By ABIGAIL CASPARI in Rotorua
Central North Island principals have rejected a call by the head of the Catholic Church for ethics and philosophy to be taught in all secondary schools.
Principals approached by The Daily Post say there is no room in an already overcrowded curriculum for a further two subjects.
However, they agree with Cardinal Tom Williams about a decline in moral standards, and say it is important that children learn about values.
Cardinal Williams, who was in Rotorua this week, said he believed society was becoming increasingly concerned about the rise in abortions, girls under 16 being allowed to have an abortion without their parents' knowledge, and the legalising of prostitution.
He condemned the "high level of sleaze" on television, and said sex was no longer a way of expressing human love, but was a commodity for sale.
One way of addressing the issue was for schools and parents to do a better job of teaching children about morals, he said.
Bethlehem College principal and Bay of Plenty Principals' Association chairman Brian Seatter said while he agreed with Cardinal Williams' comments about moral decline, it was not necessarily practical for schools to teach ethics and philosophy as separate subjects.
He said all Bay of Plenty secondary schools taught values at some level, and there was room for there to be more focus on values.
However, teaching ethics and philosophy as full subjects would be difficult.
The subjects could only be offered as an option for senior students and it would be at a financial cost for schools. Mr Seatter said families needed to take more responsibility for such issues.
"I think schools kid themselves. We think we have more influence than is the case. The home and the family is still the dominant influence."
Taupo-Nui-A-Tia College principal Graeme Ryan said teaching ethics and philosophy was the wrong approach.
The school is the first and possibly the only New Zealand secondary school to run the Cornerstones values programmes, which it claims has been a success.
All students are taught eight values over a year including honesty, responsibility, respect, obedience to rightful authority, kindness and compassion.
Mr Ryan said the programme had changed the atmosphere in the school. However, ethics and philosophy were too vague for students to understand and were more appropriate at university level.
"To the average person a lot of the content will go above their heads."
Rotorua Boys' High School principal Chris Grinter said schools needed to teach more about values.
"Schools accept that we need to work in this area more and more. I don't think it's being addressed at home [as much]."
Associate Education Minister Marian Hobbs said values were already taught as part of the curriculum. "Our schools are expected to reinforce the commonly held values of individual and collective responsibility which underpin our democratic society."
She said the health and physical education curriculum dealt with personal and social well-being, with students encouraged to set realistic and worthwhile goals and develop healthy patterns of living.
Schools could not teach ethics and philosophy like they taught mathematics because "you can't force it and you can't ensure the outcome".
The president of the Post Primary Teachers' Association, Phil Smith, said if ethics and philosophy were to be taught as subjects, something else would have to go. "We have to be very careful that we don't expect secondary schools to do everything for society. We are not replacements for parents or families. We can only do so much," Mr Smith said.
By ABIGAIL CASPARI in Rotorua