As the author moves into dealing with children of school age, he continues to focus on the importance of strong parenting and delves into “character education” in the schools several times. Each time he mentions character or values education, he alludes to his belief that schools do not have the time or money to be teaching values. Although I would agree that time and money are critical commodities in schools, I would argue that public schools are no place for students to receive their primary character education.
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As a school counselor, I have taught many problem solving and character education programs. Most of these programs and curricula were designed to enhance or help define character and values rather than introduce them to children. Twenty years ago, Kelso the Frog helped students make decisions about what to do when faced with difficult choices. Today, the most popular programs such as Bullyproofing and Second Steps teach very similar responses. Each curriculum attempts to teach students how they can use skills they learn to stand up for what they know is right. The problem is, too many of our students are missing the “first steps’, thus making it impossible to implement the “second steps”.
The one program that I found that does a good job of building character is PeaceBuilders. The Peacebuilders program is built on six foundational premises. These include: Praise People, Give Up Put Downs, Notice Hurts, Right Wrongs, Seek Wise People, and Help Others. As students and staff use these concepts in a classroom or school, they can be applied to student interactions, how to treat facilities and property, the environment, home situations, service projects, diversity, holidays, as well as problems that come up. These concepts seem to lend themselves to more pro-active work than just responding to problems.
Even with the right program and the time and money to implement it, I would argue that schools are not the right place for character education. I think that the author would agree that most values development needs to take place long before a child enters a school building. It also seems to me that values need to be developed in the home because schools are very diverse institutions can not possibly align with every family represented.
The school district that I work in recently made national news when the administration “reassigned” a student teacher who had informed a fourth grade student that he (the student teacher) could not get married because the state would not allow him to marry a man, which would be his preference. The response to the district’s actions was a classic example of the diversity of values and feelings over sensitive issues. No one was happy. Conservative families did not want their children “exposed” to such homosexuality and liberal parents argued that the district had discriminated and was setting an negative example for their children.
No matter what side of the fence you came down on, the bottom line is that families who had clearly established values and solid communication had a great opportunity for discussion and values clarification. In my opinion, this discussion is much more appropriate for the dinner table than for the fourth grade class meeting.