10 More Good Reasons for Character Education
In Thomas Lickona’s Educating for Character, he identified ten wide-ranging reasons for the need for character education, not only in our schools but also without our society. His splendid work appeals to all of us — parents, educators, neighbors, and community leaders. The following list is in addition to Dr. Lickona’s. This was created in response to the pressure teachers and schools face daily in regard to achievement scores and accountability standards. In our era of increased bureaucracy and compounding pressures this list, written by a teacher for teachers, was designed to help teachers and schools regain that daily focus on children and character.
Why did you become a teacher or get into education in the first place? Your answer is your purpose. It probably wasn’t for the great pay, three months of worry-free vacation, or because you just love testing kids. We all go into education for essentially the same reason — to touch the lives of children. To positively impact the life of a child. We all wanted to, and still want to, make a difference.
The demands and scrutiny on teachers and public education today is higher than ever before. It’s quite easy for teachers to become buried in the social and bureaucratic demands of higher test scores, teacher accountability, school safety and crisis plans, closing gaps, and the law suits right around the corner. And yet, we must not lose focus of why we are there in that classroom — for children. They are human beings and far more valuable than any student number, standardized test score, or latest statistic. We must place our focus back on the needs and possibilities of our children. They are awesome.
- SAFE SCHOOLS
Did you ever notice that in all the recent, notorious cases of school violence, no one was asking afterward what the test scores were of those schools? All too often people are asking, “What went wrong with ‘those’ kids? Where were the parents? Why didn’t the school know this was going to happen? Who else is to blame?” Safe schools aren’t about blame and scorn, fancy programs, more money or even improved self-defense. They are about the people inside those buildings and the environment they create. The same can be said of character education. It’s not about pretty posters and motivational quotes. It is about people caring about people.
When teachers have more time to teach in a civil, respectful environment, and children feel safe, appreciated and respected — then real achievement and learning can take place. It’s called a quality learning environment, and the research shows that how a student feels about their learning environment and their opportunity for success are crucial factors in student achievement. The evidence is clear, from New Mexico, to Ohio, to North Carolina and hundreds of places in between, academic achievement can be a powerful byproduct of successful character education efforts.
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that one day his children would be judged, “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” That dream becomes a real possibility when we realize that nearly all cultures, world religions and schools of thought have their most basic tenet in common — TREAT OTHERS THE WAY THAT YOU WANT TO BE TREATED. Many refer to this as the “Golden Rule.” Words and language may change, in Judaism it is stated as “What you hate, do not do to anyone” and in Hindu as “Do nothing to thy neighbors which thou wouldst not have them do to thee,” but they all yield the most common character trait of RESPECT. Appreciating diversity begins with knowing and understanding those things we have most in common.
- “AT-RISK” STUDENTS
All children are “at-risk” at some point in their lives. And all children, whether they are labeled “at-risk” or not, need mentors, role models and caring adults in their lives. They crave nurturing, caring, positive relationships — the essence of character education. All children, labeled or not, want to be successful, appreciated and feel a sense of belonging. There may be no truer statement than the old saying, “You’ve got to REACH them before you can teach them.”
- WORK FORCE READINESS
One major goal of schools in all communities is to prepare our children for the world of work. Much of this preparation focuses on vocational and technical skill and knowledge, as it should. But we can’t forget what employers crave most — quality people with a strong sense of respect for themselves and others and high levels of responsibility, determination and self-discipline. Any and all businesses are going to train new employees to do “their way,” but they first need and want quality people of character to employ.
Educators around the world spend countless hours and dollars trying to come up with a solution to making the transition from elementary to middle and middle to high school easier for children, both socially and academically. The process of character education is a K-12 process that ideally utilizes the same language, high expectations and high regard for relationships, throughout the school life of a child. Common language, similar rules and procedures, and common expectations. What more could you look for in transition?
- NOT the “Flavor of the Month”
“Character education” is nothing new. Discipline, civility, respect for self, others and society, teachers as role models — these things have been a part of education for as long as people have been learning. Character education is simply true, quality teaching. It’s not a program to implement and then set on a shelf until you go on to something else. Itís a process of caring and determination. Programs rarely work, over the long haul, and processes seldom fail.
- TEACHERS & STUDENTS
Character education is a gift for both teachers and students. Teachers want to teach. We want to make a positive difference by touching lives. Students want to feel accepted and they want to learn. They want limits, structure and guidance. Character education can be those things for both teachers and students. For the teacher, improved classroom climate and student motivation make our jobs much easier. All students will tell you that the teachers who mean the most are the ones who care. Character education is a win-win situation for all involved!
Adapted with permission, from Developing Character For Classroom Success, by Charlie Abourjilie. Available from the National Center for Youth Issues or from the Character Development Group.