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Mary-Ruth Marshall; Project Co-ordinator, Australian Values Project, Melbourne. (1978)

In Brian Crittenden's article in Religious Education in Australian Schools, a critical philosophical statement on moral education and values education was presented. The first part of this article examines values clarification with a view to illustrating the rationale of this approach and its potential function within religious education. Values clarification strategies and simulation games, the latter being discussed in the second part, are being used with increasing frequency in religious education both in the classroom and in religious camps or retreats. The material in this article serves as an introduction to these two fields with comments on both the possibilities and the limitations of their potential role in religious education.



For most children, young people and adults, the 1960s and 1970s have been a time of confusion, uncertainty and conflict in the areas of choices, decisions and values. As recently as a generation ago, there was much more certainty about what 'ought' to be done in a given situation. Life now is considerably more complex and rich in value conflict. Advances in communication and travel, for instance, expose us to a number of varying value systems. Discoveries in medical technology face us with complex questions about the definitions of life and death. The influence of social institutions such as the family and church appears to decline, while that of social forces such as television increases.

History's most common form of values transmission, which assumed that one generation adopted the values of the preceding one either because it was persuaded to do so or because no other option presented itself, clearly needs supplementation, if not replacement. The largely unplanned, though nonetheless ever present, approaches to values transmission of the past are not adequate for the complex, uncertain world of today.

Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that the 1970s have seen the development of a number of approaches to values education, together with related educational programs: cognitive developmental (moral reasoning); values dissonance; values analysis; values transmission; and values clarification. Reference to some of these approaches was made in the article by Brian Crittenden on moral education. It is noted that, with careful adaptation and thought as to purposes and desired outcomes, values clarification strategies can be used to help people become more clear about what they actually value and about the priorities of their values. Certainly, many people working in the area of religious education are using such strategies, although perhaps not often as a systematic, planned way of clarifying values. This article offers some suggestions and some cautions about the use of values clarifying strategies as a part, or a beginning, of life-centred approaches to religious education.


Values clarification is an approach which uses strategies and activities involving individual and, to a lesser degree, group work to clarify what is important to the individual and to others; to clarify what the individual's own values are; to become aware of the values of others; to develop skills to communicate their own values. This is described as learning the process of valuing.

Louis Raths was the pioneer of values clarification. Assuming that '. . . the pace and complexity of modern life has so exacerbated the problem of deciding what is good and what is right and what is worthy and what is desirable that large numbers of children are finding it increasingly bewildering, even overwhelming, to decide what is worth valuing, what is worth one's time and energy . . .'', Raths built on earlier work by Dewey (Theory of Valuation, 1939) to develop a teaching theory for the process of valuing. Assuming, as well, that families and organised religions would not permit schools to usurp their roles and teach particular values (quite apart from the question of whether values can, in fact, be taught), he believed that:

. . . it is more useful to consider the posture of a person facing his world, how he uses his muscle and spirit to relate to his surroundings, than to consider what he might find valuable at any one time or in any one particular circumstance or in a series of similar times or circumstances, for that matter. 'How did he get his ideas?' is a more fundamental question for us than 'What did he get?'

The valuing process has a parallel in the Chinese proverb: 'Give me a fish and I eat today; teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime'. Values clarification theorists would say: 'Give me a value and I have it as long as you are here to enforce it, or until circumstances or conflict make me question it; teach me to value and for all my life I will be able to make choices and decisions which are personally satisfying and which reflect what is important to me'.

The seven sub-processes of valuing are seven ways of helping develop and enrich the values in our lives, of determining what we stand for and how to spell that out in our behaviour. In Values and Teaching, the authors state that things which do not meet the criteria of all seven sub-processes are not values but perhaps values-in-the process-of-becoming beliefs, ideals, goals, aims, hopes etc. Later writers have tended to say that the seven criteria impose an external and objective frame of reference on what is, after all, highly personal and subjective, and recommend returning to the individual the control over his/her own valuing process.

The seven sub-processes of valuing are focused on the areas of choosing, prizing and acting. According to Raths and his colleagues, these collectively combine into the human act of valuing something. We value those things we have:

Chosen freely, chosen from genuine alternatives, chosen after careful consideration of the consequence, prized, cherished, held in esteem, affirmed publicly, acted upon, acted upon with consistency.

Each of the sub-processes is important, but it should be noted that a key understanding of values clarification is that our true values are seen in our behaviour, in action in our lives. Many people who have participated in values clarification strategies have discovered that those things they thought they valued were not spelt out in their lives, and indeed, patterns of behaviour indicated that other things were more important, more valued in terms of the values clarification theory.

Since the publication of Values arid Teaching, a number of books have been published which provide teaching strategies based on values clarification theory. A number of these are listed at the end of this article. The strategies have in common the fact that each provides opportunity for learners to practice one or more of the seven valuing sub-processes. As well, they are generally existentialist and relativistic, and increasingly include consideration of feelings as well as thoughts and actions.


Values clarification assumes that there are three levels of learning facts, concepts and values. The factual level deals with the question, 'What is it?', while the conceptual level deals with, 'What does it mean?' Values clarification is one way of personalising education, or exploring the values level, by asking the question, 'What does it mean to me?' Teachers in any subject area can use clarifying questions and strategies to focus on the values level of a particular topic or subject.

There are some ground rules in values clarification, and these describe the teacher's role. The first is that everyone has the right to pass at any time. A climate of trust and acceptance is important in values clarification, and forcing people to participate can be counter-productive. Instead, the option is given to pass, indicating that the individual does not want to comment, or does not know exactly what his/her attitude, feelings or thoughts are on the particular question, or perhaps that it seems irrelevant to the individual's life. The right to pass most often applies in group work. As noted before, values clarification focuses more on the individual, and the degree to which an individual is honest in reflecting on choices, decisions and actions is determined by the individual. It is the teacher who reinforces the right to pass, by stating the ground rule frequently, by facilitating the right to pass during group sharing, and, when appropriate, by choosing to pass him/herself.

This raises the second ground rule, that the teacher participates in the process, clarifying his own values or discovering more about her own choices. The teacher is neither neutral nor moralising, but is involved just as any other member of the group. Of course, the teacher is providing structure (materials, time, directions, interaction), but the teacher is also showing that values are an essential part of his/her own life. When the climate is right, when the group is ready to accept the teacher's point of view as one possibility, though not the only possibility, the teacher can be open and forthright about expressing personal beliefs and talking about things which are important.

A third ground rule is that each person's answer is the right one for that person at that time. Again, the teacher must model this in the group. Put-downs are discouraged, although the teacher may ask clarifying questions such as, 'What makes you say that?' or 'Can you think of a time when you followed that idea?'

In addition to these ground rules, the teacher models good listening and acceptance, does not ask for, nor expect, agreement from anyone else, and lets at least some students express their views before the teacher comments. The teacher does not do the values work for the student, but does assume responsibility for using clarifying questions to help individuals reflect on choices and actions.


It is important to note that even the most devoted of values clarification practitioners would not suggest that it is a comprehensive approach to values education. In conjunction with other approaches, perhaps even because of other approaches, it can play a valuable role in helping people sort out what is important to them and plan satisfying lives based on that clarification. At any rate, I would find it difficult to argue a position which claimed that values clarification alone could supply adequate values education in religious education. At the same time, values clarification is wider in its approach than religious education. People have many values, not all of them identifiable as religious. Values clarification theorists have adopted a position which is essentially non-religious. Some religious educators may have difficulty with the theoretical (non-persuasive) stance of values clarification.

On the other hand, values clarification does have two particular uses for religious education.

It provides an opportunity for people to clarify their values, to discover what is important in their lives, and to plan satisfying and responsible ways of living. To live more fully, to find meaning in life, to be consistent with our highest ideals, are important goals for all of us. Helping children, young people and adults to live more satisfying lives, lives with some sense of certainty and worth, seems to me to be a useful task for religious education. Quite apart from any particular religious values involved, it can create a sense of wholeness and identify which for me is consistent with what the Bible tells us about the uniqueness and dignity of humanity.

