Author Archives: Dr. DeRoche

Moral and Character Education: The Connection

It is not surprising that character development of children and youth is about educating them in moral and ethical matters.  Nothing new here.  From Colonial times through the 20th Century, moral education “was deep in the very fabric of our schools.”

Following WWII, a variety of cultural and social changes caused the public to question moral education initiatives because of religious connotations.  A shift began in the late sixties amid the widespread concern over students’ poor academic achievement, anti-social behaviors, and other cultural factors – a shift from moral education to character education.

Character development of the young expanded to include the teaching and learning of moral and civic virtues, the formation of good habits and eliminating poor ones, the beginning of interest in children’s social and emotional skill development, and greater attention to the culture of schools and the climates of classrooms.

Even with the name change from moral to character education, moral and ethical content retain its place under the character education “umbrella” as the following quotes illustrate.

Edward Wynne, a professor at the University of Illinois wrote:

We can assume that renewed attention to character development will be good for pupils, their families, educators, and the nation. For, in the end, the welfare and the very existence of our society does not so much depend on the IQs of its inhabitants, as on their character.

Professor Larry Nucci (Handbook of Moral and Character Education) says:

If we don’t teach kids moral reasoning skills, including how to challenge appropriately (non-moral) conventional issues, we may be engaging in immoral education.

Thomas Lickona, developmental psychologist and a professor of education, reports:

If schools wish to maximize their moral clout, making a lasting difference in students’ character…they need a comprehensive, holistic approach (one where schools) look at themselves through a moral lens and consider how virtually everything that goes on there affects the values and character of students.

Many ethicist remind us that “school is unavoidable a moral enterprise” infused in school codes, regulations, requirements, traditions, expected behaviors, styles of teaching, with curricula and extra-curricular offerings.

Moral (character) education, then, encompasses deliberate efforts to help the young learn, practice, and apply moral virtues and character habits that will help them individually live good lives – and at the same time become productive, contributing citizens.

In this view, moral education should contribute not only to the students as individuals, but also to the social cohesion of a community. (

In our first book on character education (2001), Mary Williams and I wrote:

The public has come to appreciate the importance of the young learning about human achievement, ethical principles, and the moral values that underpin democratic, civilized life….

Paraphrasing our colleague, Professor Kevin Ryan, we continued:
Character education has reintroduced one important aspect of moral development…namely, socialization—helping the young learn how to live cooperatively, caringly, and civilly.
This is a good place for a reminder and a conclusion that calls for further study.

Lickona and Davidson have made the case that there are two types of character—“moral character” and “performance character.”

They write that “moral character [values/virtues and ethics] is necessary for successful interpersonal relationships and ethical behavior.”  The characteristics of moral character encompass such virtues as integrity, caring, respect, generosity, responsibility, cooperation, and the like.

The companion to moral character is “performance character – a needed characteristic for reaching one’s potential in school, the workplace, or any area of endeavor.”  Performance virtues include diligence, perseverance, ingenuity, self -discipline, grit, optimism, and more.

American Journalist Sydney J. Harris once noted that “the whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”


Contact us:

Fifty Shades of Gray

Did the title get your attention?

Not to worry –this blog is different than the popular movie. Note that the word “gray.” It is not “Grey” as in the movie title. March, in many places, is a “gray” overcast month where one wishes for an early Spring. To brighten up the month of March, consider these “gems” for the teaching and learning of character strengths and traits.


  • Gallup Students Poll
    • “Sixty-three percent of students in America are engaged…highly involved with and enthusiastic about school.” (p72)
  • The Engagement Slide
    • “Student engagement peaks during elementary school, decreases through middle school and early high school, plateaus a little, and then increases through the rest of high school….”(p.72)
  • Students polled suggest 4 ways to keep them engaged (p.73)
    1. “Elementary schools prepare them for the rigors of the work in secondary schools.
    2. Teachers get to know them
    3. Adults praise and recognize them for good schoolwork
    4. All schools commit to building the strengths of each student.”
  • “Teachers who are engaged in their work tend to have students who are engaged in learning.” (p.73)

Shane J. Lopez, “Giving Students a Voice.” Kappan, October 2011, pp.72-73


Emotions have many variations: joy, contentment, serenity, frustration, sadness, sorrow, guilt, etc. If you break them down into their simplest elements, there are only two important categories; one sends positive messages and the other sends negative messages.

