College students are more skeptical than kids about teaching religious and patriotic values in public school. That’s the finding of a study by psychology professor Charles Helwig and graduate student Angela Prencipe, who asked children ages eight to 13 and college students what values should be taught in public schools and whether that teaching should be regulated. The study, published in Child Development, found that while younger children are more likely to feel that government should legislate the promotion of positive values such as racial equality, honesty, industriousness and patriotism as well as religious values, college students and teenagers have concerns about imposing a particular set of values on a diverse population.
“A challenge for any pluralist society is agreement on which values are to be passed on to future generations and how these values are to be taught and promoted,” says Helwig. “Surprisingly, children’s own perspectives are often not taken into consideration by policy-makers and researchers.” Although college students and teenagers approved of the teaching of character values such as a strong work ethic, they believed it should be at the discretion of teachers and schools, and not be required by law. They were more receptive to laws requiring the teaching of values such as justice and democracy, which could be shared among individuals in a multicultural society.