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How To Poison Your Children
With A Course On Ethics And Religious Culture

A few religions

1) Overview

This article analyses the new Ethics and Religious Culture Course, but only its "Ethics" side, leaving aside the whole religious aspect. The Government presents this Course as the best way of teaching tolerance and "vivre-ensemble" (Translator's note: "living-together" in French). According to our analysis, since it's based on "Value Theory", it therefore logically leads to denying the existence of Good and Evil. The negative consequences are worse, given this Course is compulsory for all, and since it's imposed on the most vulnerable members of our society: our children. This article concludes with a challenge to the drafters of this Course, so they will come out and dialogue openly and democratically about their faith in "Value Theory".

2) Introduction

Here is my personal assessment of the Ethics and Religious Culture Course, which will replace the Catholic and Protestant religious education curricula, as well as the Morality course, starting in 2008, at the Primary and Secondary levels.

A few disclaimers:

- In this article, I totally leave aside the whole religious aspect of this Course. I limit myself to the purely rational considerations of Ethics, which apply to all men.

- I base myself on the Ethics and Religious Culture, Secondary, Approved Version document (2007-August-27, 100 pages, PDF), which can be found on the Department of Education web site.

- Normally, when I criticize anything on my site, I send an e-mail to the persons concerned, so they can tell me if I misinterpreted them. Except this document isn't signed, it doesn't have a contact address, and as far as I know, the population isn't invited to give feedback on its content.

3) The good points of this Course

This new Ethics and Religious Culture Course has many good points:

3.1) The two explicit goals of the Course. "The recognition of the other and the pursuit of the common good constitute the two main finalities of this curriculum. They are interdependant and common to Ethics and religious culture." [p. 9]. Assuming common-sense definitions (and not those given by this Course), these two goals are excellent.

3.2) The "practical dialogue workshops". In order to learn to live together, at some point of time we have to live together! Personally, if I taught Ethics, I'd certainly do some "practical dialogue workshops" (what the Course calls "Learning and Assessment Opportunities" or "LAO", [p. 45]). I think it's a great idea to have students sit around a table, propose to them a difficult but important topic (like abortion, or the place of Islam and Catholicism in a modern society, etc.), and then let them talk among themselves (limiting interventions only to flag logical fallacies in an argument, or to discipline students who become intolerant). It's necessary to develop "attitudes of tolerance, respect and openness [in students, to prepare them] to live in a pluralist and democratic society" [p. 7]. (On the other hand, of course, I'd give these practical workshops after giving the contents of the course!)

3.3) The will to adapt to the new quebecois reality. An Ethics course which is "disconnected from reality" isn't worth much. Imagine if little schoolchildren in the Middle Ages were given an Ethics course, with topics like: "The threat of nuclear anihilation", or "Genetically-modified organisms", or "The morality of human cloning"! At some point of time, our schools have to keep up to date, and it's obvious that Quebec has changed a lot these past few years.

Etc., etc...

That being said, let's try to better understand what we're talking about.

4) What is an Ethics course?

If someone dropped a big 100-page document on your desk, all covered with text and diagrams, and that he claimed it was "an Ethics course", you'd expect certain things. Your expectations would be increased, if you found out this course would soon be imposed on all children in the Province of Quebec, both at the Primary and Secondary, and that it concerned the most important aspect of the whole educational enterprise: the moral formation of future citizens, and the happiness of our children.

A course on Morality or Ethics isn't a "new and weird critter". Such courses have existed for millenia. Indeed, Aristotle wrote his famous Nicomachean Ethics many centuries before Jesus-Christ, and Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1275), reused almost word for word Aristotle's contents in his works. Even today, there are numerous and high-quality Ethics manuals, even free on the Internet.

An Ethics course will normally start by talking about the purpose of life. Indeed, no use planning a trip to Montreal (with the bus ticket, the hotel reservation, etc.), if we want to go to Rimouski! In the same way, if we put our happiness in the accumulation of money, or in drugs, or sex, our life will be very different than if, for example, we place the goal of our life in the possession of the Supreme Good!

After having discussed goals, such a course will then talk about the main moral principles, like law and conscience, virtues and vices, etc. For virtues, it will discuss the four cardinal virtues:

Temperance: what makes us resist the attraction of pleasure, when pleasure would lead us to act against reason. For example, not constantly eating greasy and salty chips, since excessive salt and obesity increases the probability of cardio-vascular diseases.

