        
TV Guide        
Toy gun        
Surf board        
i Phone        
$20 note        


The following is a summary of some theory for values clarification as developed by Sydney Simon, Kirschenbaum and others.

VALUES: A value is something held as important in life. It may be a goal or aim. It may be something prized or cherished that gives direction to choices and shapes behaviour. How a person feels and acts may illustrate what his or her values are.

VALUES CLARIFICATION: Values clarification is a methodology for helping people discover or identify what their own values are. It helps develop skills for recognising personal values and priorities in attitudes and behaviour. It is a learning experience for reflection on life and actions as they are related to behaviour, ideas, feelings and values. The approach helps an individual sort out what has meaning and importance in his/her life. However, it does not say what are good or bad values and it does not say what one's values ought to be. Neither does it consider the various outside influences on values and behaviour. Similarly, it does not look carefully and internal or psychological factors that have an influence on values (E.g. conditioning in the home and in other social groups; the influence of peer groups and significant others in an individual's life.)

Values clarification is more concerned with the process of valuing than with value content - that is, it is concerned with how one can become more aware of one's own values. Similarly, it is not concerned with value formation.

Values clarification suggests that it is an important part of human maturity to be aware of our "values landscape". Values give individuals a stance for living in as much as they choose them freely, act upon them and celebrate them as being important in life.

One approach to Values Clarification sees the following aspects as essential to the process of VALUING. To be a full VALUE something must satisfy each of the seven criteria.


1. chosen freely.
2. chosen from alternatives.
3. chosen after due reflection; choosing after considering the implications and consequences of each alternative.


4. prized and cherished; it is celebrated because one is happy with the choice; the choice is seen as good and positive for me.
5. willingness to affirm the choice publicly; to stand for the value.
6. It is acted upon; something is done about it.


7. It becomes part of a pattern of repeated actions; it is on-going; it enhances maturity.

To fulfil all of theses requirements is demanding. Some may feel daunted by the demands -- wondering if they have any values of this type at all! Perhaps it is a relief to hear from the theorists that they recognise another modified category -- the value indicator.

A VALUE INDICATOR is something that falls short of being a full value. It is like a value but is not fully developed. It does not meet the requirements of all seven criteria.

A PRIMARY VALUE is one seen to be basic and necessary for authentic personal development.

VALUE RANKING: After examining values comprehensively, they can be assigned priorities; or they can be related to the individual's hierarchy of values.

Clarifying Values according to the above criteria imposes demanding standards. In terms of this scheme, people may have various value-indicators but few values. The theory presumes that having value-indicators is good; but that having values is better. It goes on to note that when people realise the extent to which values guide their lives - consciously or unconsciously - it is understandable that those with few values tend to be apathetic, conforming, inconsistent, and ambivalent.

The less that basic values are understood, the more confused that personal lives are likely to be. The more that individuals know and understand their values, the more able they are likely to be in making satisfactory choices and in following these through with commitment.

The theory postulates that: people who have clarified their values will perform zestful, independent, consistent, and decisive 'acts of courage' - not necessarily dramatic feats of heroism but rather acts based on the courage to say what has to be said and to do what has to be done.

Examples of strategies for upper primary school students

The Evacuation

Students are asked to imagine that following several days of heavy rain the nearby river is rising rapidly and that it is expected to break its banks very soon and you have five minutes to collect ten things you wish to take with you before you will lose everything to the rising water. Students are given ten small pieces of paper and are asked to write down on each piece of paper one of the ten items they will take with them. Students are then to imagine they are loaded on to a truck which drives off to head for higher ground. During this journey the truck encounters a series of obstacles which require the student to chose between the various items they have selected. For example due to the persistent rain your collection of item is getting wet and you must choose which one to put on top of the others knowing the water will damage or destroy it. As the rain continues the truck becomes bogged in the mud and so you will have to get rid of a heavy item or two lighter items to reduce the weight in the truck. The student must choose which items to discard. A third dilemma arises when you get to the bottom of the mountain. Due to shortage of space you have to trade something valuable in order to buy a safe vantage point. The students again have to prioritise and choose between their items. There is no limited to the challenges you could place before the participants.

