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Strict Father morality and Nurturant Parent morality are opposed moral systems; they define incompatible moral worlds. Conservatives have understood very well that their goals are not just political and economic. Conservatives want to change American culture itself. They want to change the idea of what counts as a good person and what the world should be like. Conservatives understand that this means starting with the family. But it also means changing such things as who gets what jobs and what ideas dominate our culture. Here is how the Strict Father vs. Nurturant Parent dichotomy plays out over a range of cultural issues, from affirmative action to the nature of art.

Affirmative Action

Strict Father morality comes with a notion of the right kind of person – a self-disciplined person, one who can set his own plans, make his own commitments and carry them out effectively. It requires that competition between people not be impeded in any way if they are to continue to have the incentive to be self-disciplined. Any policy that gives people things they haven't earned is seen as immoral, because it lessens the incentive to be self-disciplined. From this perspective, affirmative action looks immoral to conservatives, on the grounds that it gives preferential treatment to women and minorities. It is a relatively direct consequence of the Strict Father model.

The Nurturant Parent model gives the opposite answer. It is the job of a nurturant parent to see that the children in the family treat each other fairly. In the Nation As Family metaphor, that becomes: It is the job of the government to see that its citizens treat each other fairly. Thus it is the responsibility of the government to guarantee fair treatment of people who have been subject to discrimination – women, nonwhites, and ethnic minorities.

In a nurturant family, the issue of fair distribution concerns the whole family over its whole existence. Where unfairness has existed in the past, some unfairness in the present may be needed to balance things out and make things fair overall. The Nation As Family metaphor makes that true of a nation.

Liberals further adopt the common metaphor that a natural group is an individual, the metaphor that defines collective action and collective rights. It allows considerations of fairness to individuals to apply to groups. Thus, one must look not just at fairness to individual women at the present, but at fairness to the group of women considered as a unit, taking into account both the past and the present.

The use of the Group As Individual metaphor is not arbitrary. Liberals offer two reasons for such a group focus. First, there is the phenomenon of stereotyping. People commonly reason in terms of stereotypes, judging all the members of a class in terms of a stereotypical image. That image is usually based on a past cultural model. For example, women may still be seen fundamentally as housewives whose skills are best suited to homemaking, or who are unable to do rigorous logical thinking, or who lack physical stamina. Present individual women are likely to be, unconsciously, judged that way because of the persistence of stereotypes in the unconscious conceptual systems of both men and women in our culture. This could result in a woman being judged less qualified than a man without the person doing the judging even being aware of his prejudice. The Group As Individual metaphor helps remedy prejudices, whether conscious or unconscious, by measuring fairness with reference to a group over time. Affirmative action is a means for remedying unfairness for whole groups over time.

Does this necessarily involve being unfair to individuals at present? It may, but it may very well not. First, existing unconscious stereotypes create an unfair situation at present. A stereotype helps white males start with an advantage. Another stereotype puts equally or better qualified women or nonwhites at a disadvantage. Affirmative action can help make things closer to even, giving a chance to a better, or equally well qualified, woman or nonwhite, when they would otherwise be eliminated because of the white males' stereotype advantage.

In addition, there is another liberal motivation of the Group As Individual metaphor. Different groups have different subcultures, with different value systems. White men have a different subculture with different forms of discourse and a different value system than white women. The same goes for other cultural groups. At present white men hold top positions throughout our society. They are the ones doing the judging. As honestly as they may do that judging, the values by which they judge will almost inevitably be the largely unconscious values of their own subculture. For example, men may not value certain skills that women have and men tend to lack. As a result, their "honest judgment" may be discriminatory. Treating women as a group and measuring fairness by the group over time is one way of overcoming the implicit advantage that white men have – the subculture advantage.

Under affirmative action, white men still have advantages they don't even know they have: stereotype-advantages and subculture-advantages. Affirmative action has not overcome these advantages, and it will take affirmative action over a much longer time to overcome them.

Gay Rights

Why are liberals for gay rights? The answer is simple and straightforward. For liberals, gay rights follow naturally from Nurturant Parent morality. A nurturant parent treats his or her children fairly and loves them equally. By the Nation As Family metaphor, the government, as metaphorical parent, should treat all citizens fairly and equally, gay or not.

