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Professor: Students Are Becoming Moral Nihilists

Ridgewood Police Continue to Seek Clues "Swastika" Graffiti

file photo by Boyd Loving

Are well-meaning teachers unintentionally producing moral nihilism in their students?

Richard Cocks

One thing I’ve learned in my years of teaching in the U.S. is that many young Americans are moral relativists. As students in elementary and secondary schools, they were taught that there is no moral fact of the matter. Thus, when people disagree about moral issues, their different perspectives are equally valid. It would be wrong to criticize anyone from another culture who sees things differently.

For example, my son’s high school English teacher wanted her students to say that child slavery in Ghana is morally permissible, the unstated premise being that there are no absolute moral principles that apply to all cultures at all times and places. In my college teaching, I often encounter the results of such thinking.

If I leave students’ relativism unchallenged and ask “Was the Holocaust evil and immoral?” many students will say “No.” “Was slavery evil and immoral?” I ask. Students often respond, “No. At the time people thought it was moral; society said it was moral, so it was moral.”

I often describe female genital mutilation, practiced in places like rural Sudan and argue that it is immoral because it is painful, involuntary, can lead to infection and death and removes the possibility of feeling sexual pleasure. Thus, this practice is immoral. But my students frequently respond, “That’s just your perspective. The Sudanese would be unlikely to agree with you.”

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2 thoughts on “Professor: Students Are Becoming Moral Nihilists

  1. This is true.

    Now let’s see the adult moral nihilists in Ridgewood (there are many – including teachers) apply their moral relativism and vehemently dispute me.

  2. If you want to see what BS is being spoonfed to our kids, read some of their teacher’s Facebook pages. Learning, love and morality begin at home. We do our best and can only hope they do the right thing when they become adults.

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