If you are mindful (conscious) of your emotions, you realize that they are affected by your thoughts, your self-talk, and by reactions prompted by your senses. (For example, HEARING a compliment prompts a good feeling; HEARING criticism prompts a negative one. SEEING someone smile at you prompts a nice feeling; SEEING a sad scene in a film prompts tears.)

It is normal for negative emotions to emerge in difficult situations. A negative emotional reaction to another person’s comments indicates that the other person is prompting (directing) your emotions. In such cases, redirect your thinking so positive emotions will be forthcoming.

In any situation where you feel bad, change your thinking because the emotion always follows cognition.

PROMOTING RESPONSIBILITY & LEARNING– Volume 15 Number 2, February 2015


Empathy  “Empathy Formula” (E = EC²)

The first the first stage of becoming empathetic is “cognitive empathy,” or the act of knowing how another person feels. The second is “emotional empathy,” or the capacity to physically feel the emotions of another. As with cognitive empathy, however, emotional empathy can have troublesome consequences if applied in isolation. The third and final part of the formula — “compassionate empathy”, which is what occurs when we combine the previous two in the name of acting upon what we think and feel.

What would happen if schools were more mindful of this Empathy Formula? Instead of offering disconnected but well-intentioned efforts to help children think, feel or act, would adults start to help children think, feel and act? Would communities be increasingly populated with people who were neither narcissistic nor emotionally empty? And would the most pressing problems of our day — from energy to education to enlivening our civic life — be analyzed, internalized, and diffused by a new generation of changemakers?  

Sam Chaltain, “The Empathy Formula,” Huffington Post, 12-18-2012

Moral & Performance Character

This question was posed to Paul Tough, author of “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.”

Can you explain how they’re different and why that difference is important?

This is a distinction that was made in a paper by the Character Education Partnership. I found it valuable when I was reporting on the character-education collaboration between the KIPP schools in New York City and the Riverdale Country School, which I wrote about in 2011 in the New York Times Magazine, and which I write about in more depth in “How Children Succeed.”

Briefly, “moral character” refers to traits related to values and ethics: honesty, piety, chastity, generosity. “Performance character” refers to traits related to personal effectiveness: self-control, persistence, grit, optimism. These traits are very similar to what economists like James Heckman refer to as non-cognitive skills.

I think both categories are valuable, but I think they they’re clearly very different. And one big problem with the word character is that it has these two meanings. Which means that when any two people have a conversation about “character education,” they are often talking about two very different things.

When educators who care about character are able to be more specific about which character traits they’re trying to develop in their students, that benefits everyone.

Larry Feriazzo, September 3, 2012, Education Week: Teacher.

Blue Skies for You to Celebrate

Beware the Gray Clouds

Friday the 13th & The Ides of March

The Skill of Question-Asking

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question; I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”  —A. Einstein

Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Does question-asking apply to the teaching and learning of positive character strengths and ethical decision-making?
  2. What resources could help you and your students appreciate the importance of developing question-asking skills?

The answer to the first question is “yes” and here is one reason.

The word CHARACTER has two Cs in it; one stands for CHOICE and the other for CONSEQUENCES. Living a life of good character doesn’t happen by CHANCE, nor does it happen by CIRCUMSTANCES.  It happens by CHOICES.  There is another very important “C” that should be considered – CONSCIENCE.

If character is necessary to inform our “choices” and “consequences,” (conscience) then children and youth need to learn and practice the skills of question asking.

In his paper “The Art and Architecture of Powerful Questions,” Eric Vogt reminds us that:

  • Questions are a prerequisite to learning.
  • Questions are a window into creativity and insight. 
  • Questions motivate fresh thinking.
  • Questions challenge outdated assumptions.
  • Questions lead us to the future.

“Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.”  Robert Half

Here are four teaching suggestions that help answer the second question.

  1. Give Me Five: 5-W’s & the H
    • This strategy is applicable for deconstructing subject matter content, current events, and relationships.  A relationship example:
      • There is a fight on the playground.  Five students are involved and are sent to the office (which means the principal or her delegate has to deal with the problem.)  They are given a GMF sheet with a diagram of an open hand, each finger has question on it, and so does the palm.  The five students are separated, given the sheet, and told to write about the incident:
        • Who was involved? (thumb question)
        • Where? (finger question)
        • When? (finger question)
        • What happened? (finger question)
        • Why? (finger question)
        • How? (Resolution) (palm question)

The students have 10-15 minutes to complete the GMF sheet.  They return to the office for a “debriefing” to discuss the first five questions.  Then the How question:  “How are the five of you going to solve this problem?”  “What’s the solution and the consequences?”

Palm Question Thumbnail

  1. KAACCE – Bloom’s Taxonomy : Have your students memorize this acronym KAACSE (pronounce is as Kay-Sea) and what each letter means:
    • Knowledge – questions that have students list, define, tell, label, show, name, relate, recall
    • Comprehension – questions that compare, contrast, explain, rephrase, classify, interpret, outline, infer
    • Application – questions that solve, select, plan, choose, construct, experiment, organize, build
    • Analysis – questions that separate, compare, contrast, dissect, examine, infer, simplify, test for
    • Synthesis – questions create, construct, combine, design, adapt, modify, predict, and improve
    • Evaluation –questions that judge, criticize, conclude, assess, appraise, estimate, deduct, prove/disprove
  1. Teach your students Arthur Costa’s Levels of Questioning.
Level One
Defining Describing
Identifying Listing
Naming Observing
Reciting Scanning
Level Two
Analyzing Comparing
Contrasting Grouping
Inferring Sequencing
Level Three
Applying a principle Evaluating
Hypothesizing Imagining
Judging Predicting


  1. The staff at the “Right Question Institute” recommends that teachers use a 6-step process called the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), summarized as follows:
    1. Teachers design a question focus
    2. Students produce questions
    3. Students improve their questions
    4. Students prioritize their questions
    5. Students and teachers decide on next steps
    6. Students reflect on what they have learned

“Teaching this skill in every classroom can help successful students to go deeper in their thinking and encourage struggling students to develop a new thirst for learning.”

You will discover that question–asking is teachable, easily modeled, relevant to the Common Core Standards, applicable to 21st Century skills, and a life-long skill effective in gathering and processing information, solving problems, and making decisions (hopefully ethical ones) both professionally and personally.

To conclude – a few questions for you:

  • Why did you read this blog?
  • What did you learn?
  • How does this help you with the Cs in question one?
  • How can you use the information in your classroom with your students?

“In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question.”  — Richard Saul Wurman

Peace Education

“If we are to reach real peace in this world … we shall have to begin with the children.” –Mahatma Gandhi

Happy New Year!

Let’s talk about peace education, another program that is found under the “Character Education Umbrella.”

Peace education programs encompass the virtues that underscore good character and citizenship.  The objectives are to help:

  • students learn alternatives to violence, and adults and students to create a school and home environment that is peaceful and conducive to nonviolent attitudes and behaviors;
  • students learn skills including identifying bias, problem solving, sharing and co-operation, shared decision-making, analysis and critical thinking;
  • enhance students self esteem enabling them to imagine life beyond the present;
  • the young recognize and express their feelings in ways that are not aggressive or destructive; using conflict resolution strategies, being empathic and engaging in nonviolent action in relation to problems both personal and societal; and
  • students understand the nature of violence, examine the causes of conflict, stress the benefits of non-violence, and how to handle conflict.

Rhonda Jeffries and Ian Harris note that peace education efforts improves school climate, address the acts of violence in a student’s school and community, and helps create a school and home atmosphere that is peaceful and conducive to nonviolent attitudes and behaviors. The authors report that peace education efforts help students learn alternatives to violence, nurture in students the seeds of compassion rather than hatred, competition, and revenge.

(“Cooling the Climate Using Peace Education in an Urban Middle School,” Middle School Journal, November 1998.)

Here is useful framework for program implementation:

Seven Phases of Planning a Peaceable School

Phase        Activity                                    Question

  1.             Develop a focus                     What is a peaceable school?
  2.             Specify needs                         What are the concerns?
  3.             Reaffirm commitment          Why should we take action?
  4.             Identify principles                  What do we want to do?
  5.             Design a model                      How do we get there?
  6.             Select an approach                What strategies do we use?
  7.             Implement plan                      Are we ready to get started?

I would add a Phase 8:  Evaluate progress / What happened after you implemented the plan?

A typical peace education curriculum and its instructional strategies focus on conflict resolution and problem solving that are personal, community, national, and global.  The intent is to offer students alternatives to violence, and assist both adults and students to create school and home environments that are peaceful and conducive to nonviolent attitudes and behaviors.

Some strategies used by teachers and other school personnel include:

  • peer mediation programs,
  • posters,
  • encouraging students to assume leadership roles, using special teachable moments,
  • keeping the peace message before all school personnel,
  • creating ways of teaching peace in subject matter areas with units and,
  • lessons that incorporate peace themes.

“Peace is woven into the day-to-day fabric of school life primarily through instructional methods such as cooperative learning and constructive controversy and conflict resolution programs such as ‘Teaching Students to Be Peacemakers.’ Through developing and maintaining peaceful relations with diverse schoolmates, students actually experience what they need to establish in society as a whole once they become adults.” (Johnson and Johnson, 2006).

“The pedagogy used in peace education is cooperative, participatory and active, including case-studies, storytelling, role-plays, empathy activities, negotiation and mediation practice, journaling, reflection circles, and alternative futures exercises. The learning objective of peace education aims to transform conflict through dialogue and nonviolence, and particularly where peace education affects youth conflict is transformed across generations.” (Kevin Kester, 2008)

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…..”  Martin Luther King, Jr. (Remembrance: 1-19-2015) 

Readers interested in a list of web sites about peace education are invited to send an email to character

The Character Umbrella

Remember the dance scene in “Signing in the Rain?”  Gene Kelly dancing and while holding an umbrella?

Fast forward to last October.  The “taking it to the streets” protests in Hong Kong called by the media “The Umbrella Revolution.“

In 2008, NPR ( published a six-page laminated character card that explained among other things the “character umbrella metaphor.”

Here’s how Wikipedia explains the metaphor:

Character education is an umbrella term loosely used to describe the teaching of children in a manner that will help them develop variously as moral, civic, good, mannered, behaved, non-bullying, healthy, critical, successful, traditional, compliant or socially acceptable beings.  Concepts that now and in the past have fallen under this term include social and emotional learning, moral reasoning and cognitive development, life skills education, health education, violence prevention, critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and conflict resolution and mediation…. Today, there are dozens of character education programs in, and vying for adoption by, schools and businesses.  Some are commercial, some non-profit and many are uniquely devised by states, districts and schools, themselves.

Over the years more and more character-related programs have been embraced under the “character umbrella” by schools and communities. Here are a few:

Character strengths (values, virtues, traits)

Performance character

Moral character

Social skills

Emotional intelligence

Service learning

Extra-curricular programs

After-school programs

Intervention programs, such as

Bullying and cyberbullying prevention programs

Anti-social behavior programs

Behavior management programs

Conflict resolution programs

Discipline programs

Commercial and non-profit character education programs can also be found under the “umbrella.”  Programs like:

Project Wisdom

Character Counts

Peace Education

The Virtues Project

Wise Skills


Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports

The Leader in Me

Schools have many opportunities to address the character development of students as noted on the programmatic sketch above.  Many schools have combination of programs sometimes captured under the “values-a-month” framework.

The evidence is clear; school personnel can contribute to the character strengths and positive behaviors of students.

There are a few additional things under the “umbrella” that schools and school districts should be doing to promote character education.  These include professional development opportunities, ensuring programs have the needed resources, and attending to the need for ongoing assessment.