The Grocery bag of values

Another possible activity is known as the Grocery bag of values activity. In this activity the students are asked to cut up magazines and collect pictures, images and simple headings that identity or represent things they consider important and valuable. Their selection of images and titles reflects those items, events, institutions and so on to which they attribute some value. In a very real, however simple, sense these images and titles represent their values. They can put inside the bag those personal values that they would prefer not to talk about with others. On the outside of the bag they would display signs of the values that they would be prepared to talk about with others. The students could then be asked to rank the first 10 in order of perceived importance. They might then mark with an m or an f which of the values are also evident in their mother or father. They might be asked to mark with an r the values that require some risk in living out. They might then mark with 60 those values they believe will still be important to them when they have retired. They might also put down something about which values involve communication with others, which ones involve money and so on.

For quick perusal: Further Examples of Values Clarification activities for junior secondary school pupils

The following is a range of resources designed for exploring value and values clarification in the classroom. Each of these exercises is recognisable by the "empty spaces" to be filled in with subjective data.

Click here to view the values clarification resource- What do you value? An exploration of your own value indicators

Click here to view the values clarification resource- Where do you stand? Reviewing your own feelings about different behaviours and reflection on the values that seem to underpin your feeling and thinking

Click here to view the values clarification resource- Feelings. Review of how often you have particular feelings and reflections on what situations and events trigger them.

Click here to view the values clarification resource- Listening for feelings. Review of what feelings are likely to be triggered in different circumstances.

Click here to view the values clarification resource- My listening skills. Making a check on your own listening skills. From Skills for Adolescents Program

Click here to view the values clarification resource- Who will I be? Reflecting on the sort of person you would like to become. From Skills for Adolescents program.

Click here to view the values clarification resource- What is a family for? Reflections on what you think a family is.
Note: Is this moving in a direction that could be difficult an embarrassing for some pupils to talk about in the public forum of the classroom?
All examples are from the Lions Skills for Adolescents program.

Evaluation of Values Clarification as a pedagogy

A number of question come to mind when the effectiveness of such activities in classroom practice are to be evaluated. One of the obvious shortcomings of the strategy is that it is concerned primarily with values identification as opposed to values analysis and development. Values clarification is primarily the articulating of one's thinking, feelings and values and is therefore subjective in nature. It is a personal and subjective approach to values education. At the heart of values identification is a concern for the process of values development rather than the content and outcomes of those values. The strategy provides no opportunity to review, contrast or critique the values being considered and is therefore somewhat relativistic. The self directive nature of the process of values identification and the focus on naming values rather than investigating and reviewing the content and implications of these, limits the potential of the strategy. The strategy is almost completely subjective. Effective values education strategies will promote the level of student awareness and understanding of a particular issue. The term value education or values development implies change taking place in an individual. Recognition of values is only a part of the process. But in the light of earlier discussions, it is realistic to acknowledge that this is about all one can expect of any values education strategy -- it can educate in values but not automatically change them. And it is perhaps this preoccupation with wanting to bring about change or achieve values outcomes that is really the problem.

It is anticipated that most values clarification activities will involve an opportunity to share findings and beliefs with the group. Part of the expectation and understanding relating to this process is that the personal opinions of each student are to be accepted and valued as much as any other. While it is essential that each student and their opinions will be respected and valued by the group, there are concerns that arise out of an approach that does not allow for exploration of values content. One weaknesses of such an approach is that the sharing of values will simply be that, a sharing of values. Similarly, a reasonably homogeneous group of students sharing their values and attitudes represents a reasonably narrow set of points of view and a fixed level of understanding and knowledge. Such an activity may amount to nothing more than values swapping. Some critics also raise questions about the validity of personal sharing as a valid educational endeavour. Discussion should take place as informed debate, in which differing ideas are challenged, reviewed and evaluated in terms of their foundations, presumptions and implications for the individual and others. There is also an obvious role for the teacher to gather and present appropriate material and resources to deepen the students knowledge of particular issues about which they have formed values.

