Citation: Huitt, W. (2004). Values. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from

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Values are defined in literature as everything from eternal ideas to behavioral actions. As used here values refer to criteria for determining levels of goodness, worth or beauty. Values are affectively-laden thoughts about objects, ideas, behavior, etc. that guide behavior, but do not necessarily require it (Rokeach, 1973). The act of valuing is considered an act of making value judgments, an expression of feeling, or the acquisition of and adherence to a set of principles. We are covering values as part of the affective system. However, once they are developed they provide an important filter for selecting input and connecting thoughts and feelings to action and thus could also be included in a discussion of the regulatory system.

Some of the values designated by the SCANS report (Whetzel, 1992) as important for workers in the information age are responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, integrity, and honesty. Huitt (1997) suggests an additional set of important values that are either implied in the SCANS report or are suggested by the writings of futurists or behavioral scientists as important for life success: autonomy, benevolence, compassion, courage, courtesy, honesty, integrity, responsibility, trustworthiness, and truthfulness. Other lists of core values have been developed.  For example, a group of educators, character education experts, and leaders of youth organizations meeting under the sponsorship of The Josephson Institute of Ethics developed the following list: respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, caring, justice and fairness, and civic virtue and citizenship (The Character Education Partnership, Inc., 1996). The Council for Global Education (1997) asserts the following set of values are either stated or implied in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights: compassion, courtesy, critical inquiry, due process, equality of opportunity, freedom of thought and action, human worth and dignity, integrity, justice, knowledge, loyalty, objectivity, order, patriotism, rational consent, reasoned argument, respect for other's rights, responsibility, responsible citizenship, rule of law, tolerance, and truth. Despite the debate over exactly what are the core values that ought to be taught in schools, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (1996) suggests it is possible for communities to reach consensus on a set of values that would be appropriate for inclusion in the school curriculum. Once a community has done so, the next issue is how should one go about the process of teaching values. As a beginning effort in this direction, I have developed a "Survey of Desired Values, Virtues, and Attributes". A preliminary study shows considerable overlap in beliefs among preservice and practicing educators (Huitt, 2003).

Values Education

Values education is an explicit attempt to teach about values and/or valuing. Superka, Ahrens, & Hedstrom (1976) state there are five basic approaches to values education: inculcation, moral development, analysis, values clarification, and action learning. This text was used as the major source for the organization of the following presentation.


Most educators viewing values education from the perspective of inculcation see values as socially or culturally accepted standards or rules of behavior. Valuing is therefore considered a process of the student identifying with and accepting the standards or norms of the important individuals and institutions within his society. The student "incorporates" these values into his or her own value system. These educators take a view of human nature in which the individual is treated, during the inculcation process, as a reactor rather than as an initiator. Extreme advocates such as Talcott Parsons (1951) believe that the needs and goals of society should transcend and even define the needs and goals of the individuals.

However, advocates who consider an individual to be a free, self-fulfilling participant in society tend to inculcate values as well, especially values such as freedom to learn, human dignity, justice, and self-exploration. Both the social- and individualistic-oriented advocates would argue the notion that certain values are universal and absolute. The source of these values is open to debate. On the one hand some advocates argue they derive from the natural order of the universe; others believe that values originate in an omnipotent Creator.

In addition to Parsons (1951), the theoretical work of Sears and his colleagues (1957, 1976) and Whiting (1961) provide support for this position. More contemporary researchers include Wynne  and Ryan (1989, 1992). The materials developed by the Georgia Department of Education (1997), the work of William Bennett (e.g., 1993) and The Character Education Institute (CEI) also promote the inculcation viewpoint.

Moral Development

Educators adopting a moral development perspective believe that moral thinking develops in stages through a specific sequence. This approach is based primarily on the work of Lawrence Kohlberg (1969, 1984) as presented in his 6 stages and 25 "basic moral concepts." This approach focuses primarily on moral values, such as fairness, justice, equity, and human dignity; other types of values (social, personal, and aesthetic) are usually not considered. It is assumed that students invariantly  progress developmentally in their thinking about moral issues. They can comprehend one stage above their current primary stage and exposure to the next higher level is essential for enhancing moral development.  Educators attempt to stimulate students to develop more complex moral reasoning patterns through the sequential stages.

Kohlberg's view of human nature is similar to that presented in the ideas of other developmental psychologists such as Piaget (1932, 1962), Erikson (1950), and Loevinger et al. (1970). This perspective views the person as an active initiator and a reactor within the context of his or her environment; the individual cannot fully change the environment, but neither can the environment fully mold the individual. A person's actions are the result of his or her feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and experiences. Although the environment can determine the content of one's experiences, it cannot determine its form. Genetic structures already inside the person are primarily responsible for the way in which a person internalizes the content, and organizes and transforms it into personally meaningful data.