Why are conservatives against gay rights? Why is there so much hostility against homosexuals on the part of conservatives? This has nothing to do with disliking big government and bureaucracy, or supporting fiscal responsibility, or supporting states' rights. The answer is Strict Father morality. Gay and lesbian couples simply do not fit the Strict Father model of the family. Homosexuality challenges the monolithic authority of the father. And above all, it challenges the natural order, which presupposes that sex is heterosexual sex in which men are dominant over women and that, in a family, this natural order carries over to the moral order.

But this is not just a matter of the family. The family, conservatives understand well, is the basis of all morality, all social arrangements, and all politics. Homosexuality challenges the very idea that the Strict Father family is the right model of the family, and therefore of morality and politics.

That is why conservatives resist seeing homosexuality as natural for a certain percentage of the population. Conservatives do not talk much about the increasing evidence that homosexuality has a genetic basis. Gays speak of "discovering" that they are gay, rather than "choosing" to be gay. Conservatives, however, speak of the gay "lifestyle," as though being gay were simply a conscious choice of a particular way of life. If there is no choice about being gay, if one is born gay or bisexual or heterosexual, then the force is taken away from the idea of homosexuality as an immoral choice of "lifestyle." Indeed, if free will is taken away, if there is no choice, then it is much harder to make homosexuality a moral issue.

The conservative version of the Moral Strength metaphor requires that sexual morality be a matter that one has control over: it is a matter of self-discipline. If homosexuality is genetically determined and, therefore, natural, normal, and out of the domain of free will, the concept of Moral Strength, which requires that all immoral behavior be preventable through self-discipline, becomes inapplicable. You can no longer say: if you just try hard enough, you can be heterosexual. Because the priority of Moral Strength is so central to the conservative moral system, conservatives will necessarily have a very hard time accepting the idea that homosexuality is biologically determined, natural, and normal for a certain segment of the population.

Interestingly enough, many conservatives would still find homosexual sex, gay households, and gay families immoral, even if being gay were a matter of genetics, not choice. Homosexual sex would still be a violation of the natural order and gay households would still be a challenge to the Strict Father family, which is the basis for conservative morality. Gay men are "deviant"; they deviate from the sexual norms of the community, going outside of the bounds set by Strict Father morality. Not only are gays seen as immoral in

themselves, but they are seen as a threat since they could lead others "astray," either directly or indirectly through the very existence of homosexual sex and gay households and families, which "blur the boundaries" of moral and immoral behavior.

Perhaps the institution that gays "threaten" the most is the military. President Clinton's proposal, at the beginning of his administration, to allow gays to function openly in the military was attacked violently by conservatives both inside and outside the military. The military is, to a large extent, the institutional realization of Strict Father morality. It has hierarchy, strict roles, punishments and rewards, and requires both physical and moral strength. Discipline is what the army is all about. Though it has a kind of socialistic internal structure (top-down bureaucratic control, government-paid medical care, government-provided housing and schools, PX discounts for members only, no free enterprise, government-provided golf courses and athletic facilities), it serves in the defense of capitalism and it has a Strict Father culture. It has a macho masculine culture. Gay men, despite the popularity of bodybuilding in the gay community, are conceptualized as being weak and feminine, rather than properly macho. Gay men in uniform threaten the image of the uniform: that anyone wearing it is a real man! The masculinity implicit in the meaning of the uniform is anything but trivial. But what really makes gays anathema to the military is all of the ways in which homosexuality flies in the face of Strict Father morality, which is the basis of military culture.

The Clinton administration approached the question of gays in the military as one of civil rights, as if the integration of gays into the military was akin to the integration of blacks and women into the military. It was a drastic mistake. The attempt to integrate gays into the military was seen as an affront to manhood and Strict Father morality all over the country.


What does Strict Father morality say about other moral and cultural systems? It says they are immoral. If they do not give primacy to moral strength, they promote moral weakness, which is a form of immorality. They are also immoral if they blur the strict moral boundaries of Strict Father morality, or challenge the moral authority of Strict Father morality, or challenge the Moral Order of our society.

For this reason, conservatives tend to be against multiculturalism, which seeks tolerance for cultural diversity and many other forms of morality. To conservatives, forms of morality other than their own are not moral and therefore not to be tolerated.

Nurturant Parent morality, on the other hand, has a very different view of diversity. Since a nurturant parent gives equal priority to all his or her children, and since children necessarily have differences among them, all those differences have to be respected and toleration is required. Moreover, each child has something different to contribute to the family. Applying the Nation As Family metaphor, diversity in a nation is positive and toleration is required.