What’s under your school’s character education umbrella?

  • Does it contribute to students’ character strengths, positive behaviors, and academic achievement?
  • In other words, is it working?
  • How do you know?

The U.S. Department of Education describes the “umbrella” metaphor as follows.

Character education is an inclusive term embracing all aspects of    how schools, related social institutions and parents can support the positive character development of children and adults…. Relevant virtues include honesty, justice and fairness, trustworthiness, responsibility, respect, altruism, patience, perseverance, appreciation of diversity, and courage…. For a school to foster character development, it must provide a positive social environment characterized by leadership; collegiality; a learning orientation among faculty; and ties among school, home, and   community.  Finally, practicing the virtues of civic engagement,   civility, and citizenship and embracing the values of democracy are necessary for developing character in both the child and the        community.” (Mobilizing for Evidence-Based Character Education, U.S. Department of Education, 2007)

My PTA Talk

HK called. He’s a middle school principal.

“Ed, I need a favor. The speaker for our parent-teacher meeting had to cancel. Can you come over next Tuesday and speak to them for about twenty minutes?”

“On what?” I asked.

“Oh, why don’t you say a few words about raising children to be people of good character?”

(Obviously, HK benefited from taking one of my character education courses—keep it short, get to the point.)

“Okay,” I responded, “twenty minutes should do it.”

He gave me all the particulars.

Tuesday, early evening. My talked followed their business meeting.

After the introductions, I began by telling the parents that I was the father of six kids. I noted that while my wife and I were raising them we had no training for parenthood, so we “winged” it.

I offered a few suggestions, acknowledging that none are fool-proof, most are common sense, and all will give them something to think about. (Note: I provided examples where I could, but these are not included in this blog.)

My first suggestion:

Tell your kids upfront that you are loving parents who want to offer them five family gifts: respect, responsibility, care, support, and safety.

My second suggestion:

Look at the character development of your children in this way: character, good or bad, are learned behaviors. The word CHARACTER has two Cs in it; one stands for CHOICE and the other for CONSEQUENCES. Living a life of good character doesn’t happen by CHANCE, nor does it happen by CIRCUMSTANCES. It happens by CHOICE. If exercising builds strong muscles, then practicing the virtues of good character should build strong positive personal and social behaviors.

Third suggestion:

Use the language of character around the house everyday in all relationship matters. A few examples may help you:
⎯ Why are you teasing your sister?
⎯ How did you show respect in that situation?
⎯ Why is it his responsibility and not yours?
⎯ When am I going to be able to trust you?
⎯ Where are your manners?
⎯ Did you do your homework (responsibility)?

Notice the value of question-asking and the result—critically thinking about behavior. Ask questions. Question their answers to your questions. This technique highlights the fact that the answers to your questions offers them choices, and those choices offer opportunity for changing, and changes lead to possibilities. You get the idea!

Fourth suggestion:

As every parent knows our kids (and ourselves, at times) need skills to handle their emotions—sad, mad, bad, glad. So, my suggestion is to remind you that it is okay to get angry. Everybody does it. It is what your children and you do after being angry that counts.

Fifth suggestion:

Put this poster on your refrigerator, on a bulletin board, or in your child’s backpack:
The least important word: I
The most important word: WE
The two most important words: THANK YOU!
The three most important words: ALL IS FORGIVEN.
The four most important words: WHAT IS YOUR OPINION?
The five most important words: YOU DID A GOOD JOB!
The six most important words: I WANT TO UNDERSTAND YOU BETTER.
(From Relationships 101 by John Maxwell,

There are no magic formulas in raising children of good character. But there are people out there who have really solid ideas on how you can help your children be people of good character. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started.

Google “how to raise children of good character”—lots of good information and resources!

Check out these books on

Michelle Borba, Parents Do make A Difference: How to Raise Kids with Solid Character, Strong Minds, and Caring Hearts

Robert Coles, The Moral Intelligence of Children: How to Raise a Moral Child

Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

Tom Lickona, Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues

Marvin Marshall, Discipline & Parenting Without Stress

Hal Urban, Life’s Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter
CDC webpage:
Recent Posts:

Back To school: It is what’s up front that counts!

