The need to incorporate character education in curriculum is essential for supporting not only community in the classroom but communities outside the classroom and within the world. By supporting and developing a strong community of students that not only practice the vital skills necessary for cooperation with in a community but advocate for thoughtful, respectful, reasonable, and civil rights for all individuals. I define character education as providing supportive guidance for cooperative learning within communities by learning, practicing, and modeling and growth through trial and failure and for the fostering of civil regard toward one another. I am not all together sure that all parents, teachers, administrators etc. would be on board with my definition or my idea of how it would work. In fact I see a huge challenge in our society for any failure at all being an acceptable form of learning. I read a fascinating article in The Atlantic called, How to Land Your Kid in Therapy by, Lori Gottlieb, that chronicles the despair our children are facing today in a society where everyone is a winner or more simply put how the cult of self-esteem is ruining our kids. Written from the mother’s point of view, which is essentially our role when the student is at school by virtue of ‘Guardian Ad Litem’, the expectation is to not only educate students academically but socially as well. One story the author reflects on is whether or not to tell her young son that a friend had died of cancer. In the end she does and although he asked a lot of questions, “he did not faint from the truth.” Instead, “my trusting him to handle the news probably made him more trusting of me, and ultimately more emotionally secure.” (Gottlieb, 2011, p. 67) Emotional intelligence is a key component for character education.
That’s what we want right? More emotionally secure students through a process of habitual personal discovery in a safe environment that incorporates character education. The value of allowing for failure ceases the constant accommodation and praise for every single student, no matter what the effort, but rather supports and recognizes appropriately earned accomplishments. Woven tightly within any academic and social classroom structure should be character education. The Nord and Haynes lecture provides distinction between education and socialization, training and indoctrination. Indoctrination or socialization is, “…when we teach (or socialize) them to accept doctrines, or a point of view, uncritically.” This can be observed in young children when adults provide rules, i.e. you must share with your sister, and children learn to accept this behavior without question. “We educate them, by contrast, when we provide them with a measure of critical distance on their subjects, enabling them to think in an informed and reflective way about alternatives.” (p. 4). Especially, in the primary level we see evidence of indoctrination and socialization, but just as vital, if not more, is the need to provide disciplined modeling and repetitive behavior that allows for reflective character building opportunities to be discovered. What are we teaching children if everyone get a medal just for showing up? We need to teach students that strong character will serve them well in this world not that their character doesn’t matter!
One way this could be introduced across curriculum is by determining characteristics that matter to you and your school/classroom. For example pick an important words or slogan to put throughout the school and classroom i.e.; Perseverance, Tolerance, Responsibility, Respect, Determination, and Work Hard, Be Nice, or There Are No Shortcuts. As a class make an “T” chart of what these look like and sound like i.e., Tolerance looks like everyone working together, looks cooperative and respectful, Tolerance sound like each person in a group having a chance to share their ideas even if they are different and contrarily each person listening to one another’s idea. Then, repetitively, ask the students to share how they have used tolerance and provide an example (they can refer to the “T” chart). This repetition allows students the opportunity to practice important character experience and verbally define each characteristic.
Lastly, I have to, once again, share an article, What if the Secret to Success is Failure? The focus throughout is on character education and emotional intelligence. The following is what happened when two educators were searching to define the “science of good character.”
Seligman and Peterson consulted works from Aristotle to Confucius, from the Upanishads to the Torah, from the Boy Scout Handbook to profiles of Pokémon characters, and they settled on 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras. The list included some we think of as traditional noble traits, like bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom and integrity; others that veer into the emotional realm, like love, humor, zest and appreciation of beauty; and still others that are more concerned with day-to-day human interactions: social intelligence (the ability to recognize interpersonal dynamics and adapt quickly to different social situations), kindness, self-regulation, gratitude. (Tough, 2011)
I think somehow all these characteristics hold value; our job is to share and impart the value, the action, and importance with our students.