While teaching the Russian Bolshevik revolution for the purpose of establishing the foothold of Marxism and Leninism, I first had to set the stage for the revolution in 1917. I explained how the tzars had ruled without restraint and goodness for three hundred years. They had lived well when the peasants starved; had murdered and exploited their kingdom at will, had murdered one another, poisoned one another, and according to he Christian-Judeo beliefs at the time, were an immoral bunch who were also known to have died of gonorrhea.
"What is gonorrhea?" A student asked.
"A sexually transmitted disease," I responded, and the conversation moved on.
At the class break, a student needed to speak with me. We stepped outside the classroom for privacy. The student informed me that I was wrong for calling the Russian tzars behavior immoral. I explained that within the context of history, I felt I was fine. But the student wouldn't let it go and then the student said, "What you just taught in the classroom, gets people like me killed."
It felt like a kick in the gut. My own defense quieted and I listened. At the end of the conversation, I thanked the student for helping me to see things in a different light. I didn't need to include the comment on morality. Just the mention of gonorrhea, gave the context of the tzars' behaviors or promiscuities. A student would have been left to make his or her own judgments based on beliefs, upbringing and even sexual preference. But could I have even used the word promiscuity without backlash? The encounter ended well, but I was shaken.
Not knowing where this would end up, not knowing if the student's anger would trend on twitter, not knowing if her after-escape texts on her phone would make me a pariah in her community, I went to the school principal and explained the encounter.
"You're fine," she said, "because you made the judgment in the context of "Judeo-Christian beliefs at the time."
"I guess I have to omit morality from any teaching I do."
She sighed and agreed. "Yet, it's sad, because they are lost in this sea of gray and want to know what is right and wrong, but no, we can't teach morality."
And so we have entered yet another era of moral relativism--debated for thousands of years by thousands of people from ancient Greece and India to modern times. Moral relativism is based on the belief that morals are fluid according to culture and beliefs. It is directly opposed to moral absolutism which believes that moral principles are universal and apply to all people. One would think that the morality of murder is absolute--under no circumstances should blood be shed. Even in the Judeo-Christian world where life is cherished, during wartime, the shedding of blood morality shifts-still wrong but a necessary evil for freedom which becomes more moral than an enemy's life. An unborn child's life is secondary to a mother's threatened life, and for a growing majority of people, to a woman's right to choose.
As I finish teaching about the Cold War, my discussions will include the many reasons for the fall of communism. One of the many reasons was the objections and protests in America, and especially the draft dodgers who refused to fight in an immoral (will I constrain myself from calling it this?) war. I had originally planned to teach the ways a man could dodge the draft, because the students would find it interesting. One, a man could become a conscientious objector. Two, he could marry quickly and father a child. Three, he could stay enrolled in university studies, but this didn't guarantee protection. Four, he could commit a felony. Five, he could shoot a bald eagle (a felony), or enter into a conspiracy with at least two other people and not actually have to shoot a bald eagle. The conspiracy was enough. Number six: Commit an immoral act. In today's world, it would be illegal to call it an immoral act, and as a teacher of history, I will not teach number six.
I understand. I want our world to be accepting and loving of all people. I do not want to perpetuate beliefs that give crazy people permission to attack those who aren't moral. But how can we throw out the baby with the bathtub? Don't we need morals? Don't we need people who will stand up and teach morals.
One of the last chapters of Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed was titled, "The Ethics of Life and Death." Philip Hallie suggested these ethics meant that all life was to be valued and protected. I will not stop teaching the morals of the sacredness of life. This is an absolute, but as to the other morals of Judeo-Christian beliefs, they will, if they haven't already, disappear from the public school classroom.