hear so much today about all this cheating in high school and college, even
among the top students, who are supposed to be the leaders and setting the
example for everybody else. Then there's vandalism, and theft, and sexual
promiscuity, and violence in our schools. What has happened to the role of the
schools in establishing good character and citizenship among our youth?
It's related to
the breakdown of the traditional, two-parent American family. Children who feel
that their legs have been kicked out from under them by family chaos have a
tough time aligning to standards of behavior. And boy, does that show in
schools today, with the increasing numbers of children identified as having
behavior management issues, and the cheating epidemic that you describe.
There's not much
schools can do to promote the stable, two-parent married household, which
research shows is the best environment for a child. But there are some good
character development programs going on in schools.
One of the best is
selecting quality, classic children's literature for the classroom. The great
books model good character, and show the consequences of bad decisions, better
than any "discussion circle" or classroom poster ever could. Storytelling is the
best way to teach children, and getting those classics back into the classroom
is a key reason to support phonics-ONLY reading instruction in the early
grades, so that by middle school and high school, the students can read well
enough to understand those classics. In many, if not most, school districts
today, the classics have gone by the wayside because the kids' reading ability
is too low, and that's a shame.
And there are some
quality character ed programs on the market that school districts can purchase
and use. Here are some links to one quality program worthy of note:
Josephson Institute for Ethics
Institute for Character Development
There are many others that schools
are employing. But there are also red flags about some developments in, well,
developing character. One is this: under the guise of "character development,"
it would be far too easy to purposely shape children's attitudes, opinions and
beliefs toward a particular slant, politically.
That appears to be
happening in one effort led by Alma Powell, wife of retired U.S. Gen. Colin
Powell. She heads up America's Promise Alliance, composed
of businesses, education associations, faith groups and others whose current
priority is to keep kids in school. Visit the website and you'll see how the
"five promises" basically substitute government services for what individual
families should be doing.
Now, helping at-risk kids do well in school certainly sounds
good, since the U.S. has more than one million dropouts a year, which is an
atrocious situation. And character development proponents say that schools with
effective character education have lower dropout rates, better academic
achievement, and fewer discipline problems. Learn more on www.character.org
The bottom line is, character education is great, but there
are conflicts over who should be teaching children about character. It's easy
to teach kids right from wrong, but it's pretty tough to teach them WHY some
things are "right," and some things are "wrong," when the adults in the
community can't even agree.
And there are real questions about how appropriate or
effective it is for a unit of government - the public schools - to be teaching
children about values and beliefs in the first place. Chief among the concerns
is that the public schools have expunged themselves of religious values, so any
values that are then introduced are by definition amoral and non-religious. How
can anyone of faith think those values are then "good"?
To the extent that character ed ventures into values
clarification and situational ethics, which the programs espoused by Mrs.
Powell and others do, it becomes closer to attitude-shaping on a political
agenda, rather than keeping at-risk kids in school.
Look carefully when a character education program is
promoted as a way to teach children what it means to be an "ethical, engaged
citizen in a democracy." Those sound like good ideas. But how you interpret the
meaning of those words is likely to be vastly different from how an ultra-liberal
person would interpret them.
Is it "ethical" to wear a T-shirt to school with a Bible
verse that proclaims that homosexual behavior is wrong? Not according to the
new character-ed programs, for the most part. They put preserving other
students' feelings ahead of the constitutionally-protected right to free
On the other hand, is it "ethical" for an educator to
encourage a troubled youth to join a Gay-Straight Student Alliance Club in a
high school, even though homosexuality violates his parents' religious beliefs,
they are paying for the boy to have counseling to try to understand why he is
having problems establishing a normal sexual orientation, and joining that club
would disobey their instructions? Even though to any rational person, that
would be highly "unethical" for the educator to undermine the parents, but it
wouldn't be "unethical" according to these new programs, which seek to align
students' opinions with government policy rather than the standards of their
own parents and the taxpayers who foot the bills.
Keep in mind that ultra-liberals are in charge of school
systems, putting "spin" on what curricula to buy, including character education
curricula, and you can see how it is getting into our schools.
Too often, those programs result in un-American activities
such as "decision by consensus" (undermining leadership by substituting
groupthink), "peer mediation" (giving some students, who are by definition
immature, power over others) and "conflict resolution" (resolving difficulties
between students by forcing them to compromise, instead of finding the truth
about what happened and achieving justice).
So what should parents do?
sure your child can read well enough to read the great books.
school officials and your school board to use quality curriculum to teach
character, rather than a stand-alone program, because of the risk of
inculcating a leftist agenda.
your child to a church or synagogue for religious education, study of your faith's
holy books, and quality mentoring from trained religious professionals,
consistently, through high school.
talk, talk to your child about character issues in your own lives, in the
newspaper, in the workplace, and within your child's relationships, to use
stories of everyday life to instill good character in your child.
Print out this brochure on the Six Pillars from Character Counts! and put it on your fridge or the family bulletin
board for all to see and reflect upon every day: