Code and Principles

By Ed DeRoche

One of the most frequent comments we received from teachers and others is: “I don’t know what character education is, but I don’t have time to do it. I have too much on my plate already.”

Here we are in May of 2014 and we still hear that comment but now the plate also contains “food” like the common core standards, STEM, and tests of all kinds.

My usual response is to remind them “It’s the law.“ You could see the expressions on teachers and administrators faces —“No, not really!”

CDC staff member, CJ, offers a better response: “Many teachers say: “I have no time to teach character—I have too much on my plate already.’  That’s like saying: ‘I’m cooking dinner but there is no time to make it nutritious!’”

The “law” – California Education Code Section 233.5(a) – lays the groundwork and calls upon educators to impress upon students the principles of character:

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…

What are the “principles of character” referred to in the Code?

I have found 12 that might help form character education programs in schools and school districts. Let’s look at them as the traits/values/virtues /behaviors that our children should have learned by the time they finished 12 or 13 years with us in our schools.

Through the research efforts of the International Center for Leadership in Education, 12 guiding principles have been identified as key principles upon which to base a character education program. My summary:

  1. Adaptability -The ability and willingness to change.
  2. Compassion – Kindness. The desire to help others in distress.
  3. Contemplation – To think things through with proper care before taking action.
  4. Courage – Bravery. To face difficulty or danger, and express your beliefs even if you are afraid.
  5. Honesty – Truthfulness, sincerity. To be truthful in all that you do and never deceive, steal, or take advantage of the trust of others.
  6. Initiative – Eagerness to do something. To take responsible action on your own, without prompting from others.
  7. Loyalty – Faithfulness, dependability. To show others that you are dependable when you have a commitment to them.
  8. Optimism – The inclination to take a hopeful view or think that all will work out for the best. To strive to be positive in your beliefs about yourself, others, and the future.
  9. Perseverance – Hard work. The quality of continuously trying in spite of obstacles and difficulties.
  10. Respect – Regard, value, admire, and appreciate. To show regard for yourself, others, and the world around you.
  11. Responsibility – To demonstrate that you are accountable for your actions, and that you follow through on your commitments.
  12. Trustworthiness– Reliability. Deserving of trust and confidence.

Here is what the former CA State Superintendent of Public Instruction said:

“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.”