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Jewish World Review June 7, 1999 /23 Sivan 5759

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Econophone

Public schools will muck up character education

(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
DESPITE THE ABJECT FAILURE of public schools at teaching academic subjects, there's no shortage of proposals to get them into other areas of learning where they'll probably be even less successful -- if we're lucky.

Now cometh character education, whose advent was heralded in The New York Times last week. Its vanguard is a group called The Character Education Partnership.

The recent spate of school shootings and Supreme Court ruling on sexual harassment has turned our thoughts to how nice it would be to have schools where kids didn't use each other for target practice and adolescent boys didn't act like Bill Clinton around adolescent girls.

Since the '60s, when the Supreme Court determined that G-d was trespassing when His name was invoked in the classroom, schools have become value-neutral zones. But now, oh happy day, there's a rising tide of secular character pedagogy.

The Partnership is a coalition including teachers' unions, National PTA and other usual suspects. To guide educators, it's developed Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education. First, "decide on universal values -- such as caring, honesty, fairness, responsibility and respect for others."

(Aren't universal values self-evident? If so, why did they have to be decided on?)

Then, get students talking about these values, studying real-life examples and practicing them, the Partnership urges.

Trying to keep religion out of a discussion of morality complicates matters. The principal of a San Diego elementary school explained that, in naming its character curriculum, "virtues" and "values" were rejected for their religious overtones. Instead, the program is called (yawn) "interactive skills." You returned lost property to its rightful owner?

Great interactive skills!

Liberals are forever trying to teach virtue without faith, which is akin to instructing a blind man in landscape painting.

Point seven in the partnership's principles claims character education "needs to ensure that positive character development grows out of a student's intrinsic motivation to 'know the good, love the good and do the good,' rather than extrinsic consequences, such as rewards and punishment."

But there is no intrinsic motivation to know the good, just as there are no innate values.

What happens when values conflict? Honesty and loyalty are both positive traits. If your friend steals, do you lie to protect him or break faith by telling the truth? Character education, which can't prioritize, has no answer and says, in effect, you decide.

For generations, proper behavior was instilled in students in time-honored fashion. There were prayers and Bible readings. In the previous century, McGuffey's Readers taught morality along with literacy.

This was reinforced by extrinsic consequences: If you're odious, teacher will hit you with her ruler. If you're angelic, you may just get into Heaven.

Caring, honesty, responsibility and respect for others are universal because they were ordained by the Master of the Universe.

Throughout the course of history, more often than not, societies practiced far different values -- as wars of conquest, slavery, extermination, oppression and the opulence of ruling classes, borne by the misery of the masses, attest.

It's one thing to tell kids: "Here are a set of universal values. Practice them because bad things happen when they're widely ignored." (Presidents begin having sex with interns, lying to the American people, committing perjury and bombing civilian populations.)

It's quite another to promote adherence to rules of ethical behavior by noting that they emanate from the source of life. You might call them an operating manual for humanity.

When asked by one of the Littleton gunmen if she believed in G-d, Cassie Bernall said yes, knowing the consequences. Such integrity in the face of certain death isn't instilled by instruction in "interactive skills."

Finally, do we want public educators imparting their values?

Consider the job they've done with sex education, their assault on modesty. Do you want a card-carrying member of the National Education Association -- which thinks abortion is a right and two men are a family -- teaching your children right from wrong?

Public schools should insist on certain minimal standards (don't snap Susie's bra, don't give Willie a wedgie because he's a nerd, don't cheat on exams), reinforced by strict discipline. Ethics is best left to families, religious institutions and private schools.

Public education will only muck things up.


Up

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©1999, Creators Syndicate