The moral development technique most often used is to present a hypothetical or factual value dilemma story which is then discussed in small groups. Students are presented with alternative viewpoints within these discussions which is in hypothesized to lead to higher, more developed moral thinking. There are three critical variables that make a dilemma appropriate:

  1. The story must present "a real conflict for the central character", include "a number of moral issues for consideration", and "generate differences of opinion among students about the appropriate response to the situation."
  2. A leader who can help to focus the discussion on moral reasoning.
  3. A classroom climate that encourages students to express their moral reasoning freely (Gailbraith & Jones, 1975, p. 18).

There is an assumption that values are based on cognitive moral beliefs or concepts. This view would agree with the inculcation assumption that there are universal moral principles, but would contend that values are considered relative to a particular environment or situation and are applied according to the cognitive development of the individual.

Gilligan (1977, 1982) critiqued Kohlberg's work based on his exclusive use of males in his original theoretical work. Based on her study of girls and women, she proposed that females make moral decisions based on the development of the principle of care rather than on justice as Kohlberg had proposed. Whereas Kohlberg identified autonomous decision making related to abstract principles as the highest form of moral thinking, Gilligan proposed that girls and women are more likely to view relationships as central with a win-win approach to resolving moral conflicts as the highest stage. Walker (1991) found only equivocal support for the claim that an individual's focus is limited to one basic priniciple and that this focus is sex related. Gilligan's more recent work has concentrated on the methodology of listening to the female's voice as she attempts to make moral and other decisions rather than scoring the person on an a priori category system (e.g., Brown & Gilligan, 1992).

In addition to the researchers cited above, Sullivan and his colleagues (1953, 1957) also provide support for this view include. Larry Nucci (1989), Director of the Office for Studies in Moral Development and Character Formation at the University of Illinois at Chicago has developed The Moral Development and Education Homepage to promote this approach.


The analysis approach to values education was developed mainly by social science educators. The approach emphasizes rational thinking and reasoning. The purpose of the analysis approach is to help students use logical thinking and the procedures of scientific investigation in dealing with values issues. Students are urged to provide verifiable facts about the correctness or value of the topics or issues under investigation. A major assumption is that valuing is the cognitive process of determining and justifying facts and beliefs derived from those facts. This approach concentrates primarily on social values rather than on the personal moral dilemmas presented in the moral development approach.

The rationalist (based on reasoning) and empiricist (based on experience) views of human nature seem to provide the philosophical basis for this approach. Its advocates state that the process of valuing can and should be conducted under the 'total authority of facts and reason' (Scriven, 1966, p. 232) and 'guided not by the dictates of the heart and conscience, but by the rules and procedures of logic' (Bond, 1970, p. 81).

The teaching methods used by this approach generally center around individual and group study of social value problems and issues, library and field research, and rational class discussions. These are techniques widely used in social studies instruction.

A variety of higher-order cognitive and intellectual operations are frequently used (similar in many ways to those advocated members of the critical thinking movement). These include:

  1. stating the issues;
  2. questioning and substantiating in the relevance of statements;
  3. applying analogous cases to qualify and refine value positions;
  4. pointing out logical and empirical inconsistencies in arguments;
  5. weighing counter arguments; and
  6. seeking and testing evidence.

A representative instructional model is presented by Metcalf (1971, pp. 29-55):

  1. identify and clarify the value question;
  2. assemble purported facts;
  3. assess the truth of purported facts;
  4. clarify the relevance of facts;
  5. arrive at a tentative value decision; and
  6. test the value principle implied in the decision.

Additional support for this approach is provided by Ellis (1962), Kelly (1955), and Pepper (1947).  The thinking techniques demonstrated by MindTools is an excellent example of strategies used in this approach.

Values Clarification

The values clarification approach arose primarily from humanistic psychology and the humanistic education movement as it attempted to implement the ideas and theories of Gordon Allport (1955), Abraham Maslow (1970), Carl Rogers (1969), and others. The central focus is on helping students use both rational thinking and emotional awareness to examine personal behavior patterns and to clarify and actualize their values. It is believed that valuing is a process of self-actualization, involving the subprocesses of choosing freely from among alternatives, reflecting carefully on the consequences of those alternatives, and prizing, affirming, and acting upon one's choices. Values clarification is based predominately on the work of Raths, Harmin & Simon (1978), Simon & Kirschenbaum (1973), and Simon, Howe & Kirschenbaum (1972).

Whereas the inculcation approach relies generally on outside standards and the moral development and analysis approaches rely on logical and empirical processes, the values clarification approach relies on an internal cognitive and affective decision making process to decide which values are positive and which are negative. It is therefore an individualistic rather than a social process of values education.

From this perspective, the individual, if he or she is allowed the opportunity of being free to be his or her true self, makes choices and decisions affected by the internal processes of willing, feeling, thinking, and intending. It is assumed that through self-awareness, the person enters situations already pointed or set in certain directions. As the individual develops, the making of choices will more often be based on conscious, self-determined thought and feeling. It is advocated that the making of choices, as a free being, which can be confirmed or denied in experience, is a preliminary step in the creation of values (Moustakas, 1966).

Within the clarification framework a person is seen as an initiator of interaction with society and environment. The educator should assist the individual to develop his or her internal processes, thereby allowing them, rather than external factors, to be the prime determinants of human behavior; the individual should be free to change the environment to meet his or her needs.

