As incidents of in-school violence become more common, and strict disciplinary techniques and increased security measures fail to control the problem, many parents, educators, politicians, and social leaders are looking for reliable methods of prevention. Is character education the answer?
lt community need to do our part in helping build young people of high character. There isn't a more critical issue in education today." --- Sanford N. McDonnell, Chairman emeritus of the former McDonnell Douglas Corporation.
Although the individual programs vary, each school has made a commitment to providing students with character education along with the more traditional disciplines. Each school was also a recipient of The Business Week Award for Instructional Innovation in 1998, sponsored by Business Week magazine, McGraw-Hill's Educational and Professional Publishing Group, and The Character Education Partnership.
"I believe that a values vacuum exists in American society, and that teachers must not be casual or apologetic about confronting it. We must make an explicit commitment to formal character education. We must integrate character education into the fabric of the curriculum and into extracurricular activities. We must train teachers in character education -- both pre-service and in-service. And we must consciously set about creating a moral climate within our schools." --- Bob Chase, President National Education Association
A survey conducted in 1992 by the Joseph and Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics found that thirty-three percent of all high school students admitted they had stolen merchandise from a store within the past year. Sixty-one percent of the students admitted cheating on an examination during that year, and 83 percent said they had lied to their parents. Thirty-three percent of students said they were willing to lie on a resume or job application or during an interview to get a job, and sixteen percent said they had already done so.
In addition, in a 1997 survey of teachers conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, more than half of the respondents reported perceiving a decline in student morality since they began teaching. Even among those teaching 5 years or less, forty-four percent said they have seen a decline in ethical values and an increase in illegal drug use among their students.
Clearly, a moral decline among our young people affects all of society. But is it the job of the school to address it? According to the Character Education Partnership (CEP), a nonpartisan coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to promoting the teaching and modeling of character education, "there is no such thing as value-neutral schools or value-free education. Schools teach values every day, by design or default. When schools do not teach values, they are teaching that values are not important."
Furthermore, the CEP says, "Schools cannot achieve their educational goals in a values vacuum. To succeed, schools must teach such values as academic integrity, civility, responsibility, perseverance, cooperation, self-discipline, and respect for self and others."
HOW DO WE TEACH IT?
"Clearly we can all agree about the importance of teaching our children, both as individuals and as members of society, the importance of common values such as respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, and citizenship." ---U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley
Many schools shy away from formal character education, citing a national diversity in beliefs and values that make such education a family, rather than an institutional, imperative.
Research shows, however, the existence of a national consensus that makes values education in public schools both possible and desirable.
Nationally, many different state and local programs have been, and are being, established to incorporate character education in our public schools.
BEGINNING WITH THE BASICS
"To educate a man in mind and not morals is to educate a menace to society." ---Theodore Roosevelt
The programs may differ, but the basics of character education possess certain common characteristics. According to Dr. Thomas Lickona, director of The Center for the 4th and 5th Rs, a national resource for character education, all schools should teach students that a person of character:
Character education programs may differ, but CEP endorses eleven principles of character education. Schools committed to character education, CEP says, must:
AN HISTORIC IMPERATIVE
"Virtue and vice will not grow together in a great degree, but they will grow where they are planted, and when one has taken root, it is not easily supplanted by the other. The great art of correcting mankind consists in prepossessing the mind with good principles." --- Noah Webster
Craig Cunningham, in A Certain and Reasoned Art: The Rise and Fall of Character Education in America, points out that character education has been a goal of public education since the establishment of the public school system in this country. It was only in the 1950s, he says, that an emphasis on academics supplanted character education in as an educational priority.
"Today," Cunningham states, "there is a renewed interest in character education, as the perception grows that many American youth are getting out of control. Drugs and gangs, teenage pregnancy and suicide, and the breakdown of school discipline, have led many educators and political leaders to once again look to the schools to educate not only the minds but also the consciences of children."
ADDITIONAL SOURCES OF CHARACTER ED INFO
For additional information on character education or for tips on establishing a character education program at your school, contact one of the following organizations:
Article by Linda Starr
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