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Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong: And What We Can Do About It [Paperback]

By William Kilpatrick (Author)
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Item description for Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong: And What We Can Do About It by William Kilpatrick...

An analysis of why American schools fail to provide a moral education argues that the new decision-making-based educational theory fails to teach values

Publishers Description
A hard-hitting and controversial book, WHY JOHNNY CAN'T TELL RIGHT FROM WRONG will not only open eyes but change minds. America today suffers from unprecedented rates of teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, suicide, and violence. Most of the programs intended to deal with these problems have failed because, according to William Kilpatrick, schools and parents have abandoned the moral teaching they once provided. In WHY JOHNNY CAN'T TELL RIGHT FROM WRONG, Kilpatrick shows how we can correct this problem by providing our youngsters with the stories, models, and inspirations they need in order to lead good lives. He also encourages parents to read to their children and provides an annotated guide to more than 120 books for children and young adults.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong: And What We Can Do About It by William Kilpatrick has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Publishers Weekly - 08/09/1993

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Simon & Schuster
Pages   368
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.52" Width: 5.53" Height: 0.88"
Weight:   0.7 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 1, 1993
Publisher   Simon & Schuster
ISBN  0671870734  
ISBN13  9780671870737  
UPC  076714014008  

Availability  124 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 23, 2016 09:43.
Usually ships within one to two business days from La Vergne, TN.
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More About William Kilpatrick

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! WILLIAM KILPATRICK, Professor of Education at Boston College, is the author of four previous books, including "Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong," and is a frequent lecturer to university and parent audiences. Gregory and Suzanne M. Wolfe created "The Golden Key," an award-winning children's book catalogue. Gregory Wolfe is editor and publisher of "Image: A Journal of the Arts & Religion." Suzanne M. Wolfe is at work on her first novel.

William Kilpatrick was born in 1940.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Health, Mind & Body > General
2Books > Subjects > Health, Mind & Body
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Education > Education Theory > Aims & Objectives
4Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Education > General
5Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Ethics & Morality
6Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > General
7Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences
8Books > Subjects > Professional & Technical > Education > General
9Books > Subjects > Teens > Social Issues > General
10Books > Subjects > Teens > Social Issues

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Reviews - What do customers think about Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong: And What We Can Do About It?

Author is confused, too many overly simplistic answers...  Jul 17, 2005
This book attempts to tackle an extremely important subject: the decline of ethics and moral reasoning in our culture.

As the author points out, the lack of moral conscienceness appears to be progressive, almost at epidemic proportions. But his analysis is both thin and naive, and it's quite perplexing that Kilpatrick is a college professor. His attack of "feminism" and contemporary psychology is a misguided and oversimplified solution to a complex problem.

Two things the author completely misses. First, is "Johnny" really not able to tell right from wrong, or does he simply not care? Psychologist Alice Miller (We Shall Not Be Aware), Psychologist Anne Wilson Schaeff (Beyond Therapy Beyond Science), and Psychologist Mary Pipher (Reviving Ophelia) are just three examples of well-trained, well-researched clinical therapists who tackle this notion in a much more thoughtful manner. Though their methods differ, a common thread runs through their research: that morality, ambition, ethics, & awareness of consequences of their actions have been beaten out of both Johnny and Jane by "tough love" and other abusive methods of so-called discipline. Johnny and Jane *know* about right and wrong, they've just checked out of reality.

Second, why is this author looking at *children* to begin with? As Dr. Robert Minor points out in his book Scared Straight, the socializing of children in our culture is both systemic and violent; if you want to examine why children are behaving, look at the systems and institutions of our culture. (Also see The Way Things Never Were by Stephanie Coontz)

Kilpatrick's line of reasoning is just silly: adults in our culture are violent to our children, then when children do it to each other we call it peer pressure. Of course children are confused! We tell them violence never solves anything, then we wage war against Iraq without attempting a diplomatic solution. We tell them two wrongs don't make a right, then we become terrorists to kill the terrorists who terrorize us. We tell them money doesn't buy happiness, then our government sells out to Enron, Haliburton because a billion dollars just isn't enough.

We like to blame things on children, saying they cannot tell right from wrong, when adults in the US sit back and watch as we kill innocent women and children. We punish children for hitting another child on the playground, but we reward the most violent adults by putting them into power. We tell kids to clean up their messes, then we cause messes --such as the depleted uranium missiles used against Iraq-- that have killed 1.1 million Iraqis and have caused radiation poisoning in tens of thousands of Desert Storm soldiers. Then we refuse not only to clean it up, but deny responsibility of any sort.

The men in power are sending confusing, inconsistent, violent, and immoral messages to the children in our country. Don't blame the children - when Johnny misbehaves, he is just doing what we taught him.
a clarion call to teach a moral culture  Oct 2, 2000
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6

In recent years, a plethora of books, many of them excellent reading, have been published on the decline of moral ethics and intellectual knowledge, both in our educational establishment and within society at large. However, if one wants to focus specifically on the decline of moral discipline on the modern American scene, one could do worse than to read _Why_Johnny_Can't_Tell_Right_from_Wrong_ by William Kilpatrick .

Kilpatrick is (oddly enough) a professor of education at Boston College. (At least that strikes me as peculiar because I have difficulty envisioning any sensible person working in Boston.) He uncovers in detail the history of moral relativism's introduction into the curriculum, the rationalizations for the implementation of various programs, and the philosophical mindset or what Germans call _Weltanschauung _(worldview) of their respective proponents. These are dissected and discredited tartly but without rancor within the limited confines (not including notes and index) of 315 pages.

_Why_Johnny_Can't_Tell_Right_from_Wrong_ begins by describing pedagogic techniques, comparing those methods proven by experience and fashionable fads that stir up a brief flutter of excitement only to be discarded or renamed. Just as phonics was replaced by look-say methods with corresponding deterioration in scholastic achievement, so "character education" has been supplanted by approaches called variously "decision making" or "moral reasoning" to name two. The objective in this switch was ostensibly to enable children to make moral decisions with greater understanding and self-discovery rather than to learn them by rote. Much of the methodology focuses on "New Age" quasi-religious sensibilities and intimidation techniques designed to break down family bonds and loosen cultural inhibitions. The result has been instead, the raising of a generation that is unable to distinguish reasonable moral arguments from mere rationalizations. These future citizens are aware of their own "feelings" but are wholly ignorant and often contemptuous of concepts of absolute right and wrong.

Kilpatrick illustrates these points in subsequent chapters. Narcotics awareness education, for example, situates students in a "bull session" in which those having engaged in drug usage describe their experiences. This gives classroom dominance to the users and places nonusers in an awkward and unresponsive position. Sex education has demonstrated tremendous propensity to encourage sexual activity among unmarried school-age adolescents and by so doing transforming a deeply personal and intimate sharing between couples into a casual recreation. In a still later chapter, the devolution of contemporary "music" receives its share of deserved criticism.

The author goes on to describe two schools of thought currently enamored in schools: one emphasizing personal feelings, the other on moral dilemmas. The first, such as _Quest_ which focuses on "self-esteem", turns teachers into "facilitators" and encourages children to explore a develop their _own_ values and morals. The second, often labeled "values clarification" confuses children into believing that all morality is problematic. Instead of being taught clear examples of right and wrong, immature minds are presented with quandaries that would stupefy Middle East negotiators. The impression children are then left with from either of these exercises is that morality is relative.

The effects of multicultural education are also dissected. When American society is fractionalized, no transcendent themes or common commitments can emerge--merely a collection of groups bickering over snout privileges at the collective feeding trough--the opposite of the American goal of assimilation. Without an understanding of America's moral imperative, historical and even current events lack context. A highschool teacher in Virginia polled his students in three classes and fifty-one out of fifty-three saw no moral difference between the American and Soviet systems of government. The two who could see a difference were both Vietnamese boat children.

