Should we continue teaching character education?
Stupid question, right? What well-meaning parent doesn’t want their child to learn “respect, justice, civic virtue, citizenship, and responsibility for self and others”?
This is how the U.S. Department of Education describes character education, a learning process intended to imbue core ethical values that students understand, appreciate, and undertake. Essentially, we want our kids to grow into good adults who do good things.
No, seriously—why? We celebrate virtuous children but vilify virtuous adults; we punish incorrigible kids but exalt incorrigible adults. I’m not talking partisan politics here. We’re all guilty. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil…”—yeah, we know the quote. We just don’t give a damn about it.
I’m curious. At what age do we stop expecting our kids to behave honorably and start allowing them to behave shamefully? Maybe it’s not an age; maybe it’s a gradual stage—a pecking order process that rewards people each time they squash someone. A twisted, systemic merit badge indoctrination that awards status based on your willingness to forgo character. It shouldn’t amaze me, but it still does, how so few people seem affected by shame. It’s almost as if the word has vanished from our collective conscience.
For us to tolerate such disgraceful behavior from our leaders, whether blue or red, is shameful in its own right. Myself included. I am ashamed this is my first time publicly addressing the lack of character among our elected officials. For too long I have brooded over this issue of speaking out, whether to students or colleagues, family or friends, or to you. Always wanting to maintain the illusion of objectivity, the façade of neutrality, I preferred the role of devil’s advocate, wanting to stir the pot but never taking a side.
It seems most of us are that way.
A while ago, a couple centuries at least, Americans made a deal with that devil. A Faustian bargain to look the other way in the midst of hatred, pretending that all men are created equal, that land was theirs for the taking, and that women were second-class citizens. In return, the devil gave us America. I want to believe that deal can be broken, but it’s going to take good people, and I wonder how many are left.
I have a friend who is running for Congress. I consider him a man of considerable character, but I question what will happen if he is elected. Can someone serve this country ethically? Can an elected official disagree respectfully, dispense justice equitably, exhibit responsibility consistently? Is it possible? I hope so. I want to continue teaching character education. I want there to be a reason to.
Then again, maybe someone will tell me, “You’re not thinking. You never do.”