A final issue to note with regards to the role of personal sharing in the classroom relates to setting limits or guidelines on the depth and nature of disclosure. Personal comment and opinion have an important place in classroom based learning, however it is not appropriate to promote an environment that encourages students to unload or share personal experiences and understandings that may place them or other members of the group at risk or in a position that may complicate, compromise or negatively effect them. The whole question of appropriate disclosure becomes even more complex when students are involved in reflection days and retreats. Creating a situation where students may choose to disclose significant personal responses does not really have a major role in a classroom educational setting involving young people. It is more appropriate in other settings such as adult education, counseling and in specific groups designed for personal sharing

To some degree values clarification activities are also reliant on maturity and genuine self awareness. One of the complexities when asking students to identify values is that they may not really know what they think or feel about a particular issue or item or what they think they believe and how they act are actually two differing quantities. This is also related to the artificial nature of the activities the students are involved in. Consider the exercise where students had to list and then prioritise what they would take with them when escaping the coming flood. What students choose when involved in an activity in a classroom may in fact be different when faced with a genuine real life situation. There is also the problem that such an approach may trivialise values and decisions about those values. This is particularly pertinent when dealing with issues that relate to the value of life and the significance of death. It would seem to be more appropriate to pick a situation which was more realistic and not so concerned with serious moral questions. It might be deciding which individual should be chosen as school captain, or deciding which individuals should be invited to a private party. It would seem more appropriate to work with a simpler dilemma before attempting to analyse serious problems that may lead to a trivialisation of key values and issues.

The article linked below gives a view of the place of values clarification in religious education.

Click here to read part one of Mary Ruth Marshall's article on the use of Values Clarification strategies in Religious Education.

Values education pedagogy: Analysing Moral situations and Moral Dilemmas

Moral dilemmas challenge students to not only identify their values but also to apply them to a particular circumstance. Such application is considered a useful endeavour because it attempts to build a link between what people value and the way they choose to act. Moral dilemmas gained respect as an educational strategy following the work of the developmental psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg. Kohlberg used moral dilemmas as a tool to identify the nature and underlying principles of people's processes of moral reasoning. His theory and the use of moral dilemmas were accepted as a methodology for the education and development of values and morals. It was considered to be objective and not aligned to any particular religious group - and hence it was popular for a time in US schools where there could be no teaching of religion. When studying moral dilemmas, students are presented with a hypothetical scenario that requires them to make decisions and choices based on personal value judgments. Such an activity is often the basis of class discussion in which students are asked to justify and clarify the meaning and motivation of their choices.

Just as with values clarification exercises, there are questions that arise about the usefulness and effectiveness of such activities in the classroom. Much of the critique surrounding Kohlberg's work centred on the simplicity and hypothetical nature of moral dilemmas. While the idea of levels of moral motivation has been of interest to students, some found the dilemma situations to artificial. Moral issues are often highly complex and encompass a broad range of issues that cannot effectively be re-created or imagined in a classroom context. The question also arises about the separation of the affective domain from the process of moral reasoning. When individuals are faced with genuine moral decisions their choices will be made on the basis of how they feel as well as what they think. Hypothetical moral dilemmas by their nature do not adequately allow for the important use of the affective domain in decision making. This is not, of course, to say that we should use more emotionally charged or personal issues as excessive emotional or any manipulative process is in appropriate in a classroom context.

It is also worth studying moral situations from an objective point of view. In the use of moral dilemmas, the student takes on the role of the central character in the dilemma and is asked to respond from their perspective. Another approach is to analyse the moral decisions as presented in a series of scenarios. The key concern here is not to develop or reach a potential solution but rather to consider the relationship between choices and consequences.

Moral dilemmas, along with values clarification exercises, despite there shortcomings, have a role to play in values and moral education in schools. The point to make here is that they must be recognised for what they are. They do have something to contribute however no one strategy in isolation is going to prove to be the great panacea for values development. These strategies along with simulation games, morality plays and the like must be used collectively to ensure a balanced and effective approach to values education.