Strict Father morality comes with a principle of self-defense: it is the highest moral calling to defend the moral system itself from attack. The very first category of conservative moral action includes acts of promoting and defending conservative morality. The word "war" in "the cultural war" is not incidental. Conservatives have, at least since the 60s, seen their system of values under attack – from feminism, the gay rights movement, the ecological movement, the sexual revolution, multiculturalism, and many more manifestations of Nurturant Parent morality. Conservatives have seen the values of these movements taught in the schools. They are appalled that what they see as the only system of real morality is being undermined. Conservatives believe that all of the major ills of our present society come from a failure to abide by their moral system. Moreover, they believe that their moral system is the only true American moral system, as well as the only moral system behind Western civilization. They see both of these beliefs challenged in contemporary historical research, which is being taught in our universities. This gives them a sense of moral outrage. They are fighting back.

Why are conservatives in favor of the elimination of the Department of Education, the destruction of the National Endowment for the Humanities, school vouchers, and the privatization of education? Why are liberals opposed to these measures?

A great deal of government support for education is in the form of social programs to help disadvantaged students, and an important charge of the Department of Education has been to develop such programs. Since conservatives see social programs in general as immoral, a quick way to get rid of all social programs in education is simply to abolish the Department of Education and stop funding the programs.

The best research in the humanities these days is not by any means governed by the moral agenda of conservative politics. Indeed, much of it concerns topics that explicitly collide with Strict Father morality and the politics that comes out of it. There is research on ecology, on the heritage of minority groups, on worthy but neglected minority and female figures in history, on the role of American corporations in the exploitation of third-world countries, on the history of unions, on unspeakable things done by the American government and by figures formerly considered heroes, on the value systems of other cultures, on the history of homosexuality, on spousal abuse, and much much more that does not sit well with Strict Father morality and the politics that flows out of it. Getting rid of the National Endowment for the Humanities will eliminate a major source of funding for research by the nation's leading scholars, research that is uncomfortable to conservatives. Meanwhile, private conservative think tanks are funding research that fits a conservative moral and political agenda and the conservative writing of history.

National educational standards are also set by the Department of Education. These standards include things that conservatives would rather not have taught and do not include things that conservatives do want to have taught, such as the recently developed new history curriculum which sets national standards for the teaching of history. Because conservatives have been most effective in changing education at the local level, the elimination of national standards and the leaving of content to local school boards would make it much easier for conservatives to change the curricula in the direction of conservative morality and politics. In other words, the issue seems to be not whether the standards are national or local, but whether they accord with Strict Father morality. Since the promotion of Strict Father morality itself has the highest of values in that moral system, it should follow that conservatives would be happy to have national standards that upheld Strict Father morality.

The privatization of education means that conservatives can set up their own schools in which their children will not have to learn about anything that might be inconsistent with conservative morality and politics. It would also mean a move away from the integration of schools, which means that the children of conservatives would not have to encounter students from different subcultures with different values. School vouchers would make privatization that much easier. In short, the conservative educational agenda is very much in support of a conservative moral agenda and the politics that it leads to.

From the perspective of Nurturant Parent morality, the issue of education looks very different. Multiculturalism, feminism, gay rights, and the ecology movement are seen, like the civil rights movement, as being great advances – moral advances – in American culture and civilization. Like the civil rights movement, they should be taught as advances. And doing so requires teaching the history of what made them advances, that is, the history of past abuses sanctioned and abetted by major forces in American society and by the government itself. That is not putting down America. On the contrary, it is part of the glory of America that the truth of past abuses by our government and our society at large can be told and the abuses corrected for future generations. Indeed, from the perspective of Nurturant Parent morality. America is a place that has nurtured generations of immigrants. Much of the history of progress in America is the history of what has been made possible through the progressive extension of nurturant morality: progress in equal treatment, progress in opportunities for education and other forms of self-development, progress in health care, progress in humane working conditions, progress in the development of knowledge, and so on. There is a dark side of American history from this perspective as well, and it too must be told: the mass murder of Native Americans and the near extinction of their culture, slavery, the brutalization of factory workers, and the discrimination against women, nonwhites, Jews, immigrants, and gays.