Courage: sort of the opposite of Temperance, since it lets us move forward, when running away would be contrary to reason. For example, the father of a family who bravely disregards the flames, in order to rescue his wife and kids trapped in a house on fire.

Justice: what makes us give to each his due. For example, giving 10$ to the grocer, if we take merchandise worth 10$, or paying our share of the Health System (through our taxes), or telling the truth when we bear witness in court, etc.

Prudence: the virtue which lets us choose good means to reach our goal (happiness). The supreme human virtue, which guides all the other virtues.

Etc., etc.

5) The impression we get when we read this Course

The impression we are struck with, when we read the Government's Course, is the near total lack of course!

Do you remember playing in the bath when you were young? The Course is roughly organized like that. All students are put in a bathtub (the "LAO"), with toys (the ethical situations), and we let them play. There are some rules, like don't throw toys in the face of other children, don't splash water on the bathroom floor, don't "do a Number 1" in the water, etc.

The teacher's task is to be like the mother who fills the bathtub with water at the right temperature, who brings the toys, who enforces the rules mentioned here above, and who praises or blames the children after bathtime, based on whether they played well or not. The teacher must not come and play with the children, nor tell the children what toys they should prefer, nor how they should play. It's a game. By definition, there isn't a goal to attain, apart from having fun together.

6) Does the bath and toys metaphor apply?

Does the bath and toys metaphor apply? Or is it only a caricature (Sophism consisting in "deforming the position or the thought of someone, among others by radicalizing or simplifying it, in order to make it non-credible", [p. 71]). Let's consider a few facts:

6.1) The absence of an Ethics course in this Course. The main fact is obviously the absence of an Ethics course in this document. To observe this, go read an Ethics course, then go read Ethics and Religious Culture, Secondary, Approved Version.

6.2) Dialogue's central role. "Keep in mind that, whatever the extent of a situation or the combination of themes and elements considered, the skill relative to the practice of dialogue remains the pivot around which learnings must be organized" [p. 20].

6.3) The teacher as housewife. The teacher doesn't teach a content. "To avoid influencing students in the development of their point of view, [the teacher] abstains from giving his own" [p. 25]. The teacher only steps in when a student throws a toy or does a Number 1 in the LAO: "When a stated opinion infringes on the dignity of the person or the actions proposed compromise the common good, the teacher steps in by refering to the finalities of the curriculum" [p. 25].

6.4) The rules of the game in the bathtub. See "5.3.2 Procedures susceptible to hinder dialogue", p. 71-72.

6.5) The final exam: Has the student passed the Course? In the end, either the student has learnt the material, or not. After a Math or English course, if the student cannot calculate or write, there's a problem! Let's now look at the success criteria for the Course [p. 93], compared to the answers of a young student, little Hadolph Yytler:

Expectations and assessment criteria

Learnings of little Hadolph Yytler

6.5.1) At the end of the cycle, the student is able to conduct an ethical reflexion on topics dealing with tolerance, the future of humankind, justice and the ambivalence of men.

Tolerance is good, but not for Jews. The future of mankind is the Aryan race. Justice is that we get back the money stolen from us by the Jews. The ambivalence of men is, for example, that the Atheist bureaucrats who drafted this Course will get payed, even if this Course sucks.

6.5.2) He can describe a situation and think about ethical issues.

Situation: the purity of the Aryan race is threatened.

6.5.3) He compares a diversity of points of view, in order to show the different perspectives.

Some people disagree. But the majority of Nazis agree to eliminate Jews.

6.5.4) He notices the presence of values and norms, and explains tensions or conflicts of values.

Some consider that racial purity is a value, others think that keeping inferior races alive is a value. Obviously, there is a tension between those two values.

6.5.5) He demonstrates knowledge of benchmarks present in perspectives.

Benchmark: "Mein Kampf" (let's not forget that the German Supreme Court had ruled that Jews were not men, so the Constitution and the Charter of Rights cannot be benchmarks).

6.5.6) To continue his reflexion, he considers other benchmarks, priorizes the most significant, and shows their influence.

Of course, if we only exterminated Jews, that wouldn't solve all our problems. Some of those Catholics are pretty annoying! But we have to set priorities: Jews first.

6.5.7) He reinvests his ethical reflexion in other situations.

Well, if I exterminated the authors of this Course, that would be a possible improvement. I'd waste less time arguing with bureaucrats.

6.5.8) He assess options and possible actions, and anticipates the effects on himself and on others, based on the living-together.

Exterminate using machine guns? No, the ammo is too expensive. Lynching? Too slow. Gas chambers? Yes! Our living-together amongst Aryans will be improved! (Jews are not human, after all; see #6.5.5 here above.)

