In and Out of School
We shouldn t just pass on values, such as honesty, ethics and sacrifice, once a week per year, but all year, and it is parents, schools and the community working together to accomplish this goal.
Good character is not an innate trait, certainly it s not part of our genetic codes. The ingredients may be there for good character but nurturing is the catalyst. If proof is needed, think of the little Amish girl who recently volunteered her life to a madman in hopes of saving her friends. That is the most powerful display of character any of us can imagine. It came from the values shared in her life to that point by parents and other adults in her community, and in the friendships within her school. One example of good nurturing is Character Counts! Week, which was Oct. 15-21. Its purpose was to celebrate good character and applaud efforts to demonstrate tangible examples of good character in communities across our nation. During this week last year, more than 2 million students and adults were involved in activities related to character development. It s ironic that a special week has to be set aside to make everyone conscious of the importance of positive character traits. After all, shouldn t our daily behavior reflect positive values and respect for ourselves, others, and the environment? Unfortunately, that s not the case and that s why teaching character education is more important now than ever. Otherwise the aimless and destructive habits of bullying, school violence, road rage and other crimes will prevail. We need a week of celebration to draw attention to the effort, but more importantly, we need that effort to extend into our lives all year long.
In Our Classrooms
The good news is that, in fact, our public schools do spend time almost everyday on character education. The state of Florida (and many other states) mandates that public schools teach character education in every grade level. School districts can develop their own character education programs or use those developed by other organizations. The Lee County School District allows its teachers flexibility in meeting the mandate by using one of three Board-of-Education adopted character education programs. Those are its own character education program which highlights a word a month (i.e., honesty), the Boy Scouts of America s Learning for Life Program, or the Uncommon Friends Foundation s Lessons Learned from the Uncommon Friends Elementary/Middle School and High School/Adult Emerging Leaders Curricula. All three programs focus students on important values and character traits that will make them and the world around them a better place throughout their lives. The belief that fostering character education is important and carrying on the legacy of five very special friends of high character prompted Fort Myers Beach resident James Newton to write the book Uncommon Friends. Newton so admired the ethical behavior and high standards of his friends Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Charles Lindbergh that he helped establish Uncommon Friends Foundation. Uncommon Friends Foundation is dedicated to character education and has as its mission instilling ethics, moral values, and a sense of purpose in tomorrow s leaders. Its character-education curriculum uses stories from Newton s book to teach such traits as honesty, integrity, friendship, cooperation, perseverance, and as in the case of that little Amish girl, sacrifice. An extensive scholarship program promotes perseverance, personal growth and lifelong learning. The Uncommon Friends Business Ethics Award sends a message that positive corporate behavior ought to be recognized and applauded.
Responsibility of All
Many lament that character education must be taught in schools today when in years past, it was believed that families had this responsibility. Of course, parents have the primary responsibility for character education. But even the best parents need support and schools always have had enormous influence over student thinking and behavior. The truth is that character education has been a partnership of families and communities for centuries. Hence the proverb It takes a whole village to raise a child. Let s be sure our whole village takes this responsibility seriously. We teach character education in our daily activities and the messages we send through our conversations and behaviors. It is critically important that ordinary people take that mission seriously, unless we want our values to be established only by rock stars, sports players, and politicians. Children learn by what they see and hear from adults around them, even those they don t know. My young grandchildren recently saw two adults arguing in a store and simply looked at me with wide eyes and shook their heads. Good for them that they knew this was inappropriate behavior. Let s never argue about who has responsibility for character education or how to do it. Let’s just do it. It is everyone s responsibility and should not be limited to parents or lessons in a curriculum. It is the fiber that holds together the fabric of our culture and our civilization. We are all teachers of character and, in fact, we teach every single day. We must make character education count every minute, every day, every year, not just the third week of October.
Dr. Patricia Archambault is the coordinator of character education for Uncommon Friends Foundation. Call her at 335-2110 or e-mail her at email@example.com.
– Patricia Archambault