But advocates of Strict Father morality do not see all these changes as advances; they see many of them as immoral, backward steps. And they see the history of some of these changes, which is written from the perspective of correcting abuses, as an attack on their most fundamental moral beliefs. Conservatives are furious at the entire institutional structure of American education. Who runs it? Who gets into education as a profession? Not surprisingly, a great many educators are nurturers. And nurturers often have a Nurturant Parent morality.

After all, teaching small children is not a profession where you make a lot of money. Teachers, with rare exceptions, are not entrepreneurs. Those people who are entrepreneurs and want to live their lives seeking their self-interest through unrestricted free enterprise tend not to choose to teach third grade. Many elementary school teachers are women, often nurturant mothers, so nurturant they want to nurture other people's children.

That is why conservatives are attacking the infrastructure of public education in the country. They have no choice. They are up against an infrastructure full of nurturers, and they don't like it one bit – and they shouldn't like it one bit. They do, however, have allies and apian of action. Conservative Christians, concerned that public schools teach their children immoral ideas, have been involved in "home-schooling" for years. In addition, many parents who want to insulate their children from such ideas and can afford it have been setting up private schools. But they feel they should not have to pay for public education they don't use – and can't, if they are to control what their children are taught and who they associate with. Such parents have fought for a school voucher system, where government funds for education are distributed to parents in the form of vouchers, which can be used either for private or public schooling. Such a system, if put together cleverly, could destroy much of public education in America. Conservatives would not shed a tear.


It is generally recognized that a great many American children are not becoming educated. A considerable number of reasons are offered. Educators have pointed to social problems that schools are ill-suited to deal with – drugs, violence, and subcultures where education is not in itself a value. Educators also point to a lack of public willingness to pay taxes to fund education. California, which used to have the best educational system in the nation, has, since the conservative tax revolt of Proposition 13, dropped to near the bottom in per capita spending and has correspondingly suffered a massive loss in quality education.

Conservatives argue that the social problems that afflict schools are the result of permissive parenting and liberal social policies and can be solved by adopting a Strict Father model of the family, conservative political policies, and using private enterprise and competition to produce high-quality schools. Conservatives also argue that liberal approaches to education have lowered educational standards. They talk about "standards" as a hallmark of conservative thought.

Strict Father morality is very much about standards. The metaphors of Moral Authority and Moral Boundaries require absolute standards, imposed by a legitimate authority. Moral Strength and Moral Self-interest require self-discipline and work, enforced by a system of reward and punishment.

This is true not only of moral standards but of educational standards. The conservative recipe for a good educational system is simply to apply conservative principles and the conservative notion of standards. Teach conservative morality and the conservative notion of character, starting with self-discipline; this is called traditional morality. Set standards based on the classics of Western culture that are tried and true and have withstood the test of time. Make students work hard. Use a system of rewards and punishments: grade seriously and rigorously and fail people who deserve to fail. If there is going to be an elite, it should be an elite of talent, hard work, and achievement. Let those factors determine success. If students fail, they have to take responsibility for their failure, and either do better next time or go through life as failures.

Nurturant Parent morality also carries with it the notion of standards. You cannot grow up to be a good nurturer unless you are disciplined, work hard, and know all that you need to know. Discipline grows out of being raised in a nurturant environment in which you grow up with a responsibility to be empathetic and caring to those around you. Discipline is a no-nonsense matter: people you care about depend on you. There are standards of care and you must learn to meet them. Doing that is difficult every step of the way. You have to work at carrying out your responsibilities, and when others depend on you, you have to be disciplined enough to meet your responsibilities. Learning to cooperate and work with others and meet their standards is essential, and socialization is crucial to this. One of the goals of a nurturance-based moral system is the maximal self-development of each person, partly so that each person can best serve his community and partially so that each individual can feel the deep satisfaction that comes from doing well something that is important to him. Developing one's talents as far as they can go is not easy. It takes hard work and discipline and meeting standards of knowledge and skill.

As with Strict Parent morality, the Nurturant Parent notion of moral standards also applies to educational standards, which are just as real in both traditions. The difference is not in the standards. The difference is in the very concept of what education to meet those standards should be. Should it be competitive or cooperative? Should the goal be to make students question their teachers and learn through questioning? Or should students just learn to spout fixed answers? Will students learn via the system of rewards and punishments provided by strict grading? Or will students learn because they are interested, because it matters to them, and because they want to please their teacher and to function as well-liked, respected, and responsible members of the class? And what shall we do with less talented students? Should they just be left to fail and drop out? Or is it better to find a way to keep them in school and let them learn as much as they are able? The sink-or-swim approach of Strict Father morality says let them fail and drop out. The Nurturant Parent approach of maximizing self-development says find a way to let them learn as much as they can.

