You won’t find character education on the state tests in NY. It doesn’t appear on the SATs , either. But…
When one in three teens who own cell phones admit to using those phones to cheat on tests (Belkin), when 53% of secondary students report being cyber bullied at some point in their school careers (Van Dusen), when 83% of teens say they have lied to their own parents in the past twelve months and 72% confess to lying to a teacher (Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics), we need character education.
To be successful in academics, in business, in relationships, our students will have to navigate a minefield of ethical explosives. But our students, like those teens cited above, struggle daily with virtue. Students spend about six and a half hours a day, five days a week for one hundred and eighty days in school, with us. If eight hours of their week-day, home-time is spent sleeping, that makes us—school staff– among their primary caretakers, their academic sources, and for many, their moral examples.
This is why we must continue efforts to provide character education in schools. Character education–implicit as well as explicit– forces kids to see themselves as members of a larger community: the human community. Character education reinforces the notion that individuals are mutually responsible for one another and demands that kids be responsible for their actions and their learning.
NY Cheating scandals at Stuyvesant High School and Great Neck High School should be red flags. In order put up numbers that will give them a competitive edge, kids at our highest performing schools are willing to sacrifice personal integrity. If they’ll cheat on Regents exams and on the SAT’s, will they also cheat in the workplace, in relationships? Are we teaching them that self worth is defined by the scores they earn? This is what happens when education becomes more about stats than about discovery. This is what happens when “the test” supersedes learning.
As districts make the academic shift to the Common Core focused on reading and writing, we must also make the moral shift to learning communities centered on virtue. Just as reading and writing are no longer just assigned in English, character ed cannot be just the health teacher’s job or the guidance counselor’s domain, either. Self discipline, civility, kindness are not isolated lessons in an isolated context. These values have to be on the instructional agenda everyday, in every class.
Everyone knows teachers can’t do it alone. But if, across the curriculum, we re-culture schools to reflect and celebrate good character, that’s a start. Villains in literature and lessons in history are low hanging fruit for character education, there for the picking. Informational reading in science and even in math pose questions about the implications of technology and tactical manipulation of numbers.
I know, I know. Our instructional in-boxes are already full of stuff we haven’t even processed yet, stuff like the Common Core, stuff like standardized tests, stuff like publishable teacher evals. But kids who have no self-discipline and don’t get why cheating and bullying are bad for them–and bad for everyone else–will never be truly successful.