School started this week.  Excitement reigns (or maybe not).

Schools and classrooms are a beehive of activity.  Books are distributed.  Bulletin boards decorated.  Rules posted.  Phones are ringing.  Texting and tweeting are rampant.  Tears and laughter shared.  Teachers worry about the kids they have been assigned.  Parents and kids have the same worry but in reverse.

Last year at this time I posted a blog noting that teachers needed a “sense of humor” to make it through the year.  Having a “sense of humor,” as you might guess, is not enough.  You can’t laugh your way towards being a successful teacher.

Social-emotional authorities offer additional suggestions about how to begin your new school year.

First, save the “get down to business” façade for another time.  Meet your new students, greet them, and welcome them in a festive and positive way.

Second, those who care share!  Let your students share their summer stories, something about themselves, and what they are looking forward to in this new school year.

Third, have students participate in establishing class rules – the do’s and don’ts, their choices and consequences, and the routines and responsibilities.

Fourth, encourage your students to use a personal journal to record three things they are taking away with them at the end of each school day.

And, fifth, involve the parents—they are your best hope for continuity and reinforcement of school and classroom messages.

(See the reference below for the full text and a video)

Here are a few of my favorite suggestions that you might want to share with your students and their parents.

  • “What is modeled is imitated.” – M. Borba
  • Behavior rewarded is behavior repeated (good and bad).
  • There is never a wrong time to do the right thing.
  • “What we allow we teach; what we accept, they will do.” – M.Borba
  • The classroom is as much a social setting as it is an academic one.
  • Character is about second chances but only if you learn from your mistakes.
  • “If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it.” – Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius
  • Take the Pottery Barn Oath:  You break it, you own it.
  • “Negative attitudes drain, positive attitudes fuel.” – M. Marshall
  • “Relationships are to learning as location is to real estate.” – J. Comer
  • Tell them and they will forget; teach them and they may remember; involve them and they will learn.”  (Paraphrase of a Benjamin Franklin saying

Ronald Ferguson, a professor at Harvard University, has been studying effective teaching factors that make a difference in the classroom’s learning environment.  Let’s add his “Seven C’s” to our “What’s Up Front” suggestions.

  1. Caring – nurturing positive/productive relationships
  2. Controlling – creating behaviors that are cooperative and supported by peers
  3. Clarifying – make success seem feasible, help with confusion, promote understanding
  4. Challenging – press for effort, rigor, hard work, use of thinking skills
  5. Captivating – make learning interesting, relevant, capturing student  attention, eliminating boredom, don’t waste student time
  6. Conferring – take time for student feedback, respect their ideas, listen
  7. Consolidating – summarize, connect, integrate ideas and learning.

You are the one “up-front.”  Use these suggestions!  Keep your “sense of humor!”  Tape these on your desk, read them everyday, have a successful teaching year, and remember:

The best teacher is not necessarily the one who possesses the most knowledge, but the one who most effectively enables the students to believe in their ability to learn. – Norman Cousins


View:  90-second video on three key facts about emotions:


Bad News (for) Boys

Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.– Bruce Lee

In March I wrote a blog titled “Non-fiction Reading and Character.” Seeking a topic for this month’s blog, I was struck by the reports about the San Diego Comic-Con International (showcasing comic books and science fiction/fantasy books among other pop culture genres), amused by attendees’ customs and behaviors, and informed by PBS’s program on “Superheroes” in comic books.

To use a summer-time metaphor, I started “surfing” the Internet in search of more information about boys and their reading interests, habits, and skills or lack thereof.

What we know:

“Girls are reading better than boys… and the pattern is giving girls a life-long advantage…. Boys are lagging behind girls on standardized reading tests in all 50 states…In Virginia and New Hampshire, middle school girls did better than boys in reading proficiency by 15 percentage points. In New York, girls were 13 percentage points ahead…The difference now is that boys are not catching up.”