From the point of view of the Nurturant Parent approach, the issue of standards is a red herring. Everyone sets standards. The question is what standards to have, what should be done in the classroom to meet them, and what education is about. The two approaches say very different things.

In the Nurturant Parent approach to education, the ability to nurture successfully requires honest inquiry; we must know ourselves and our history, not only the bright side, but more importantly, we must know the dark side of America. We must learn the dark side partly so that we will not repeat it, partly so that we can appreciate progress and what is good about America, and partly so that we will not be self-righteous. A truly nurturant education is not a goody-goody education. It involves teaching honestly about controversial and socially volatile issues, and understanding why they are socially volatile. It does not distort either the past or the present to make us feel good. It tells the truth. It encourages questioning. It is not just a matter of learning facts. It involves understanding what those facts mean in a larger context – both a historical context and a contemporary one. It also requires understanding differences in points of view, in learning that there is not just one way to view events.


Strict Father morality has major implications for the conception of art. Art can be seen as having a value if it serves a moral purpose, say, to build moral strength and character or to display moral modes of life. Let us call this morally correct art.

In Strict Father morality, art can also be something beautiful, appreciated for its craftsmanship, or otherwise enjoyable or uplifting. From this perspective, art is a form of wholesome, uplifting entertainment, and many newspapers and magazines include reports of art in their entertainment sections. As entertainment, art is not in itself a serious enterprise of social importance – it doesn't go in the public affairs section of the newspaper or in the section with science or business.

Art, as a source of pleasure or entertainment, also makes sense as a commodity, something produced that plays a role in the economic system. Seeing art as a commodity makes the prices commanded by works of art newsworthy, and we constantly see news stories about how much a work of art has been sold for.

Moreover, good art, as a source of pleasure and/or inspiration as well as a solid investment, becomes a symbol of success. As a source of pleasure, it is a reward for hard work. And as a good investment, it is a measure of your ability to make such an investment. That is why owning an original artwork is a symbol of success. The value of art, in Strict Father morality, lies either in its moral value, its entertainment value, its economic value, or its value as a success symbol – a sign of belonging to an elite.

All these views of art impose on art a set of standards – moral standards; standards of beauty, craft, or entertainment value; and standards for lasting economic investment. And since Strict Father morality requires that standards be absolute and lasting, it is not surprising to find conservatives applying such views to art.

The best known conservative art journal is the New Criterion, edited by Hilton Kramer, former art editor of the New York Times. The word "criterion" was chosen carefully. The purpose of the journal is to impose and uphold standards for "worthwhile" art. It also has the purpose of criticizing what it sees as immoral, unbeautiful, unskillful, unentertaining, or of no lasting value. The best art is seen as moral, beautiful, uplifting, and lasting.

Nurturant Parent morality also motivates various views of art. As a moral system, it approves of art with a moral purpose, art that serves Nurturant Parent morality, art with the right kind of social message. In this way, it is like Strict Father morality, only the message is different. It has another form of morally correct art, art that looks at the moral system from the outside and says, "This is the correct moral system to have."

But there is a difference between art that is about the choice of a moral system and art that is motivated by the internal workings of that moral system – art that is about the choice of nurturance and art that is nurturant, in one of a number of ways. The first is art with a liberal message. The second is art within a liberal artistic tradition.

The idea of morality as happiness gives rise not just to art that is beautiful and pleasurable, but also to art that is playful and fun.

The liberal tradition in art, since it derives ultimately from nurturance, promotes the kind of artistic thought that true nurturance requires: it promotes art that is questioning and probing, that forces one to look at the dark side of life and won't allow denial, that forces one to face unpleasant truths and leads one to undergo self-exploration and reevaluation.

In addition, since Nurturant Parent morality promotes self-nurturance and self-development, it supports the notion of art as a meditative experience, a development of one's imaginative capacity, an exploration of perception, and an exploration of form and of materials.

