Many parents and teachers are at a loss when it comes to encouraging values in children. Some parents, in the name of open-mindedness, avoid passing on their moral principles to their children. Schools, through either fear of lawsuits or a narrow focus on academics, bend over backwards to keep from bringing values into the classroom. In the midst of this vacuum, we are raising generations of children whose standards of conduct are drawn primarily from television, movies, computer games, and popular music.
In this timely and important book, Nitai Deranja, a parent and school teacher for over 30 years, explains some basic, non-sectarian tools and techniques that parents and educators can use to help children and teens cultivate positive values. Through the helpful discussion and hands-on exercises he provides, children and teens will have fun while learning universally esteemed values such as kindness, cheerfulness, courage, willingness, and self-control, among many others.
Share Values without Preaching, without Dogma
Today’s children need more than academic education—they also need positive values for making the most of their education and their lives. Selfishness, greed, and moodiness are common—but treatable!—burdens for many children.
Michael Nitai Deranja offers simple-to-use, effective activities to help children learn—from their own experience—that expressing virtue actually brings them more happiness. Ages 4 to 17 will have fun with these activities as they explore seventeen different values, including cooperation, concentration, integrity, willingness, and many others. As children learn through direct, personal experience, these positive values become part of their lives.
This book will also show you how to:
- Help children overcome one of the greatest obstacles to learning—restlessness
- Exercise firm, loving discipline
- Communicate more honestly and effectively with children
- Guide teens to discover true maturity, and still maintain the enthusiasm of childhood
For Goodness’ Sake gives you tools to bring more depth of sharing into your home or classroom, and to help children experience the highest expression of themselves.
Chapter One: From Indoctrination to Experience
Chapter Two: Sharing Values with Children
The Quality of Attention
The Quality of Cheerfulness
The Quality of Concentration
The Quality of Cooperation
The Quality of Courage
The Quality of Empathy
The Quality of Enthusiasm
The Quality of Friendship
The Quality of Integrity
The Quality of Peace
The Quality of Self-Awareness
The Quality of Self-Control
The Quality of Service
The Quality of Sharing
The Quality of Trust
The Quality of Willingness
The Quality of Will Power
Chapter Three: Sharing Values with Teens
Chapter Four: Values: Sectarian or Universal?
Chapter Five: From Restlessness to Self-Discovery
Chapter Six: The Role of Adults
Chapter One: From Indoctrination to Experience
There is a precious, central strand that runs through all the diverse facets of childhood. Because of its subtlety, this strand
can be hard to define, much like the blind men trying to describe the elephant. Some refer to it as moral development, others as
spiritual unfoldment, still others as character growth, values clarification, or, as in the title of this book, simply "goodness."
This strand, however, is more easily identified if we focus on a few of its key attributes like kindness, cheerfulness, courage,
willingness, and self-control. It would be difficult to find anyone who would disagree with the importance of these qualities in a
It seems exceedingly strange, then, that we find ourselves in the current situation where so many parents and teachers are at
a loss when it comes to encouraging values in today’s children. How many parents, in the name of open-mindedness, avoid passing
on their moral principles to their children? How many schools, citing a fear of lawsuits or a narrow focus on academics, bend
over backward to keep from bringing values into the classroom? How did we get to the point where a whole generation of children
draws its standards of conduct primarily from television, movies, computer games, and popular music?
While on the surface, goodness may seem to be out of fashion, it takes only a little probing to see that current generations
are not really so different from the forebears. Friendship remains on of life’s greatest blessings. Truthfulness, however rare
its appearance in the mass media, is still deeply appreciated in our interactions with others. Peace, as elusive as ever in the
international arena, yet provides a timeless reservoir for personal renewal and well-being. It is not then a shift in our basic
values that lies at the heart of our current confusion. What has changed, and radically so, is the context for sharing these
ideals with our children.
It was not so long ago that the world consisted of many essentially separate cultures. During those times the question of
how to share values with young people was relatively simple to answer. You gathered the children together in the local church,
school, or other convenient meeting place and passed on the traditional truths of your society. Because everyone shared the
same belief system, there were few, if any, objections, and life rolled along rather smoothly, at least on the surface. But
those times are gone. Expanded opportunities for travel and the rise of mass media have brought about an unprecedented mixing
of cultures. Societies that were once remote are now part of our everyday lives. Increased levels of interaction, however,
inevitably foster comparison and questioning. No longer can educators merely pass on the teachings of a particular religion.
No longer can parents assume that their standards are the only ones their children will be exposed to. For better or for worse,
the pluralistic society is here to stay.
You may have heard the story of the woman who tried to organize a Christmas party in her office. First there were
objections from the Jews about the emphasis on Jesus; then the Muslims pointed out that a party would conflict with their
Ramadan fast. After being confronted with the demands for an organic, meat-free alternative from the vegetarians as well
as a seemingly endless array of low-salt, high-fiber, no-cholesterol diets, the woman gave up and took the afternoon off on sick leave.
