Character: The True Common Core
By Ed DeRoche
Politicians, the press, the public, and most educators are excited about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM), and, of course, the ever present thrust for more testing. Many believe the new common core state standards and education incentive programs such as “Race to the Top” are the panacea for saving our young from the embarrassment of not being among the top scorers in the international testing race to the top in reading, math, and science.We may need to enter a “moral-ethical” race, as well. Consider a few character-related questions: Do we really believe that children are born “morally literate?” (No) Do we believe that the young need to be taught to be moral (knowing the difference between right and wrong) and ethical (doing what is right) at home, in school, and in the community? (Yes) Do we want our children to be good, caring, empathetic human beings? (Yes) Do we want to help them develop positive social and emotional skills? (Yes) Do we let this happen by chance? (No) If you agree with the answers, what do we do? We help the young learn how to be successful in school, society, and in life—the “new century skills.”
In California, we should be promoting a “balance” between helping our young to be both smart and good. The California Education Code Section 233.5(a) lays the groundwork for this:
Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship, and the meaning of equality and human dignity, including the promotion of harmonious relations, kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity, and falsehood, and to instruct them in manners and morals and the principles of a free government. Each teacher is also encouraged to create and foster an environment that encourages pupils to realize their full potential and that is free from discriminatory attitudes, practices, events, or activities, in order to prevent acts of hate violence….
Since 1995, the Character Development Center (CDC) has been making a difference by helping educators, parents, youth agencies personnel, and students learn, teach, and practice the positive habits of good character, citizenship, and social-emotional skills. We promote 10 BADGES OF CHARACTER: RESPECT, RESPONSIBILITY, COMPASSION, COURAGE, PERSEVERANCE, TRUST, HONESTY, GRATITUDE, SELF-DISCIPLINE, and AND CITIZENSHIP.
From the CDC site one may download 8 x 11 posters of each of the 10 badges of character. Each poster has a definition of the character trait along with a quote. The CDC site is full of recommendations for educators, administrators, and parents describing how to integrate the “ true core standards” at home, in school, and in the community http://charactermatters.sandiego.edu and http://usdcharacter.blogspot.com/
One important point here is that attending to the character development of students in our schools supports academic achievement and social-emotional skill development. A few examples:
Character and citizenship are the critical elements of a positive school culture and climate.” Elias, 2008, p.31
Character education positively influences academic achievement; and has a broad impact on a wide variety of psycho-social outcomes, including sexual behavior, problem-solving skills, relationships and attachment to school.Berkowitz and Bier (2005)
Integrated character education resulted in an improved school environment, increased student pro-social and moral behavior, and increased reading and math test scores. In addition, schools became more caring communities, discipline referrals dropped significantly—particularly in areas related to bullying behavior—and test scores in moderately achieving schools increased nearly 50%. Marshall, Caldwell, and Foster (2011)
Compared with their peers (in strictly academic programs), participating students also significantly improved on five key nonacademic measures: They demonstrated greater social skills, less emotional distress and better attitudes, fewer conduct problems such as bullying and suspensions, and more-frequent positive behaviors, such as cooperation and help for other students. Also, the effects continued at least six months…. Education Week1-25-12
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell asks: Is our only objective to get students ready for success in the workforce? Do we not also have a responsibility to prepare students to be active and engaged citizens? Don’t we want our next generation to be caring neighbors, effective parents, and strong role models for the generation after theirs? Aren’t we obligated to provide them with the skills they need to successfully pursue and achieve happiness and joy in their lives? I think we are, and I believe technological change and the global economy make it more important than ever that we focus on these things” (the true common core).