At All-American High we’ve been thinking a lot about character education this school year. At the beginning of the year there were several fights that took place on campus, an occurrence that had been unusual in prior years. We also had a streaker at one of our football games. These events happening so early in the year caused us to take some time out to evaluate what we’ve been doing in regard to promoting good character among our students and how effective it’s been.
We’ve had several programs in place for a number of years, including announcements each morning that are keyed to our district’s core values, recognition of students for good attitude as well as for other more common areas of recognition such as academics and athletics, and an extensive program that encourages students to volunteer in the community.
Still, in our process of evaluating the program this year, teachers have brought up concerns about cheating, disrespect toward staff and students, compliance with school policies, and student use of drugs and alcohol. When asked what traits an “ideal” All-American High student would exhibit in regard to character they list things like honesty, responsibility, respect, tolerance, and good judgment. That’s hard to argue with, but the question is how do we get there?
What I notice is that many, many of our students already have these traits. As usual, it’s the ones that don’t who stand out, leading some of our teachers to lament “the state of youth today.” Comments were made in a meeting today about how “values just aren’t being taught at home like they were when we were young.” Don’t worry, parents of today, I stood up for you. I mentioned that as a parent of younger children I objected to that generalization. The response was, “Well, of course you’re doing a good job, but fewer parents today are than they used to.”
This brings me to my questions of the day. What should schools be teaching kids about values? In your opinion, what’s the best way to get that message across? And, the big ones, do kids have less character today than in previous generations, and are today’s parents falling down on the character education front?