Methods used in the values clarification approach include large- and small-group discussion; individual and group work; hypothetical, contrived, and real dilemmas; rank orders and forced choices; sensitivity and listening techniques; songs and artwork; games and simulations; and personal journals and interviews; self-analysis worksheet. A vital component is a leader who does not attempt to influence the selection of values. Like the moral development approach, values clarification assumes that the valuing process is internal and relative, but unlike the inculcation and developmental approaches it does not posit any universal set of appropriate values.

A sevenfold process describing the guidelines of the values clarification approach was formulated by Simon et al. (1972);

  1. choosing from alternatives;
  2. choosing freely;
  3. prizing one's choice;
  4. affirming one's choice;
  5. acting upon one's choice; and
  6. acting repeatedly, over time.

Additional theorists providing support for the values clarification approach include Asch (1952) and G. Murphy (1958).

Action Learning

The action learning approach is derived from a perspective that valuing includes a process of implementation as well as development. That is, it is important to move beyond thinking and feeling to acting. The approach is related to the efforts of some social studies educators to emphasize community-based rather than classroom-based learning experiences. In some ways it is the least developed of the five approaches. However, a variety of recent programs have demonstrated the effectiveness of the techniques advocated by this approach (e.g., Cottom, 1996; Gauld, 1993; Solomon et al., 1992).

Advocates of the action learning approach stress the need to provide specific opportunities for learners to act on their values. They see valuing primarily as a process of self-actualization in which individuals consider alternatives; choose freely from among those alternatives; and prize, affirm, and act on their choices. They place more emphasis on action-taking inside and outside the classroom than is reflected in the moral development, analysis, and values clarification processes.

Values are seen to have their source neither in society nor in the individual but in the interaction between the person and the society; the individual cannot be described outside of his or her context. The process of self-actualization, so important to the founders of the values clarification approach, is viewed as being tempered by social factors and group pressures. In this way it is more related to Maslow's (1971) level of transcendence which he discussed towards the end of his career.

A problem-solving/decision making model and related techniques that can served as a sound beginning for this approach is presented by Huitt (1992):

Many of the teaching methods of similar to those used in analysis and values clarification. In fact, the first two phases of Huitt's model are almost identical to the steps used in analysis. In some ways the skill practice in group organization and interpersonal relations and action projects is similar to that of Kohlberg's "Just School" program that provides opportunities to engage in individual and group action in school and community (Power, Higgins & Kohlberg, 1989). A major difference is that the action learning approach does not start from a preconceived notion of moral development.

Schools of thought providing support for the action learning approach include:  Adler, 1924; Bigge, 1971; Blumer, 1969; Dewey, 1939; Horney, 1950; Lewin, 1935; and Sullivan, 1953. The Values in Action and the Giraffe projects exemplify this approach.


In summary, each of the approaches to values education has a view of human nature, as well as purposes, processes and methods used in the approach. For example, the inculcation approach has a basic view of human nature as a reactive organism. The analysis and values clarification approaches, on the other hand, view the human being as primarily active. The moral development approach views human nature as going back and forth between active and reactive, whereas the action learning approach views human nature as interactive. The following table provides an outline of the most important features for each of the approaches.

Overview of Typology of Values Education Approaches

Approach  Purpose  Methods
  • To instill or internalize certain values in students; 
  • To change the values of students so they more nearly reflect certain desired values 
  • Modeling; 
  • Positive and negative reinforcement; 
  • Manipulating alternatives; 
  • Games and simulations; 
  • Role playing
Moral Development
  • To help students develop more complex moral reasoning patterns based on a higher set of values; 
  • To urge students to discuss the reasons for their value choices and positions, not merely to share with others, but to foster change in the stages of reasoning of students 
  • Moral dilemma episodes with small-group discussion; 
  • Relatively structured and argumentative without necessarily coming to a "right" answer
  • To help students use logical thinking and scientific investigation to decide value issues and questions 
  • To help students use rational, analytical processes in interrelating and conceptualizing their values 
  • Structured rational discussion that demands application of reasons as well as evidence; 
  • Testing principles; 
  • Analyzing analogous cases; 
  • Research and debate
Values Clarification
  • To help students become aware of and identify their own values and those of others; 
  • To help students communicate openly and honestly with others about their values; 
  • To help students use both rational thinking and emotional awareness to examine their personal feelings, values, and behavior patterns 
  • Role-playing games; 
  • Simulations; 
  • Contrived or real value-laden situations; 
  • In-depth self-analysis exercises; 
  • Sensitivity activities; 
  • Out-of-class activities; 
  • Small group discussions 
Action Learning 
  • Those purposes listed for analysis and values clarification; 
  • To provide students with opportunities for personal and social action based on their values; 
  • To encourage students to view themselves as personal-social interactive beings, not fully autonomous, but members of a community or social system 
  • Methods listed for analysis and values clarification; 
  • Projects within school and community practice; 
  • Skill practice in group organizing and interpersonal relations 



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