Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review April 3, 2001 / 10 Nissan, 5761

Jessica Wehrman

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


Character education catches on

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A bright mural at Cameron Elementary School here emphasizes the joys of caring, respect and responsibility - each word printed in big bold letters atop a painting of a pillar.

Students walking the halls sport red T-shirts reading "Character Counts at Cameron." Teachers reward students who show honesty, perseverance or fairness with praise or little plastic dog tags with the character traits printed on them.

The school joined the national character education program Character Counts! three years ago. It has seen the results in visitors who compliment the students' good behavior.

"Because we talk about it every day, it does make a difference," said principal George Towery."

Cameron is one of thousands of schools teaching ethical behavior and the issue is very trendy.

This year's Miss America, Angela Perez Baraquio, has named it her theme issue and travels the country talking about the importance of teaching ethical behavior.

President Bush says he will triple funding for it to $25 million annually.

"I think there is no value-free education," said Education Secretary Rod Paige in an interview with Scripps Howard News Service earlier this month. "You are learning values when you're learning."

Paige said universally accepted values - cooperation, tolerance, kindness - should be a part of all education, even something as straightforward as a math lesson. Values, Paige said, should be integrated throughout the curriculum.

Nancy Van Gulick, director of Character Counts! in Northern Virginia, said teaching students about values has made class easier for students.

"I think when you talk to children and ask them what's on their mind, what bothers them about school or other kids, almost the same answers come up all the time," Van Gulick said. "Cheating, disrespecting one another, bullying that goes on, and lying and stealing."

Teachers also have reaped the benefits of character education, she said.

"We're losing a lot of good teachers because discipline is overcoming teaching of the curriculum," she said. "Behavior has gotten out of hand."

Character education varies widely - some schools have public announcements daily reminding students of what constitutes good character, others hang posters.

Van Gulick said for it to work, it has to be constant.

When Rudy Bernardo took a job as principal of Allen Elementary School in Dayton, Ohio, in 1989, the school was the district's worst in academic achievement and the highest in suspensions.

Bernardo crafted a plan to teach character education, helping teachers identify strategies that would create an environment more conducive to learning. By 1992, the school was fifth in academics in the district. By 1995, Allen Elementary School was number one.

From routine niceties - kids are encouraged to say "thank you," and "yes, ma'am" or "no, sir," - to encouraging teachers not to consider chaos and mediocrity as routine, character education revolutionized the school, he said.

Thirty-six states have received grants from the federal government for character education. Bernardo wants the other 14, as well as the territories, to get money as well.

"Character education is not book learning," said Bernardo, who retired last July after 38 years in education. "It is more of the modeling, more of the creating a culture and climate in the building."

Character education is not without its skeptics.

Alfie Kohn, author of "The Schools our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and Tougher Standards" and other books on education, said too often character education is manifested in simple moralistic stories, and "posters that conk kids over the head with nice little mottoes."

"The idea of using schools to help kids become decent human beings is terrific," he said. "Unfortunately, most of what passes for character education in this country relies on manipulative techniques in order to coerce kids into doing what they're told."

In truth, he said, kids have to play an active role in figuring out for themselves why honesty makes sense.

"Most character education programs seem to view children as empty vessels into which virtues can be dumped," he said. "That's not only disrespectful to children, but out of step with the best theory and research about learning."

Comment by clicking here.

Up

© 2001, SHNS