By Kay Spatafore
VP of Character Education / because I said I would
1. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined. Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 3,041 suicide attempts by young people grades 9-12.1
2. 55.2% of LGBTQ students experience cyberbullying.2
3. Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone. That’s a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day. 3
4. 21 weeks into 2018, there had already been 23 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed. That averages out to more than 1 shooting a week. 4
5. In the next 24 hours, in the US alone, 15,006 Teens will use drugs for the first time.5
Character education is imperative if we care about the future of our children, our community and our world at large.
What is Character education?
Simply put, character education is education that cultivates and promotes the ethical, intellectual, sense of civics and social and emotional development of individuals. It is a continuous learning process that enables young people and adults to become moral, caring, critical, responsible individuals.
Character education is built on the relationship between knowledge, values, and the skills necessary to live a successful life. Today, we are citizens of the world. The knowledge required to navigate in this space grows by leaps and bounds every day. It’s not just facts and figures, but the consciousness and competencies needed to prosper in a more tolerant, just and peaceful world. According to Character.org, “Character education includes and complements a broad range of educational approaches such as whole child education, service learning, social-emotional learning, and civic education. All share a commitment to helping young people become responsible, caring, and contributing citizens.”
Character education has been seriously neglected in recent decades and our society is feeling the impact. Our modern education has taken a direction that focuses almost entirely on academics. We equate success with academic success and diminish the value of respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, caring, and civic virtue and call them “soft skills”.
The idea of character education is not new. Martin Luther King said, “The real goal of education is intelligence plus character.” We can trace character education as far back as Aristotle and ancient Greece where he identified self-restraint, courage and good judgement as requisites for a virtuous, happy citizen.
In a society where influences such as the media and internet constantly barrage children and adults with messages, it’s more important than ever to provide guidance and balance at home and in the classroom and workplace. We must embrace programs that encourage traditional ideas in a new sustainable way to create an environment that addresses issues like acceptance, accountability, hope, contemplation and self-control. Children need a sound value base to evaluate information, choices and decisions while weighing risks and rewards. Character education provides this understanding
We must remember that there is common ground, even in our value conflicted society.
How you can make a difference?
“Character is destiny,” –Heraclitus
Character education creates environments where negative and anti-social behaviors are less likely to flourish or go unnoticed and unreported, in the long-term. Character education creates schools where children feel safe because they are in an atmosphere that values respect, responsibility, hard-work and compassion – not because a guard or metal detector is posted at the door. Support character education in schools, after school and in other programs.
In your home, kids learn to be their best selves by watching strong role models exhibit strong character in difficult situations. Values such as fairness, kindness and responsibility for others should be an integral part of a child’s self or identity. Model this behavior in your home.
As we confront the causes of our deepest societal problems, whether in our intimate relationships or public institutions, questions of character loom large. Educating for character is a moral imperative if we care about the future of our society and our children.
Here are some next steps:
1Centers for disease control and prevention, WISQARS 2016