Western Teacher : Volume 46.1 - January 2017
20 Western Teacher January 2017 Professional The loss of conscience By Wilson McCaskill I’m disturbed by what appears to be the ever-diminishing role of conscience as a regulator of behaviour, and the fear that the numbers of children who knowingly do the wrong thing with no twinge of conscience is increasing. They are not alone. TV, newspapers and magazines are not short of stories about people who commit acts ranging from the inappropriate to the heinous, without remorse, regret or self-reproach. For a while now I have been seizing opportunities to awaken children’s awareness of and responsiveness to the inner voice of conscience. The improvements in their self-control have been uplifting. I think of conscience as that dynamic tension between our beliefs and our actions. Often referred to as our “moral compass”, it is activated when we contemplate actions in contradiction of our beliefs. It guides us and speaks to us with an intimacy reserved only for itself. It is meant to be ever alert and present, with the power to inform us even when we don’t want it to. It can also be soothing, reassuring us when we have done things that were right to do but for whatever reason, we would have rather not done. How comforting it would be if this inner voice, the guarding of our conduct, was unable to be switched off. Children use an array of similes to describe their conscience and helping to find those similes is a fruitful and fun activity that adds impact and meaning to conscience. The following examples are some I’ve gathered over the years: • It’s like railway tracks and you’re in trouble if you come off. • It’s like the light in your fridge that comes on when you open the door to show you what’s there. But it also tells you the best things to eat. • It’s like the real you asking you to be real. • It’s like your own bodyguard. • It’s like your Mum and Dad are in your head, but speaking in your voice. • It’s like your best friend speaking the truth even when you tell them to be quiet. Conscience is as vulnerable as it is strong, having been shaped by a child’s education, experience and immersion within the moral framework of a society and culture. When exercised, acknowledged, questioned, shaped and guided with care it can serve as life raft, fortress, rocket ship, prison and peacemaker. But left to its own devices, or allowed to simply absorb, discard and treat values as commodities of convenience, conscience falls victim to the whims of its owner. Too often it whimpers when it should roar, if indeed it makes any noise at all. To know it’s there, to understand that it is a strong friend, a helper in moments of moral difficulty, a protector of immeasurable strength and limitless value is both uplifting and comforting. Wilson McCaskill is the founder/director of Play Is The Way: www.playistheway.com.au As teachers we can raise children’s awareness of and reliance on their conscience. I have found that students respond positively to questioning that makes them look inwards and listen to their inner voice.
Volume 45.9 November 2016
Volume 46.2 - February 2017