Considerations of empathy, which are central to nurturance, lead to an art of exploring the other – other cultures, other subcultures, unusual people or places or events. Part of this impulse is multicultural art, which places us into another worldview. The application of nurturance to art also leads naturally to art as a form of healing, perhaps as a self-expressive therapy for the artist, perhaps as a form of healing for the culture.

Finally, some artists, reacting to the commodification of art that they identify with the conservative tradition, prefer art that is de-commodified – nonobject art, such as conceptual art or performance art. The idea here is that art is a matter of experience and need not be a commodity.

Much of contemporary art falls under one of these categories, and can be seen as deriving from some aspect of Nurturant Parent morality. From the perspective of Nurturant Parent morality, such forms of art are moral enterprises. If liberalism is the application of Nurturant Parent morality to politics, then there is a good reason why most artists in these traditions are political liberals.

Since education about contemporary art is abysmal in this country, most citizens – well-educated liberals included – know very little about many forms of the art discussed above. Moreover, tastes differ. Some liberals like morally correct liberal art and find it uplifting; others hate it as being crass. Some simply like art to be beautiful or pleasurable. But only a small minority of liberals are educated as to most of the forms of contemporary art listed above. As a result, most liberals do not know or care enough to defend it from conservative attack.

And conservatives do attack art in this tradition. Highbrow attacks come from Hilton Kramer and his colleagues at the New Criterion. Political attacks come from Jesse Helms and others in Congress who want to destroy the National Endowment for the Arts. Conservatives, not surprisingly, hate morally correct liberal art and prefer morally correct conservative art. That is, they hate art promoting feminism, gay rights, multiculturalism, government programs, and so on. Robert Mapplethorpe's beautiful, moving, and sometimes disturbing photographs of gay men outraged conservatives. Conservatives also hate art that probes the dark side of American life and American history and forces us to confront the not-very-nice facts about our country, as well as art concerning deep conflicts within our culture. Andre Serrano's crucifix immersed in urine is a physical metaphor for a Catholic's rage at his own church. For those who see art from the perspective of Nurturant Parent morality (and not all liberals do), this piece raised questions about the dark side of the church's role, not only in the artist's life, but also in the lives of its communicants and in society in general. But to conservatives, for whom raising such questions is not a legitimate function of art, Serrano's work was seen as no more than an insult to religion. Other works – say, works of conceptual art or explorations of form – are incomprehensible to the conservative value system. Conservatives only express puzzlement and cannot see why they are art at all, rather than silliness or self-indulgence. Indeed, from the perspective of Strict Father morality, they are not art. The only option open to conservatives is dismissal – to see such art as a product of a "cultural elite" – "effete snobs" whose values are illegitimate. It is thus no surprise that conservatives want to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.

The term "cultural elite" must also be understood in terms of Strict Father morality. The word "elite" has one sense which indicates superiority and prestige, often with the connotation that the prestige is undeserved and the superiority illusory; it also has the sense of a prestigious, self-sustaining in-group. Strict Father morality subordinates culture to morality, its own morality. The idea of a real cultural superiority that isn't moral superiority makes no sense from their perspective. For this reason, the term "cultural elite" can only be ironic, referring to a self-sustaining influential group with false claims to superiority. The implication of the very use of the term "cultural elite" is that the truly superior people are those who are morally superior, namely, those who abide by Strict Father morality. They are the true elite who should be culturally celebrated, while the so-called "cultural elite," who do not place Strict Father morality above other cultural values, are immoral and should be brought down.

Art in America is seen from a moral perspective. It can be seen as serving a moral system, as in morally correct art, or it can be seen as serving some function within a moral system – a pleasurable reward, a commodity, a sign of success, a form of questioning, an exploration of perception, a mode of healing.

Because of the centrality of art in our very notion of culture, art is bound to be a battleground in the culture war, a war that conservatives are pursuing vigorously, and a war which they perceive, perhaps accurately, as one of self-defense.

Moral Education

Conservatives have understood very well that politics is based on morality. They have also understood intuitively that Strict Father morality underlies conservative political thought. To spread their views to the coming generations, they are doing exactly what they should be doing: working to install Strict Father morality as the official version of morality in the schools. Here the main figure is William Bennett and The Book of Virtues is his primer.

What Bennett calls "traditional moral values" are the values of Strict Father morality. Though Nurturant Parent morality may have been traditional for mothers throughout history, it has gained public prominence in popular American culture mainly within this century as women have gained more prominence and influence. Because of the cultural dominance of strict fathers over the centuries, the tradition of Nurturant Parent morality has been less visible, but it is no less "traditional."

