E. J. Dionne's report "Struggling to Find a Way to Teach Values" {July 9} does illustrate a crisis in modern American education, but the crisis is implicit rather than explicit in the article.

The crisis consists not in the fact that we do not know how to teach values but rather in that we even use such language as "values." Even such conservatives as Phyllis Schlafly participate in this conversation, which is little more than deciding what method we will use to tell children that we cannot talk any longer about truth and falsehood, virtue and vice, beauty and vulgarity, etc. To use the language of values -- even former secretary of education William Bennett's "absolute values" -- is to demonstrate that we have given up on rational moral language in American education.

Almost 45 years ago, C. S. Lewis warned of this state of affairs in his book "The Abolition of Man." Lewis concludes that the schoolchild who is taught in terms of values "will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant." Conservatives especially do not intend to teach such heresy.

Teaching a child that any moral judgment is merely an expression of what the child values says nothing about the morality or immorality inherent in the situation being judged. Or worse, it says that nothing can be said about such an inherent morality or immorality. To build an educational system around such a debate as E. J. Dionne describes is to facilitate the decline of American "values" even while we think we are saving them. Worse, it contributes to the rapid decline in our ability as a nation to have rational conversations about justice, truth and goodness. These are not values, but virtues -- virtues necessary for a democracy to work.

KENNETH R. CRAYCRAFT JR. Research Associate, American Enterprise Institute Washington