Carrots and…Smaller Carrots? The Values Dilemma! Food for Thought by Patrick Jackson

In Dublin we have an anti-littering campaign with posters that read ‘Litter is disgusting and so are those responsible’.  I’d hazard that the tagline has no effect at all on the littering population who are brazen enough to throw litter on the streets. I doubt any one of them gives a flying fig about what a poster like this says. Maybe the aim of the campaign is to galvanize anti-litter opinion rather than to help people who drop trash to quit their disgusting habit.
There’s another campaign on the subway in Japan at the moment that explicitly shows anti-social behaviour and the irritation levels of people around. The culprits listen to loud music on their headphones, take up too much space, queue barge or sit on the floor of the carriage (a cardinal sin in Japan usually practiced by high school girls). Their anti-social behaviour is shown as ultra-violet or even viral perhaps, altering the colour of the offended parties to a furnace-like red. This is a culture where the concept of avoiding ‘meiwaku’ (disturbing or annoying others) is way stronger than in Dublin. I guess all cultures have their own subtly different means of getting the message across.
As a parent I am constantly telling my children that various kinds of behaviour are undesirable. I must also confess to frequently bribing my children and even punishing them by withholding the omnipotent telly, snacks, play dates or Nintendo DS time. Basically I hold the purse strings to their desires and like it or lump it they have to play ball. Maybe in the future when they don’t have this externally imposed discipline they will become candy-gobbling, cola-swigging, screenatic, party-animals like their father. Maybe every act of discipline has an equal and opposite rebellion and I am setting the stage for their future cavities.
Teaching values is in vogue in young learners ELT. It’s taken as given that the best way to teach values is through stories that show certain types of behaviour in context. Traditional stories would reward good behaviour and punish bad.  A recently published primary course has four-panel ‘Values Stories’ in every unit. One of the biggest decisions taken while planning and writing these stories was to what extent they should portray undesirable behaviour. Should it be portrayed and then thwarted or should the stories just show kids being as good as gold?
In the end, despite the obvious entertainment value of seeing other kids behaving badly and suffering for it, it was decided that we would avoid showing undesirable behaviour and instead focus on the positive aspect to the values.  It was quite a challenge. Much harder than setting up bad behaviour and then tearing it down.
It’s an age old question but the answer seems to be constantly shifting. How can teachers best encourage the behaviour they want? How do different cultures approach this issue? Is there ever a place for negative feedback or should it all be gold stars and smiles?


I spent a year that turned into 15 teaching kids in Japan but now live in Dublin where I write ELT materials and try to sail a laser dinghy. Working at home allows me to be with my family which includes two bold kids and a growly West Highland Terrier who sometimes answers to ‘Frosty’. I am one of the authors of Everybody Up,  a seven-level primary course that motivates children by linking the English classroom to the wider world ( and Potato Pals (, a series of readers for young learners, both published by Oxford University Press. I tweet as patjack67 (!/patjack67) and blog here. (

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