What has been observed:

Columnist Michael Kimmel writes, “I think the social scientific evidence leads in a different direction. Boys’ underachievement is driven by masculinity – that is, what boys think it means to be a man is often at odds with succeeding in school. Stated most simply, many boys regard academic disengagement as a sign of their masculinity.”

What is happening:

Did you know that the Common Cores Standards might be slanting what one reads to more non-fiction than fictional materials? Might this help boys?

The new standards envision elementary students …reading equally from literature and informational text. By high school, literature should represent only 30 percent of their readings; 70 percent should be informational. The tilt reflects employers’ and college professors’ complaints that too many young people can’t analyze or synthesize information, or document arguments.

What we should admit:

“Houston, we have a problem.” I have no idea what teachers should do about it. But I suppose that the first step is to recognize that a problem does exist for some boys in your school. You have one month before school starts. It might be of interest to you, your colleagues at school, and parents to respond to a plea by Peter DeWitt (Education Week, January 7, 2013) and author of Writing the Playbook: A Practitioner’s Guide to Creating a Boy-Friendly School:

“I challenge you: Put on a ‘boy perspective’ and take a hard look at your school – from the curriculum, to the décor, to the policies and procedures. What is turning boys off and tuning them out?”

My question:

If gender matters in school and it clearly does, does character matter and if so, why and how?, August 2014

The “Character Mystery”

The scene: It was at break time on Thursday afternoon at the Character Development Center’s 18th annual Character Matters Conference (USD).

Three attendees all of whom, I found out, were to begin their first year of teaching in the fall approached me.

“Can we ask you a question?”
“Yes, what can I do for the three of you?” My thought ­I have to fix another parking ticket.
“We are confused and puzzled,” said one.
“We can¹t get a handle on what character is really about,” said the other.
“I understand,” I replied, “A common problem among educators and others.”
No time for explanations at this point since we were being called back into the auditorium to hear the next conference speaker.
I said quickly, “ Let’s do this. Give me your email addresses and I will send each of you information that will take the “mystery” out what character and character education is really all about.”
I decided to write this blog and send it to them along with other character education material.

Character is learned—taught to the young by the entertainment industry, the media, the environment they live in, their peers and role models, and hopefully by parents, teachers, schools, youth agencies, and religious institutions.

Character is about learning and practicing the virtues/values/traits of compassion, trust, courage, honesty, gratitude and so on. Gratitude and empathy have been identified as two essential competencies/virtues for leaders and followers in the 21st century. I just read an article that states:

“Studies have repeatedly confirmed that gratitude lies at the heart of joy… (and) is the ‘queen of the virtues.’”

Character is about the choices one makes (good or bad, ethical or unethical). It is about decision-making – the circumstances, the risks, the chances, the consequences, and the rewards. LouAnne Johnson, a school principal, put it this way:

“If we expect children to behave in school, we must teach them to take responsibility for their behavior; but we must also teach them how to make better choices, how to develop personal ethics, and how to solve problems.”

Character is about relationships (strengthen or destroyed) and social skills. You have heard about or read about James Comer’s work at Yale. He reminds us: “With every interaction in a school, we are either building community or destroying it.”

“Far too many principals share rules with their teachers but they don’t have a relationship with them. And far too many teachers don’t have positive relationships with their students. So what happens? Teachers and students disengage from the mission of the school….To develop positive relationships you need to enhance communication, build trust, listen to them, make time for them, recognize them, show them you care through your actions and mentor them.”
(NB, “Soul Food Friday” July 26, 2013)

Positive relationships are built upon the application of such social skills as sharing, participating, following directions, listening, taking turns, etc. It also includes learning how to be a friend, how to care for others, how to be polite, respectful, courteous; how to resolve conflicts, appreciate others—you can add your “relationship attributes” to this list.

Character is about “emotional” self-discipline. In his book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman notes that IQ accounts for about 20% of success in life while the remaining 80% is attributed to factors related to emotional intelligence. He includes such factors as self-awareness, managing emotions, empathy, understanding others, social consciousness, self-restraint, and nurturing relationships. He says this:

“A small investment in emotional-social development programs in schools will have a powerful influence at reducing anti-social behaviors of students.”

