The moral education of children should have equal status with other disciplines, says character-building guru Bill Gatherer.
The main purpose of education in the UK is to make people into efficient economic units, the veteran educator and former inspector told delegates at a citizenship conference in Cardiff.
"There is nothing wrong with that - as a nation we have to earn a living," he said. But he urged teachers to learn how to teach moral reasoning and thinking, and to encourage pupils to ask questions about right and wrong.
Delegates at "Educating the Responsible Citizen", the fifth annual conference organised by the Institute of Global Ethics UK Trust, also heard from Jane Davidson, Wales's education minister, and from young people about their views on participation, citizenship and specific issues such as bullying and racism.
John Williams, head of Pen-y-dre high school, Merthyr Tydfil, said people would be able to judge whether a school had citizenship and personal responsibility at its heart by the number and quality of its active partnerships in the community. He praised proposed reforms of the 14-19 curriculum in Wales for putting "giving something back" at the heart of the learning process.
Learning Pathways, the Assembly's 14-19 policy document, says pupils'
involvement in, say, raising money for charity or doing volunteer work with old people should be recognised and valued.
But Mr Williams acknowledged that involving young people in partnerships with the community was sometimes hampered by the attitudes of the older generation.
Residents' groups, for example, were often more concerned about "youth annoyance", he said.
He added: "It takes some doing to get them to accept the importance of the learning agenda, because what many of those (groups) want is for youngsters to be 'dealt with'."
Darren Bird, national co-ordinator of Funky Dragon, the Welsh Assembly's organisation for the young, highlighted a row over swear-words being used in the scheme's online chatrooms. He said the project had done what it could to "censor the words other people don't like".
But he added: "Young people will use the language they choose to use. When they talk to ministers, they express their views as they feel. They don't think to take out words that perhaps you shouldn't use, but they put their thoughts across. Saying 'shit' is not the end of the world."