Kilpatrick notes that most of us learn moral values from stories and not from ab-stract definitions. He writes, "Morality needs to be set within a storied version if it is to remain morality. Conceived as rule keeping... it never works for long. Instead, it withers into something cold and cautious and, all too often, into self-righteousness. It is, of course, important to keep the rules, but the spirit in which they are kept is equally important." In _Orthodoxy_, G. K. Chesterton confessed, "I have always felt life first as a story." (This probably explains why _A_Book_of_Virtues_ by William Bennett was a best-seller.) Virtue, described in this way, is not simply a matter of abiding by regulations, but on acting in a heroic fashion. It matters, of course, what kind of stories are read. The idyllic vision of the nihilistic 1960s era remains attractive to many. Joseph Campbell represents a facet of this thought by offering an undemanding mythology of pantheistic nature worship. The discipline demanded in Judaeo-Christian ethics is less appealing to the self-indulgent--precisely all the more reason such values must be taught in our society, especially to the young.

The author concludes by admonishing parents to read to their children and providing a list of entertaining stories and novels from which to select. He ends his next-to-last chapter with a quotation from Jim Trelease, "I read because my father read to me. And because he'd read to me, when my time came I knew intuitively there is a torch that is supposed to be passed from one generation to the next. And through countless nights of reading I began to realize that when enough of the torchbearers--parents and teachers--stop passing the torches, a culture begins to die." It is in the hands of parents that ultimately the future learning of children is held. Without that active guidance, the spiritually neglected descendants of our heritage may be morally crippled from productive participation in the world at large--of benefit to neither man nor God. Fortunately, Professor Kilpatrick has given some insight into the problems and the remedies for this calamity, and _Why_Johnny_Can't_Tell_ deserves to be on the reading list of every parent and teacher.

A Valuable Reference  Aug 27, 2000
While I originally borrowed this book, I had to buy it to keep it's valuable list of recommended readings on hand. I am a child psychologist who, like Dr. Kilpatrick, is totally disillusioned with the misapplication of "expert psychotherapeutic principles" to our school-aged children. The problems that most children exhibit are not due to "blocked feelings" or an overly strict conscience. Rather, by virtue of their age, most children have underdeveloped consciences. It is our job, as adults, to strengthen children's characters, rather than assume they have some "innate wisdom" that will automatically lead them to do what is right. I have successfully used story-telling in my work as a child psycholgist because it gets messages across in a compelling, easily digested way. As a parent, I will look forward to exposing my daughters to the recommended readings in the extensive bibliography. (I can use some inspiration by re-reading many of these books too.)
One of the most important books on education  Nov 10, 1999
I saw the author of this book speak on C-SPAN, and also this book was recommended to me, as I am researching educational issues. This book explained so many things that I heretofore did not understand. If you are disturbed by the erosion of morality in this country, then read this book. Do you wonder about the effectiveness of drug prevention programs? Do you suspect that sex education actually increases sexual activity and pregnancy among teens? Well, it does, and the author tells how and why, in an objective, clear way. Does your child have a "psychologized classroom," with unearned self-esteem as the main goal? This book will tell you the full details on educational theory and practice in this country and the far-reaching consequences. Funny thing--social science supports many of the things traditionalists have been saying. I warn you, though, after reading this you may want to put your child in a private or home school, instead of allowing him or her to be at the mercy of educational experimenters who use our children to try out the latest intellectual fashions, with diasatrous results.
Excellent guide for teaching virtue through song, art, lit.  Nov 28, 1998
This book makes its point without self-righeousness or preaching of any kind. The author argues that the mission of schools has changed from building character and citizenship to addressing social problems (i.e. drug and sex education, multi-culturalism), and the focus has changed from conveying a shared culture to a focus on the process of learning itself. The author argues that virtues can be taught by offering up heroes to emulate through classics, song, and story, as an antidote to relative values. The last section of the book contains suggested children's literature, by age group. I found this book to be riveting and profound, offering a unique perspective, evenly and logically presented with no trace of fanatacism (religious or otherwise) such as might be expected in a book of this sort.

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