It should be clear by now that teaching Strict Father morality – so-called "traditional" morality – is teaching political conservatism, which is why a political figure such as Bennett has put so much effort into it. To be in charge of the teaching of morality is to be in charge of the teaching of politics.

The Book of Virtues is interesting for the virtues not taught there: nurturance, tolerance of "deviants," social responsibility, open-mindedness, self-questioning, egalitarianism, championing the disenfranchised, communion with the natural world, aesthetics for its own sake, self-development, being in touch with one's body, or happiness (in the sense of Moral Happiness). There are no sections on modern moral issues: the equality and independence of women, the morality of organized labor, or the protection of consumers and the environment. These are other virtues very much worth teaching – especially to children. They are among the virtues of Nurturant Parent morality.

Is there a way to provide moral education without engaging in political indoctrination? Fortunately, there is. It would be the teaching of how morality is understood in this culture, both Strict Father and Nurturant Parent forms of morality and the critiques each makes of the other.

Here are some guidelines. Teach the two models of the family, and the two moral systems that fit them best. Relate these family-based moral systems to issues of gender. Teach what Strict Father morality is and what Nurturant Parent morality is, and what the differences are. Point out that they don't agree and that this is a political as well as a moral matter. Give examples. Point out how each would criticize the other. When you teach Strict Father morality, by all means exemplify Bennett's list of virtues. But when you teach Nurturant Parent morality, exemplify all the virtues listed above that Bennett does not include. Be sure students understand which virtues fit which view of morality. And be sure they understand that this is a political as well as a moral matter. So far as I can see, this is the only way to keep the teaching of morality from being political indoctrination.

There may be a problem in taking this route to teaching morality and avoiding partisan moral and political indoctrination. Many conservatives believe that there is only one possible view of morality – Strict Father morality. Many religious conservatives believe that teaching both moral systems is itself immoral. Because it promotes discussion about what morality is, it prompts children to think for themselves rather than merely obeying authority. If one follows my suggestion, some may argue that even equal time for Nurturant Parent moral views subverts traditional morality just because it teaches children to think for themselves and not just obey authority.

It is important to resist such arguments. Children need to be taught moral ideas, which includes the fact that there are alternative moral views that are deeply grounded in the most basic of human experiences, namely, family life. They need to know that there are alternative views of what family life and family-based morality ought to be. They need to know that it is not just a matter of flipping a coin, of saying one moral system is just as good as another. There are facts that matter, which will be discussed below in Chapters 20-23.

Finally, it is crucial that the teaching of morality not be left only to religion. Each interpretation of a religious tradition chooses a form of morality to go with it. It is important that children have an education, outside of their particular religious tradition, that allows them to understand what form of morality is built into their religious teachings. It is important for children, as they are growing up, to be able to see morality from the outside as well as the inside, to be able to name the features of a moral system and to see the differences across systems. In a democratic country we have to live with people who have very different moral views than our own. We need to be able to pick out those views, name them, and discuss them openly.

The issue of moral education is an explosive issue. It raises the deepest questions of who we are and what we should raise our children to be. There are no more important questions than these.


Strict Father and Nurturant Parent moralities come into play across a whole spectrum of American life. In affirmative action, they show up in the distinction between the Strict Father focus on head-to-head competition versus the Nurturant Parent focus on the overall well-being of the family (metaphorically, the nation) over whole groups and long periods of time, taking into account such practical matters as subculture differences and the effect of cultural stereotyping on individual judgments.

The division manifests itself in the issue of gay rights as a matter of upholding the required heterosexual orientation of the Strict Father model over the equal nurturance ethic of the Nurturant Parent model. In the multiculturalism issue it is a matter of upholding a single standard of authority versus the equal nurturance ethic. In education, it is a matter of upholding the Strict Father moral system itself versus the internal questioning and need for understanding required for true nurturance. In art, family-based moral views provide very different conceptions of what art should be. And in the teaching of morality, the issue is whether Strict Father morality is to be taught as the only morality, or whether a discussion of these two major alternative moral systems should be held. The culture war shows itself most clearly in the issue of moral education.

Because of the bitterness of the culture war it is necessary to understand what the ultimate sources of division are because they manifest themselves so differently in political issues.


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