the modern day ten commandments

From Stone Tablets to Smart Boards: A Modern Day Ten Commandments For 21st Century Classrooms

Recent legislation in Louisiana mandating the display of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms has reignited debates about the role of religious doctrine in secular education. Even though I was raised as a Christian, I’ve always advocated for the separation of church and state. Increasingly, we are approaching a Handmaid’s Tale situation with the religious zealots getting in bed with the government. Theocracy is never a good idea.

While the Ten Commandments have historically been influential in shaping Western moral frameworks, their explicitly religious language and outdated concepts raise more than valid concerns about their appropriateness in diverse, modern classrooms. Even the word “commandments” is problematic. In this post, I propose a set of updated principles, a modern day ten commandments, that preserve the essence of moral guidance while embracing inclusivity, positivity, and relevance to contemporary life. I agree that education, even secular education, should teach our kids morality and how to be good people and citizens, not just the three Rs.

The Problem With The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments, rooted in Judeo-Christian tradition, present several challenges when used as universal moral guidelines in public education:

  1. Religious Specificity: They explicitly reference a monotheistic, king-like God, potentially alienating students from different religious backgrounds or no religious affiliation.
  2. Negative Framing: The predominant use of prohibitions (“thou shalt not”) focuses on avoiding wrongdoing rather than promoting positive behaviors.
  3. Outdated Concepts: Some commandments reflect ancient societal norms that may not resonate with modern students (e.g., coveting a neighbor’s wife as property).
  4. Limited Scope: The commandments address a narrow range of moral issues, overlooking many critical aspects of ethical behavior in today’s complex world.
  5. Lack of Critical Engagement: Presenting religious doctrine as moral absolutes discourages critical thinking and personal moral reasoning. Rather than prescribing people exactly how to behave, giving them guiding principles is better, as situation ethics are important.

The Goal:

In updating these principles, I aim to create a set of guidelines that:

  1. Are inclusive and respectful of all belief systems and cultures.
  2. Encourage positive actions rather than merely prohibiting negative ones.
  3. Address contemporary ethical challenges and social issues.
  4. Promote critical thinking and personal growth.
  5. Foster empathy, community engagement, and global citizenship.
  6. Provide a foundation for ethical decision-making that extends beyond simple rules.
  7. Inspire students to live purposeful lives and contribute positively to society.

By achieving these goals, we can offer students moral guidance that is both more applicable to their lives and more effective in shaping ethical behavior in a diverse, interconnected world.

The Modern Day Ten Commandments:

To address these issues, I propose the following set of ten modern principles (modern day ten commandments) for classrooms:

  1. Honor Life and Humanity
    Original: “You shall not murder.”
    Modern: Respect and cherish the inherent dignity and worth of every human being.
    This principle goes beyond prohibiting murder. It encourages people to value every human life and fosters a culture of respect and empathy.
  2. Promote and Cherish Relationships
    Original: “Honor your father and your mother.”
    Modern: Cultivate loving, respectful, and supportive relationships with family and community. This expands beyond parental respect to include all relationships, promoting a broader sense of community and mutual support.
  3. Celebrate Diversity and Equality
    Original: “You shall not commit adultery.”
    Modern: Embrace and uphold the equality of all people, celebrating diversity in all its forms. This shifts focus from personal fidelity to societal values of equality and inclusivity, essential for building a just and harmonious community.
  4. Prioritize Rest and Reflection
    Original: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
    Modern: Take time to rest and reflect, fostering personal well-being and balance in life. This encourages students to understand the importance of mental and physical well-being, contributing to healthier, more balanced lives.
  5. Practice Honesty and Integrity
    Original: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
    Modern: Be truthful and transparent in all your dealings, fostering trust and authenticity. This promotes a culture of honesty and transparency, which are foundational for building trust within any community.
  6. Support and Advocate for Justice
    Original: “You shall not steal.”
    Modern: Stand up for justice and fairness, ensuring that everyone is treated with equity and respect. This encourages active engagement in promoting justice and fairness, which is essential for a thriving society.
  7. Encourage Lifelong Learning and Growth
    Original: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”
    Modern: Pursue knowledge and personal development, embracing opportunities to learn and grow. This inspires people to seek continuous improvement and education, fostering a love for learning.
  8. Foster Peace and Nonviolence
    Original: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.”
    Modern: Promote peaceful coexistence and resolve conflicts through dialogue and understanding. This encourages conflict resolution and peacebuilding, essential skills for maintaining harmony in any community.
  9. Cultivate Gratitude and Generosity
    Original: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.”
    Modern: Practice gratitude for what you have and share your resources and time generously with others. This helps people appreciate what they have and fosters a spirit of giving and community support.
  10. Live with Purpose and Passion
    Original: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
    Modern: Find and follow your passion, living a life of purpose that contributes positively to the world. This encourages people to discover their passions and use them to make a positive impact, fostering a sense of purpose and fulfillment.


These modern principles, while inspired by the original Ten Commandments, offer a more inclusive and uplifting approach suitable for today’s diverse society. By promoting values that emphasize respect, empathy, integrity, and personal growth, we can better prepare students to contribute positively to society and lead fulfilling lives.

The proposed set of principles addresses the limitations of the original Ten Commandments while preserving their intent to provide moral guidance. Further, they encourage critical thinking, personal responsibility, and a broader understanding of ethics in a global context. By adopting these or similar principles, schools can create an environment that nurtures not just academic growth, but also moral and social development.

As we continue to evolve as a society, it’s crucial that our educational institutions reflect and promote values that are inclusive, forward-thinking, and adaptable to the changing needs of our world. These updated principles represent a step towards that goal, offering a framework that can inspire and guide students from all backgrounds as they navigate the complexities of modern life and strive to become responsible, compassionate global citizens.

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