Sunday, September 16, 2012


A gift from my friend Thelma
Before his acceptance speech for the Vice-Presidential spot on the 2012 Democratic ticket, in a video of his life story, Joe Biden told us that his mother always said "courage was the most important virtue and that everything else would flow from that."  It surprised me because I always felt the most important trait of character was either respect or honesty.  Later on in my life, honesty (telling the truth) changed to integrity when I understood the difference between “honesty” and “integrity.”  According to author Stephen Carter, integrity involves three steps:  integrity is discerning the difference between right and wrong, then acting on it — even if it’s at great personal cost.

Today, how often do we spend time talking to our kids or the other adults in our life about these traits?  Not enough.

We spend so much time, energy, money, and effort on teaching students academic skills but we don’t consistently and conscientiously teach them skills to enhance their character.  

Every day — in every school, in every state, in every classroom — kids take math.  Why is that?  Because we want students proficient in it. That’s a lot of class periods of math.

Reading.  Teachers really focus on reading (and should).  We incorporate reading in all that we can.  We have students read in school, read at home, have adults read to them, even have whole schools or whole cities read and discuss the same book — even discuss the movie.  Reading is a staple and should be.

But how much time do we spend on building a kid’s character?  Hard to say?  Certainly if/when time is being spent, parents and faith-based communities do the bulk of it.  And so do elementary school teachers — they pretty much weave character every day, in any way they can.  Some are doing it very creatively.  Good job.   And at minimum (for those less comfortable with character),  teachers can manage the trait of the month. (February is HONESTY. Abe Lincoln and all that — 

But somewhere around 4th to 5th grade, we drop those lessons out of their focus — just when things are getting tougher for kids. 

In another year or so, they leave the cushioned world of lower school (if they're lucky) where they may have been since kindergarten — with their same teachers, and their same classmates, from their same neighborhood. In elementary school, they knew what was expected (if they were lucky) — and it was the same up the hall or down — year after year. There is a certain amount of stability and strength in knowing what's what.

Just when they're feeling solid, we send them to middle school — with different kids from different neighborhoods, with different teachers (lots of them) who have different expectations (even different from one another) and different ideas of who they should be and how they should behave. They go off where everything changes, including expectations (most damagingly). If that weren't enough, to make matters worse — they’re bombarded with media.

I found this online:

According to a 2012 study from Yahoo! and ad agency Carat Interactive:
“The Internet has passed television in the amount of time spent a week, the Web portal and media firm found in a report called “Born to Be Wired” released Thursday. Young people, ages 13-24, spend an average of 16.7 hours a week online, excluding e-mail, compared to 13.6 hours watching TV. After TV viewing, they listened to radio for 12 hours, talked on the phone for 7.7 hours and spent six hours reading books and magazines for personal entertainment.”  

That works out to another SEVEN hours a day absorbing pop culture’s/movies and music's messages.  Messages which often are not only not about character, some of it actively promotes bad character.  Yeah bitch.

Pretty continuously our students have got all this @h#! consuming their non-school, non-sleeping leisure hours — not to mention Facebook (Tumblr, Foursquare, Pinterest, OK Cupid) and Twitter.  

And we can't carve out 50 dedicated minutes a week (let alone a DAY) to focus on developing their character and giving them cognitive and social opportunities to practice navigating their ethical challenges and hanging on to their moral compass in spite of all that @h#! ? 

And we're the adults here?


  1. Great thought provoking piece. Character building can certainly be enhanced in children's lives by involvement in church communities. I learned more about character by watching my parents and through regular church attendance as a child. But it certainly takes committed parents to rear a child that way. Thanks again.

    1. And thank you...and I sometimes think that parents alone are not enough to combat the outside influences.

  2. Great piece! I couldn't agree with you more.

    You might enjoy checking out the Hyde Schools. The founder Joe Gauld, frustrated with traditional teaching methods, started a school that incorporated character education with academics. Most importantly, he included a mandatory parent program so parents learn to model the behavior they expect from their children.

    The foundation rests on five words: Curiosity, Courage, Concern, Leadership and Integrity; and five principles: Destiny, Humility, Conscience, Truth and Brother's Keeper. From its flagship boarding high school in Bath, ME the schools have grown to include grades K through 12 in several cities including NYC and Washington, D.C.

    The Hyde program saved my son's life and transformed me and my family. It not only improved and strengthened the relationships among immediate family members, it positively affected relationships with extended family and friends. For more info

    1. I actually know and respect the Hyde program, also have friends whose son was turned around by Hyde as well. They are great but only available to a very limited population. I'm hoping to get more character development into our mainstream schools. Thanks!