This woman’s approach is mirrored in the reactions of many educators and parents. Faced with the onslaught of
differing cultures and belief systems, our tendency has been to simply withdraw from the challenges of character
education. Too often we have shown a willingness to settle for the lowest of common denominators, such as zero
tolerance for drugs or innocuous discussions on the merits of justice and honesty. Although these approaches may
avoid stepping on anyone’s toes, they do so at the cost of helping our children become full, dynamic human beings.
Fortunately, we can look at this situation from a more promising perspective. Instead of bemoaning the loss of the
"good old days" of simple, homogeneous cultures, we can view the pluralistic society as an opportunity for growth.
For if we look more closely at the preceding era, we will begin to notice certain disturbing elements. When everyone
belongs to the same church or ethnic group, the unquestioning acceptance of values encourages the thought that "we’re
right and anyone who believes differently must be wrong." Under these circumstances it is easy to view groups with
differing customs as heathens or infidels who are best avoided, proselytized, or, when necessary, massacred. The accompanying
self-righteousness and prejudice are responsible for the most sordid chapters in our history books.
A further shortcoming is the tendency to take values for granted. Moral precepts that are authoritatively and rigidly
passed down from one generation to another gradually lose their vitality. Succeeding generations may pay lip service to
their traditions, but they lack the depth of commitment and creativity necessary for adapting old ideas to the ever-changing
demands of contemporary affairs. By contrast, social and cultural interchange forces us to reexamine our values and to realize
they are not like stock items that can be stored on a shelf to be taken down on demand. Rather, it becomes apparent that
values have real merit only when shared in a living, vibrant manner that reveals their life-enhancing potential.
Early in my life, I had the opportunity to compare the effects produced by two, radically different approaches to moral
training. During my eight years at a traditional Catholic elementary school, I was exposed to countless hours of the
old-style method of indoctrination, memorizing whole sections of the young people’s catechism of beliefs:
(Question) Who made us?
(Answer) God made us.
(Question) Who is God?
(Answer) God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect who made all things and keeps them in existence.
(Question) Why did God make us?
(Answer) God made us to show forth his goodness and share with us his everlasting happiness in heaven.
And on and on . . .
Good grades in religion class could be had by anyone with a well-developed memory. But when it came to more personal
issues like the motivation for being good, the bottom line was fear: in the big picture, fear of everlasting hellfire,
and in more immediate environs, fear of the nuns’ wrath. When I moved on to public high school, I was automatically freed
from the lesser wrath. It took a few more years to escape the threat of eternal damnation, but when it did pass, all my formal
religious training was swept along with it.
There was one incident, however, that produced a more enduring effect. Although I was too young to appreciate all its
implications, the freshness and integrity of this event stood out in stark contrast to the other kinds of training I had
received. The episode occurred during the winter term of my eighth-grade year, as my friends and I eagerly awaited the
end of grammar school. Our sense of anticipation was heightened by heavy rains that made it impossible for us to work
off our bubbling adolescent energy on the playground. With no access to a gymnasium, we began to congregate in the boys’
bathroom, a place of relative freedom in a school run by women. One day someone suggested we match pennies, a simple game
in which two people flip coins, with the winner keeping both pennies. In our advanced state of boredom, this brief taste
of gambling caught everyone’s imagination. It wasn’t long before we were smuggling dice, cards, and poker chips into school.
Inevitably, we were discovered and marched to the principal’s office. After being chastised for the bad example we were
setting for the younger children, we were punished with the loss of two weeks’ lunch recess. In a school like ours there
wasn’t any extra staff, so the person assigned to supervise our punishment was Sister St. John, our classroom teacher.
The unfairness of the situation for her was apparent to all of us; because of our misdeeds, she would have to give up
her precious midday break. On the day our sentence was to commence, our expectations were for the worst. We all knew
she had every right to be upset with us.
I can still picture Sister standing in front of us eight boys at the beginning of that first lunch recess, announcing
that we would be spending the next two weeks together. Our imaginations had conjured up all sorts of distasteful consequences:
writing "I will not gamble" five thousand times, sitting in silence for two weeks, going without food? To our astonishment
Sister said that we had the choice of going through two weeks of hell or two weeks of something better. She then handed out
copies of a play called "Pitch Black and the Seven Giants." The chance to perform the inverse of "Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs" seemed an appropriate match for our current delinquent status, and we readily chose this alternative. Thus commenced
two highly enjoyable weeks of rehearsals, capped by a performance for the rest of our class.
My friends and I were stunned by the whole incident. What had happened to the punishment? The sense of guilt and shame?
The scoldings on the evils of gambling? I don’t know if Sister really understood all that was taking place, but the end
result was that her compassion and goodwill succeeded beautifully in lifting us out of a rather dark and negative state
of mind. Later in life I came across a saying that captures the essence of her approach: "You can’t drive out the darkness
with a stick. What we need is light!" Perhaps she had sensed that our motivations weren’t really evil, just an impulsive
response to boredom. In fact, with the return of better weather, no one showed the slightest interest in gambling for the
remainder of the year.
