Should schools teach values? NZ schools soon will, much to the outrage of Libertarians. Knowing schools, I'm sure this programme will turn out to be a patronizing waste of time. But I'm not opposed to it in principle. In fact, I'm of the strong opinion that schools should be educating students about philosophical ethics -- though of course that's a far cry from the obedience training that we're likely to see here instead.
The vast majority of people are not even aware that ethics is an academic field, in which rational inquiry is possible. For example, when a cousin learnt I was studying ethics at university, he expressed bewilderment: "why do that church stuff?" I don't think he's unusually ignorant. But if most people can't tell the difference between "ethics" and "church stuff", then our education system is sorely lacking.
Unfortunately, I don't suppose the curriculum changes are going to address this problem. When they say they're going to "teach values", what they really mean is that they're going to tell students how to behave. (Key values mentioned were "respect, honesty and truthfulness, and responsibility".) Which is all very nice, except I can't imagine why they think the kids are going to listen.
So, rather than trying to order kids around, why not show a bit of respect for their intellectual potential, and really try to educate them about morality instead? Rather than telling them what's right and wrong, how about we inquire into what makes an action right or wrong. Rather than ordering students to be more co-operative, how about we show them why it's important, by discussing the illustrative Prisoner's Dilemma (which may lead to further discussion about the nature of rationality). Rather than telling students to show others respect, how about we get them to examine Nagel's arguments concerning the impersonal badness of pain? Get them to reflect on the nature of their own suffering, and see that "the pain can be detached in thought from the fact that it is mine without losing any of its dreadfulness", and any who truly learn the lesson will be rationally compelled - by their own volition - to show more concern for others.
Don't just tell them to be moral. Show them why it is irrational not to be. Don't just tell them what values they should have. Discuss why those values are better than the alternatives. (And let them argue their case to the contrary -- then gently point out any flaws in their argument.) This is far more respectful to the students, far more valuable for their education, and far more likely to engage their interest and so yield real results.
This would be a wonderful opportunity to clarify ethical thinking in our society. A shockingly large number of people believe in some variation of psychological egoism (the claim that all actions are done from selfish motivations). But this conceptual confusion can be cleared up in a few short minutes by anyone who knows what they're talking about. Critically examine the relation between society and morality, pointing out the obvious flaws in pop relativism. Question the culturally dominant assumption that economic rationality is all there is to rationality. Get students to think about what really makes one's life go well. Let them engage with these most important of questions; let them argue; let them learn.
But, alas, I don't expect we will be seeing any of this any time soon.