Phil 1001Assign. #8, Sommers 1Philosophy 1101Jim Schaar Assignment #8Check the syllabus for due date. Read the essay entitled Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong, by Christina Hoff Sommers. (Copied below) Write a 2.5 to 3 page reflection paper addressing the following things; 1. Do you think Sommer’s observations; “Conceptually and culturally, however, today’s young people live in a moral haze,” and that they, “are incapable of making even one confident moral judgment,” is generally/somewhat accurate- why or why not? 2. Are Sommer’s observations accurate about you? Why or why not? (please feel free to be honest) 3. Briefly, what are Sommer’s suggestions for addressing the problem she sees. Do you agree or disagree that her suggestions would help? 4. What other aspect(s) of the essay did you find interesting and why? Print out a copy of the essay and bring it to class the day it is listed on the syllabus. Highlight areas of interest to you, in the essay, that you might wish to comment on in the discussion we will have about it one day. “Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong” By Christina Hoff Sommers We need a "great relearning," to restore our moral environment We often hear that today Johnny can’t read, can’t write, and has trouble finding France on a map. It is also true that Johnny is having difficulty distinguishing right from wrong. Along with illiteracy and innumeracy, we must add deep moral confusion to the list of American educational problems. Increasingly, today s young people know little or nothing about the Western moral tradition. This was recently demonstrated by Tonight Show host Jay Leno. Leno frequently does "man-on-the-street" interviews, and one night he collared some young people to ask them questions about the Bible. "Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?" he asked two college-age women. One replied, "Freedom of speech?" Mr. Leno said to the other, "Complete this sentence: Let he who is without sin. . . ." Her response was, "have a good time?" Mr. Leno then turned to a young man and asked, "Who, according to the Bible, was eaten by a whale?" The confident answer was, "Pinocchio."Conceptual Moral Chaos As with many humorous anecdotes, the underlying reality is not funny at all. These young people are morally confused. They are the students I and other teachers of ethics see every day. Like most professors, I am acutely aware of the "hole in the moral ozone." When you have as many conversations with young people as I do, you come away both exhilarated and depressed. There is a
Phil 1001Assign. #8, Sommers 2great deal of simple good-heartedness, instinctive fair-mindedness, and spontaneous generosity of spirit in them. Most of the students I meet are basically decent individuals. They form wonderful friendships and seem considerate of and grateful to their parents more so than the baby boomers were. An astonishing number are doing volunteer work (70 percent of college students, according to one annual survey). They donate blood to the Red Cross in record numbers and deliver food to housebound elderly people. They spend summer vacations working with deaf children or doing volunteer work in Mexico. This is a generation of kids that, despite relatively little moral guidance or religious training, is putting compassion into practice. Conceptually and culturally, however, today s young people live in a moral haze. Ask one if there are such things as right and wrong, and suddenly you are confronted with a confused, tongue-tied, nervous, and insecure individual. The same person who works weekends for Meals on Wheels, who volunteers for a suicide prevention hotline or a domestic violence shelter might tell you, "Well, there really is no such thing as right or wrong. It s kind of like whatever works best for the individual. Each person has to work it out for himself." This kind of answer, which is so common as to be typical, is no better than the moral philosophy of asociopath. I often meet students incapable of making even one single confident moral judgment. And it s getting worse. The very notion of objective moral truths is in disrepute. And this mistrust of objectivity has begun to spill over into other areas of knowledge such as the concept of objective truth in science and history. An undergraduate at Williams College recently reported that her classmates, who had been taught that "all knowledge is a social construct," were doubtful that the Holocaust had occurred. One of her classmates said, "Although the Holocaust may not have happened, it s a perfectly reasonable conceptual hallucination." A creative writing teacher at Pasadena City College wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about teaching Shirley Jackson’s celebrated short story "The Lottery" to today’s college students. It is the tale of a small farming community that seems normal in every way, but, as the plot progresses, the reader learns that the village carries out an annual lottery, the loser of which is stoned to death. Past students always understood "The Lottery" as a warning about the dangers of mindless conformity, but today not one of them will go out on a limb and take a stand against human sacrifice.The Loss of Truth It was not always thus. When Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men have the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," he did not say, "At least, that is my opinion." He declared it as an objective truth. Today s young people enjoy the fruits of these ideas, but they are not being given the intellectual and moral training to argue for and justify truth. On the contrary, the kind of education they are getting is systematically undermining their common sense about what is true and right. After the long assault on objective truth, many college students find themselves unable to say why the United States was on the right side in World War II. Some even doubt that America was in the right. To add insult to injury, they are not even sure that the salient events of the war ever took place. They simply lack confidence in the objectivity of history. Too many young people are morally confused, ill-informed, and adrift. This confusion gets worse rather then better once they go to college. If they are attending an elite school, they can actually lose their common sense and become clever and adroit intellectuals in the worst sense. George Orwell
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