2. It can provide an opportunity for people to clarify their religious values. Although, as noted above, the valuing process was not designed to clarify only religious values, it can be used to help people understand what is important about their faith stance, its meaning in their lives, the importance of their religious traditions, and what their faith should mean in action. Dov Elkins (Clarifying Jewish Values, 1977) and Roland and Doris Larson (Values and Faith, 1976) use a number of the basic values clarification strategies, adapted for the purpose, to explore just such questions.

Br Ambrose Payne comments that:

. . . the prime point to be made, in terms of any suggestions that we should incorporate aspects of value clarification into our religious education program, is that the process, the strategy has value as a tool. What we do after we have assisted in the clarification of values is another kind of problem, and I would suggest that in the general area of what we call education of values, we would need to be careful to plan our program on the basis that a value clarification exercise is only one part of the program. There are then required other parts of the program by which new inputs may be presented or by which values which have become evident in the youngsters' own lives can, in fact, be examined.'

I would underscore his point that values clarification has value as a tool. It is one approach which may, in tandem with others, be used by religious educators who wish to include values education as a part of their teaching program. Such a combination of approaches is described by David Merritt:

In summary, practical possibilities for parents and teachers in relation to the values of children are to be found in four courses of action: recognition of the strong influence of significant adults and institutions such as family, school and church upon children, expressing and affirming one's own values, providing information about a range of values important in our society, and providing assistance in clarifying values. These are useful approaches that deserve priority from parents, teachers of school classes, church education programs, and workers in other community groups.'


No matter which of the approaches religious educators choose to use in values education (for whether planned or unplanned, values education is always going on in the classroom), it is clear that thoughtful consideration must be given to the way we go about education for worthwhile living. If, in another generation's time, people are still confused and perplexed, uncertain about choices and unclear about their values, those of us in religious education will have failed in our responsibility. We are not alone in that responsibility, but that does not excuse us from our role in helping people to understand and maintain their convictions, beliefs and ideals in the face of different standards and confusion situations.

Speaking about the Australian scene, W.F. Connell and others say:

The evidence suggests that if much more direct experience of value judgments and the valuing process were provided in secondary education, for example, it would need to be of the kind that goes beyond conventional and stereotyped sentiments and rules. Controversy, the presentation and analysis of alternative views, and the influence of implications and logical consequences would need to be given special emphasis.'

Values clarification is one useful approach to use in achieving such a goal.

Values clarification resources for religious educators

L.E. Raths, M. Harmin & S.B. Simon, Values and Teaching, Merrily Columbus, Ohio, 1966.

S.B. Simon, L.W. Howe & H. Kirschenbaum, Values Clarification: A Handbook of Practical Strategies for Teachers and Students, Hart, New York, 1972.

H. Kirschenbaum & S. B. Simon (eds), Readings in Values Clarification, Winston Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1973. See especially the section on 'Values in Religious Education'.

R.S. & D.E. Larson, Values and Faith, Winston Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1976.

L.M. Savary, SJ, Integrating Values, Pflaum, Dayton, Ohio, 1974.

L.W. & M.M. Howe, Personalizing Education: Values Clarification and Beyond, Hart, New York, 1975.

M. Smith, A Practical Guide to Value Clarification, University Associates, La Jolla, California, 1977.

S.B. Simon & S.W. Olds, Helping Your Child Learn Right from Wring: A Guide to Values Clarification, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1976.

1. L.E. Raths, M. Harmin & S.B. Simon, Values and Teaching, Merrill, Columbus, Ohio, 1966, p. 7.

2. Raths, Harmin & Simon, p. 10.

3. Br Ambrose Payne, 'Some ideas on a process which has become known as "Value Clarification", in Our Apostolate, May 1976, p. 99.

4. D.R. Merritt, 'Children and Values: Practical Possibilities for Parents and Teachers', prepublication conference paper, 1979, p. 7.

5. W.F. Connell and others, 12 to 20: Studies of City Youth, Hicks, Smith & Sons, Sydney, 1975, p. 95.