Interestingly, our local newspaper, U-T San Diego, offered a recent column on the business pages titled “Emotional intelligence: Companies find that workers with high EQ are most productive.” Business types call what we do in our character education programs the “soft skills.”

Finally, have you heard or read about 21st century skills? More than 250 researchers across 60 institutions worldwide categorized these skills into four broad categories:

  1. Ways of thinking: creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, decision-making and learning;
  2. Ways of working: communication and collaboration;
  3. Tools for working: information and communications technology and information literacy; and
  4. Skills for living in the world: citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility.

It seems to me that 21st century skills are calling for 21st century people of “character.”

A Graduation Speech: The Character Highway

By Ed DeRoche

It’s June! Commencement time –caps and gowns – diplomas received—and the inevitable graduation speech. An unofficial survey reveals that almost all high school graduates (college, as well) do not remember who spoke and what was said at their graduation ceremonies.

The key for graduation speakers who want an audience to remember his/ her name and something/anything about his/her speech is to keep it short and make it relevant. Fifteen minutes should do.

Given these parameters, what might a speaker say to the graduates about “character.” The speaker might begin by telling the young audience the truth: “Not only will you forget what was said here but very few of you will remember who said it.”

The speaker would frame the speech by saying:

“In fifteen minutes, I am going to tell you a few things that should be in your backpack when you walk out of the doors of this school. I am going to talk to you about the two most important backpack items –the character traits and a moral compass.”

The speaker continues:

“To do this, I need you to think of your past and future life as a journey along the character-moral highway. The character traits in your bag includes: Respect—Responsibility, Compassion, Citizenship, Trust, Perseverance, Honesty, Gratitude, Self-Discipline and Courage. The moral compass is your conscience; a compass that will help you along the route to a happy, positive, productive, and ethically-based life.”

Now we all know that most of you have left or will leave the character-moral highway at times. That is what human beings do—we take various routes, try new roads, test unmarked byways, take right and wrong turnoffs, and most of us stop to ask for directions and use our ‘moral compass’ to take us back to the character-moral-based highway. That is why the highway has warning signs, danger zones, stoplights, caution markers, and bulletin boards that caution you about the risks you are taking by leaving the character-moral highway.

Life’s highway requires you to make choices because if you don’t know where you are going, how will you get there? Aristotle said that “Choice, not chance, determines your destiny, dreams, and values.”

To help you as you navigate, I remind you that the word Character has two Cs in it; one stands for Choice and the other for Consequences. Paste this on your dashboard: Living a life of good character doesn’t happen by Chance, nor does it happen by Circumstance. It happens by Choice.

Let me underscore this idea of choice and consequences by paraphrasing the wise old headmaster, Dumbledore, when he was advising Harry Potter. Here is what he said:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. What we make of our selves, what we make of our lives, is a matter of choice—our choice, and our responsibility.”

When you are on character-moral highway, you need to be aware of are the Danger signs. Think carefully about the word Danger. What word do you see in Danger? You are right—Anger—and like love, it is a very powerful emotion. A person of good character realizes that anger is only one letter short of danger. Anger, as you know, can lead to many negative choice like bullying, revenge, jealousy, retaliation, and violence. Pay attention to the Danger signs on your life’s highway.

Another road sign you will see reads: WATCH OUT FOR PEDESTRIANS. This signs reminds you that your life is about your relationships with others. Human life, you see, is about relationships, some good and some bad. Nurture the good ones (friendship) and deal with the bad ones.

The writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, reminds us that “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 

If you Watch Out for Pedestrians, you will be demonstrating the character traits of compassion and empathy. You show yourself and others that you can and will step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide your actions. Columnist Abigail Van Buren said it this way: ‘The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.’”

And the speaker concludes:

“My fifteen minutes are up. Let me end my character message to you by quoting the wise Dr. Seuss:

  •  Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting so get on your way!
  • Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you.
  • You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
  • You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you’re the one who’ll decide where to go.”