|Posted by Stephen Crilly on November 7, 2013 at 3:10 PM|
Will future generations look back to these years and thank us, or will they feel we did not do enough? For some of you, this question may spark thoughts of handling climate change. Going deeper, their opinion will probably rest on the overall quality of life. Future generations have the primary responsibility for making the most of their lives, but it would be wrong to downplay our role in shaping the world they will face.
“Future generations” sounds like an abstract concept, but when we hear the term, we should think of real, flesh-and-blood individuals as though they exist in the present. Will these souls be thriving, or will struggle and suffering be the norm?
As I look over the broad range of factors that will impact the future, there is one that I believe requires much more attention in the next few years – character education. I attended the 2013 National Forum on Character Education in Washington, D.C., October 24 – 27, 2013. The conference is organized by the Character Education Partnership (CEP) (www.character.org), which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
The CEP conference brings together many experts in the field of character education. The first day included an International Summit, during which we heard presentations and interacted with those leading the way with character education programs in their countries. David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, gave an inspiring opening keynote speech the next day.
I was very impressed by the organizations offering character education programs to the school systems. It was difficult to learn about all of them in depth during just two days, but I am satisfied that the programs we need are available.
From the information I gleaned at the conference, I see two problems going forward. First, not enough schools are implementing effective character education programs, focusing only on academic performance. It was obvious to those who attended the conference that good character precedes good academic results. As studies that were noted confirm, it is much easier to improve academic scores if you focus on character education also.
Second, character education programs in the schools can do just so much. Ultimately, the norms of society will have the primary impact. Parents and the community must set good examples. Character education programs need to encourage these younger generations to accept the responsibility for raising the standards of conduct in society. It is not overly dramatic to say that the survival of the planet depends on it.
I believe that what is needed is a grassroots effort by concerned parents to have character education programs implemented in all schools. It requires parents helping school officials to research and implement effective programs. If you are considering volunteering your time, I encourage you to help in this area. Good character education programs create a welcoming atmosphere for the students and make learning fun.
Improving community and societal norms is more difficult. When you read the daily news, you see some good, but there is a lot of bad and ugly. Children generally gravitate toward the norm they see around them, including what they observe on television and in movies.
Take, for example, youth alcohol consumption. Alcohol advertisements on TV glorify its use. Yet, we all know its dark side. One prominent speaker at the conference noted alarming statistics of alcohol use by students. Binge drinking: 32% of 12th graders and 14% of 9th graders had five or more drinks on at least one day during the prior 30 days; 19% of high school males and 7% of middle schoolers were drunk at school at least once in the past year. Other shocking numbers were provided for drug use, dropout rates, rape, pregnancy, bullying and prejudice. (See also, The Ethics of American Youth: 2012.)
If you are concerned about the fate of the globe, it may help to keep an eye on studies of this type. It has been recognized that adequate education is under the rubric of national security. (See e.g., PBS NewsHour.) An argument could be made that national character has as much, if not more, to do with national security than the mere acquisition of knowledge. It is difficult to influence character education in the home and community, but we can make a difference in the schools.
We should never underestimate the cues children are taking from societal tolerance for low-virtue conduct. The government shutdown was bad, but the stories of Congressmen smelling of alcohol as they walked off the floor were ugly. (“Congressmen Booze As Government Shutdown Looms” and “Congressmen Still Boozing As Government Shuts Down”.) I felt the matter important enough to write the House Committee on Ethics and the Office of Congressional Ethics. In the private sector, being under the influence on the job is a fireable offense.
Overall, what example are Congressmen setting for the younger generations? Are they inspiring the best, the brightest and the most ethical to serve, or only those with a tendency to compromise virtue balance in a system prone to the puppetry of money? Raising the ethical norms in business is equally important.
Future generations will face serious challenges. Emphasizing character education programs in the school systems and improving the trend of ethical conduct in government are two of the most important ways we can help those who do not have a voice in the policies and practices that will impact them one day. I encourage you to support CEP and character education programs in any way you can. Future generations will thank you for it.
I hope you will share your observations and opinions on this topic.