Values Education Pedagogy: A brief look at Conflict Resolution strategies

Conflict resolution is a skills based learning initiative designed to help people deal better with issues relating to assertiveness, anger management, solving disagreements positively and non-violent conflict resolution. The aim of such an activity is to help students develop a range of skills that will allow them to work effectively and positively through interpersonal conflict and so build and enhance positive human relationships. Conflict resolution seeks to equip individuals with the ability to express concerns clearly and succinctly, to name the issues and to avoid attacking the person, to remain calm and balanced when dealing with an area of conflict, to listen to the views of others and to work towards consensus and compromise. The following is a series of activity based resources designed to introduce students to some of those skills and strategies that can be utilised to help them work positively through interpersonal conflict.

Note that these strategies and exercises are very similar to the genre of values clarification. However, you will note that they are not so subjective. They have content and ideas that they ask the participant to consider and to respond in the light of this information. They tend to be more informational than the values clarification strategies looked at above.

For quick perusal: Example of Conflict resolution activities for junior secondary school students

Click here to view the values clarification resource- Family Interview (already looked at above). It is a reflection on what it has been like to live in a particular family. Note: Does this move further in the direction of potential embarrassment for some pupils to have to work on this activity in the classroom? From the Skills for Adolescents program.

Click here to view the values clarification resource Learning to resolve family conflicts. Is this suitable for public classroom use? If not, how would you help students consider conflict situations? From the Skills for Adolescents program.

Click here to view the conflict resolution resource What is Behaviour? Reflections on what triggers behaviour; behaviour of different types -- innate and learned. Initial reflection on what has a shaping influence on your behaviours. (From conflict resolution activities.)

Click here to view the conflict resolution resource Love and friendship. Reflections on the differences and on how you show love and respect and friendship. (From conflict resolution activities.)

Click here to view the conflict resolution resource Strategies for resolving conflicts. An activity sheet which helps students reflect on different ways they might go about trying to resolve conflict. (From conflict resolution activities.)

Click here to view the conflict resolution resource Bottling up emotions. An activity sheet which explores some of the various consequences that arise from not acknowledging and expressing emotions. Note: what is the appropriate balance? Is it always appropriate to express whatever you feel? Sometimes is appropriate to acknowledge how you feel, but be wise and diplomatic about where and when you express this.

NOTE: The conflict resolution resources can be used with permission from the Conflict Resolution Network, Chatswood NSW. Permission to display these strategies is gratefully acknowledged.

An example of ethical issues needing resolution and the use of ethical theory to inform decision-making

Difference and relationships between Morality and Ethics and brief notes on ethical theories

Only very brief attention will be given here as an introduction.

Morality:  Morality has to do with the rightness and wrongness of actions.  t also has to do with the obligations on people to do the right thing -- do what is good for them and good for others and the community.

Ethics is the systematic study of morality and its application to both personal and social life.  Ethics is rational theory about moral systems, and how individuals and institutions might have particular sets of moral values that they had decided on and which will govern their behaviour and.  Ethics is a branch of philosophy.  Ethics is about working out in advance what should apply in terms of moral rules and moral codes based on reason and based on community discourse.  It is readily acknowledged that religion is often motivating a particular moral code for their believers.  Hence you would have Christian ethics, and Muslim ethics etc

There are a range of ethical theories that are used to examine moral questions. There is not scope for discussing them here. some of these theories will be referred to by name only.

Natural Law ethical system

It was developed initially by Aristotle. The Christian church embraced it as the basis for its Christian Ethics. It means that human nature can be known accurately and what is good for human nature is to be promoted and what is not good for human nature is considered to be wrong. Problems arise where there is conflict about assumptions about human nature. E.g. is homosexuality a natural human variant or is it a deformation or a problematic deficiency. When does an embryo become human enough to have human rights?

Proportionalism as a principle in Christian Ethics

This principle respects the traditional ethics with its firm rules.  However, it allows for exceptions to these rules if the case is strong enough.   E.g.  removing the fallopian tube if there was an ectopic pregnancy.   Today the embryo could be destroyed with a laser beam.   This would not be allowed by Natural Law ethics;  but Natural Law ethics would allow surgical removal -- according to the principle of double effect (the action would be necessary to save the life of the mother but it would result in the death of the embryo).   Proportionalism would see abortion as wrong, but if there was an important enough reason to make an exception, then this could be done.   Note that the just war theory was already an example where the principle of proportionalism had been applied.   It is wrong to kill;  but in circumstances of self defence one is justified in killing (E.g. to defend the country against aggressors).   Aquinas also would tend to admit to exceptions to Natural Law as an ethical case moved more from the first principles towards specific details.   However, this flexibility is not available in Pope John Paul's Encyclical Splendor Veritatis.   This document condemns situation ethics because it calls absolutes into question;  as if it will undermine moral absolutes. 

