In education today, the system forces our teachers to look intensely at their pupil’s academic results, to identify weaknesses which needs to be improved on to allow for their intellectual strengths to be amplified. When this becomes the main focus of education, young people feel as if they are just a grade, not a real person that needs to be seen and heard. The high-grade levels have a way of making anyone not keeping up, feel like a failure. Humiliation and not feeling good enough has a way to fester and cause permanent damage to a person’s psyche. In the last two decades the pressure of getting pupils to excel has increased dramatically, along with added paperwork with limited time and resources – the result; exasperated and exhausted teachers and pupils.
Many teachers feel as if they are left with little choice but to teach to the test. In the 1950’s it was a very different story with teachers mainly focusing on their pupil’s moral weaknesses so that these could be corrected. It was thought that character was the main purpose of education. Teachers had more autonomy 50 years ago, it was a robust profession that prided itself above all on building good character in the young. Children had to become good fathers and mothers, and upstanding members of the community. Being a good human being mattered above all.
Much of what is wrong in the world today is due to the steady and continuous decline in the moral character development of our young people in the home and in school. The increased levels of knife crime, violence, drug addiction, bullying, disrespectfulness, depression, lack of self-worth and anxiety are all symptoms of a character deprived generation. Parents are also guilty of being more interested in getting their children to either achieve at the expense of their character or just allow them to go through the motions without the guidance they need. Many parents are not aware of the importance of their child’s early character development or simply lack the tools or ‘know-how’ to emotionally support their children’s character growth and self-esteem. This means that more than ever schools are expected to pick up the slack. And, it is essential they do because the alternatives are not promising.
Why is character education so important for our young? Because our character determines who we become, the life choices we make and the quality of all our relationships. We are not born with good or bad character. Neither do we reach a destination of having good character. Character is something that can be taught and must be ideally learnt when we are young. Human beings have flawed characters. It’s critical that we are aware of this weakness and strive to continuously work on our character throughout our lives. Our character – our mental and moral qualities – needs to become resilient to be able to say ‘no’ to the many insignificant temptations that lead us down the path to self-destruction. Character helps us overcome peer pressure and its many deadly sins. From the moment we are born, our character is tested and will continually be tested until the day we leave this earth. Sadly, in our technology driven life, it has become much easier to stumble down the path of ‘weak character’. As much as technology has made wonderful advancements, it’s also corrupted the minds of our young. The negative influences are greater and more easily accessible than ever before.
Character can be separated into two dimensions: moral character and performance character. Examples of moral character are: responsibility, humility, integrity, honesty, loyalty, compassion, authenticity and love. Examples of performance character are: independence, continuous self-development, discipline, focus, courage, work-ethic, grit and optimism. These moral and performance character virtues are in operation continuously in every choice we make. Innate within all of us is the need to be a good person – a person of virtue. Every child instinctively wants to be a good person. It’s just that in many cases they simply don’t know how to; because they have suffered neglect, trauma or insufficient positive role models. So how do we teach our children to develop their character and live these virtues so that they don’t have to experience the painful consequences when they violate these principles that govern our world?
Much has been written about character education, but how should it be taught in schools to allow our children to internalise the right character values so that their behaviours are aligned to principles. Many forward-thinking schools excel at verbally teaching a character education programme, but wholly fall short on application. Character education is only effective if we put the values to work in our everyday life. This means that behaviours have to be attached to the character values taught so that children can model them in their language, actions and choices. A skill set of practices is needed because without these practices, children will simply be unable to apply the knowledge into real life situations.
We need to provide a platform in our schools for children to wrestle with moral problems, to allow them to understand the long-term consequences of violating principles. There are no quick fixes in education. This takes time and patience because we have to be prepared to go slowly, nature has its incubation period, and so it is with building the character of a young person. The soil must be toiled, the seed planted and the plant nurtured so that it has the opportunity to flourish. Above all, the teacher must become an outstanding gardener so that they have the vision and skills to create a beautiful garden for their children to thrive. Yes, it’s an inside out process, we; the teachers must first focus our attention on developing our own character before we can effectively teach these virtues to others. We must be a model, the guiding light.
Written by – Clinton Lamprecht
United Education Group