The experience affected me deeply. I absorbed the seed-thought that there might be more to religion and values than
memorizing precepts from a book. Life went on through high school, college, and teacher training, and thirteen short
years later I found myself on the other side of the teacher’s desk.
As with many teachers, my motivation for entering the profession was to help children become better people. From
the start I could see that an exclusive focus on fractions and vocabulary development wasn’t going to satisfy me.
Students might get high grades in language or math, but could still be insensitive, untruthful, or lacking in courage.
What kinds of adults would these children become, and why should I invest so much time and energy for such limited results?
I’d received no help in this area from my education classes at the university where the only reference to values had
occurred under the heading of "classroom management," a code word for getting the children to do whatever the teacher
wanted. On my own, then, I struggled to address what I came to call the "how-to-live" parts of my children’s lives. I
began by leading discussions on such values as honesty, kindness, and cooperation. We also read books about people who
demonstrated these qualities in their lives. The students were developing a good intellectual understanding of the
concepts, but their behavior made it clear that something else was needed before they could integrate these values into
everyday life. I had to admit that I wasn’t doing much better than the nuns had done with me. And then a second
remarkable episode occurred. One morning it snowed . . .
Snow is unusual where I live, and I’d have been a complete ogre not to go along with the children’s pleas for a
special recess. I stayed inside watching from the window, enjoying the unbounded exuberance of their play. In the space
of a few minutes, however, the scene shifted dramatically. First, it was an inadvertent shove that landed someone on
the ground, then a wayward snowball hitting another child in the face. Within minutes the whole class seemed to be
angry with one another. I rang the bell and called the students in.
After a calming-down period, I asked everyone to join me in the middle of the carpet for a discussion circle.
"Can we go outside again?" someone asked. "Only on one condition," I responded, reminding everyone of the topic of
cooperation we had been discussing. "Anyone who wants to go out in the snow will have to take a personal pledge to
practice the quality of cooperation. The moment you behave otherwise, you’ll have to come back in." Everyone, of
course, wanted to get back to recess, so we had an impromptu swearing-in ceremony as students solemnly pledged to
cooperate with one another. When they returned to the playground, at first there were a few nervous glances in my
direction and some overly polite interactions, but gradually everyone settled into good, wholesome, cooperative
play. Even the architecture was affected. Whereas during the first recess squat, box-like forts seemed to have been
the structure of choice, now the children were helping one another create soaring, elegant palaces.
After about half an hour, I signaled for recess to end. We re-formed our discussion circle, and I asked which
recess they had enjoyed more. Every hand quickly went up in favor of the second one. When I asked for ideas on why
the second recess had worked so well, everyone agreed that the practice of cooperation had made all the difference.
If I had any doubts about the power of this incident, they evaporated as I watched the children maintain their
cooperation over the ensuing weeks and months.
Here was the alternative I had been searching for to take values instruction beyond the realm of indoctrination.
First with Sister St. John I had witnessed the transforming effects of her compassion. Now my students had discovered
how the quality of cooperation could make their recesses more enjoyable. Clearly, it was direct, personal experience
that made it possible for children to appreciate why they should incorporate positive values into daily life.
My challenge, then, has been to explore the possibilities of using an experiential approach to values, one that
emphasizes intelligent observation as opposed to unquestioning acceptance. In pursuing this goal, I have had the
benefit of a uniquely supportive environment. At the Ananda Living Wisdom School, for more than 30 years there has
been a group of parents, as well as a broader community, committed to providing their children with a spiritually
inspiring education that avoids the pitfalls of dogmatism and sectarianism. In this laboratory-type situation, I
have had many opportunities to experiment with finding ways to share values with elementary students and, in more
recent years, with teenagers. In addition, through raising my own son and daughter, I have had the opportunity to
apply these insights to the more intimate realm of parenting.
This book presents the fruits of these efforts. In chapter 2 under such headings as peace, trust, and courage,
are the games and other activities that have proven helpful in working with children, primarily with 5- through
12-year-olds. Chapter 3 shows that these activities can also work with teenagers, but only when integrated into
programs that meet their more expansive needs. Chapter 4 examines such underlying issues as the origins of values
and their place in human experience. Chapter 5 addresses the crucial topic of overcoming restlessness in children
and teens, and Chapter 6 offers suggestions for building healthy adult-child relationships. It is my hope that you
will use this book as you would a collection of recipes: useful in getting started, but giving way eventually to
your own creative efforts.
"I have known Michael Nitai Deranja for more than thirty years. He is a man of real wisdom who knows how to draw the best out of young people, and his book echoes his voice of experience. As a parent, I listen closely when he talks about children. If I were an educator, I could not conceive of a finer mentor or guide."
—Richard Salva, author of Walking with William of Normandy