Other theories of ethics

There is no need here, nor is there time, for examination of different ethical theories in any detail.  However, a number of the other ethical theories will be named and briefly signposted to give participants some introductory perspective on ethical theories.

Deontological ethical theory

Deontological ethics means duty-based ethics.  It is based on the principle that one can work out in advance what are all of the duties and responsibilities that individuals have.  And where this is followed through in detail, it will spell out ethical principles that hopefully will address all of the situations that individuals will meet in their lives.


Consequentialism is an ethical theory that judges the morality of actions in terms of their consequences.  In a sense, this theory suggests something that along the lines that the end does justify the means.  It looks into all of the potential consequences of a particular action and by weighing up the rightness and wrongness and appropriateness of the consequences one is in a better position to judge on the ethical quality of the particular decision.


Utilitarianism is an ethical theory holding that the right course of action is the one that maximizes the overall "good" consequences of the action. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its resulting outcome. The most influential contributors to this theory are considered to be Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism was described by Bentham as "the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle"

Virtues based ethics

Virtues are habits of thinking and behaving in a good fashion. Different virtues have been defined such as courage, prudence, resilience, wisdom, fortitude, sensitivity, generosity, honesty etc.

Virtues based ethics is about what values and virtues people should have and what principles should guide their ethical actions. It originated with Aristotle arguing that all things have an end or telos to which they move and against which their successful development is measured. Virtues ethics concentrates on the character of the person doing the job. It concentrates on the development of character traits or virtues such as generosity, honesty, courage, prudence and practical wisdom to help the person to do the job ethically. Traits that work in the reverse direction making people worse off and less happy are called 'vices'.

Virtues ethics are regarded as valuable to have professionals who are independent and who could make judgments about intended actions while not being blind followers of rules.

Ethics of care

More recently an ethics of care has been given attention.  Some ethical systems are based primarily on the idea of Justice. But an ethics of care suggests that individuals do not always operate initially on this basis.  For example, many women tend to be more concerned about what happens to individuals who gets hurt in the process.  And so an ethics of care is based on giving consideration to individuals who may be potentially harmed.

This is just a very brief glimpse of some different ethical theories and it is in no way comprehensive.  

One might ask the question what is the best ethical theory?  The people who write books about codes of ethics for businesses and professions suggest that it is useful to know a number of ethical theories and to be able to combine the possibilities and the limitations of all of the different systems.  If they are put together to inform individuals about a particular situation, then a composite approach may be more helpful for deciding on the ethical quality of a proposed line of action.

An example of the need for ethics for dealing with conflict of interests and conflicts of responsibilities

This is a segment from the Dr Phil show which is concerned with the rights of the child caught up in conflict between the child's mother, father and the in-laws. where should the priorities lie?

An example of a complex social situation which can be looked at in the light of some of the different ethical theories noted above. The video clip shows a dispute over custody of the baby Milo from the Dr Phil show (2013). Or click the image of the video.

Some thought can be given to how the situation and issues debated in this example would be highlighted by different approaches to ethical theory natural law, deontological ethics, consequentialist ethics, utilitarianism, and an ethics of care.

An interview with a professional ethicist

This material is an interview with the renowned Australian ethicist Dr Peter Singer. Singer became very well known for his pioneering work on animal rights. While the field of ethics, somewhat like religious education, can suffer from the use of jargon, it is interesting to see whether Singer uses much jargon in his discussion of ethics.

Difference between morality and ethics as well as discussion of a range of contemporary ethical issues and of the stance that one individual has taken. View the short video clip where Andrew Denton interviews the Australian ethicist Professor Peter Singer. Note how various key ideas in ethics in relation to contemporary issues were discussed without the use of jargon.

Click icon or click here to return to ASMRE home page