6.5.9) He anticipates other contexts in which he'll be able to transfer his learnings.

Guess what, the USA has problems with dirty niggers. I could get hired as a consultant!

6.5.10) He re-examines his process, assess its efficiency for his ethical reflexion, and considers possible paths of improvement.

See #6.5.7 here above.

If you think the learnings of little Hadolph Yytler are incompatible with this Course, see the challenge presented here below in the Conclusion.

7) The underlying assumptions of this Course

As usual in Philosophy, we have to look for the implicit assuptions if we want to understand an explicit position.

What underpins this whole Course is Value Theory. It's an Ethical theory among others. At university, in a course on the history of Ethics, the Philosophy teacher would have to discuss this theory, since it became popular about a century ago (the "Post-Modern" era). Except in this Course, it's the only moral theory which underpins the whole approach. Moreover, it is never explicitely presented, and obviously its solidity is never put to the test. In other words, even though the "student must acquire an autonomous, critical and creative mind" [p. 30], we never find this autonomous and critical thought directed to the philosophical foundations of this Course!

Let's consider a few caracteristics of Value Theory, compared with this Ethics and Religious Culture Course:

7.1) The definition of "value". "Value: Character attributed to things, attitudes or behaviors which are more or less esteemed or desired by persons or groups of persons. A value can sometimes be used as a criteria to assess if a behavior is acceptable. Values can form consistent and hierarchized sets called "value systems". We then talk about social, religious or family values. In some situations, value conflicts arise when one or more persons favor one action over another, thereby actualizing values that don't converge or whose meaning is not univocal" [p. 54].

7.2) The absence of the words "good" and "evil" in a non-sociological sense. I counted 114 occurences of the word "value". On the other hand, I never find the word "good", if not in a relativistic and subjective sense. The common "good" is simply what all Quebecers agree on: "the quest with others of common values; the valorization of projects which foster living-together; and the promotion of the principles and democratic ideals of the quebecois society" [p. 10]. In other words, if Quebecers changed their values, the definition of "good" would change. Even the expression "Moral Principle" is blighted with relativism and subjectivism: "Norm which defines what's necessary to do, or not to do, in order to attain what is considered as good" [my emphasis, p. 54].

7.3) The absence of expressions like "true value" or "false value". By definition, Value Theory assumes criteriological skepticism. In other words, the expression "true value" doesn't make sense in that theory. It's assumed that values are not part of that reality which we can know objectively. A value judgment cannot be true or false [p. 70].

7.4) The Ethics textbooks listed in the Bibliography. Even if Ethics courses have existed for thousands of years, all the works listed in the Bibliography, and having the word "Morality" or "Ethics" in their title, are less than twenty years old (Post-Modern period in Philosophy) [p. 75-76].

Etc., etc...

Value Theory is a philosophical parasite; it cannot live by itself. When pressed with "The little Hadolph Yytler objection", people who claim to agree with Value Theory have very few options:

- Admit some values are absolutely false. This means Good and Evil really exist, which means traditional morality is true, which means Value Theory is false.

- Appeal to social convention. For example, the Charter of Rights says Hadolph Yytler is wrong. But that means if all Canadians voted to exterminate Jews, it would become "morally good" to do so!

- Retreat into a vague pagan faith. For example, "faith in the inner goodness of human nature". But if Value Theory is based on faith, then this whole Course is a religious course. It's supposed to be based on Reason and facts (like traditional morality is).

8) Conclusion

Even for the Rabaska gas terminal, the Government pretended to listen to the population, even though it only concerned a region of the Province of Quebec. (I even translated a few of those public hearings, where anybody could come and present their complaints.)

The Ethics and Religious Culture Course will have an impact on the whole population, with no exceptions. But there's more, since the impact of this Course will be on the weakest and most vulnerable elements of the population, our children of the Primary and Secondary levels!

I invite the Government to have the courage to dive themselves into the kind of bathtub they want to impose on all of our children. Organize an "LAO": invite at least the authors of this Course and me. Have us dialogue in front of a video camera, according to the rules listed in this Course, then put the result on the Department of Education's web site. Then, let parents vote to see if Quebec really wants an Ethics course based on Value Theory!

If you're short on time or space, we can have this dialogue by e-mails displayed on the Internet. You'll therefore be able to show a good example of openness, transparency and democracy, which are, you'll certainly agree, among the "fundamental values of the québécois society" [p. 30].

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