Unification News for April 2005

Failure To Instill Character Leads To Failure For All

Dr. Mose Durst
April 2005

Numerous recent news articles alert us to the failure of American schools. A large percentage of high school students in California fail to graduate. The dropout rate, a Harvard study reports, for Latino and African-American students in California high schools averages almost 40 percent, with some schools much higher.

For years, we have learned that our students do poorly on proficiency tests at the end of fourth, eighth, and 12th grades. Education historian Diane Ravitch indicates that American students test significantly lower in academic subjects when compared to similar students in other developed nations. The consequences of these facts are costly in social and economic terms.

High school dropouts are more likely than graduates to matriculate into a life of crime, and they are more likely to create broken families and not to advance beyond the basic job skills. Our nation will spend billions of dollars in incarcerating criminals and providing a social safety net for families that are dysfunctional. Responses to these problems are well-intentioned but inadequate. The Gates Foundation, which has given millions of dollars to establish small schools, might help some students. The cry for academic success: Diligence, perseverance, respect, responsibility, honesty, cooperativeness, attentiveness, courage, temperance, self-control and a sense of hope for the future are a few character traits that are the basis for academic achievement. Educators such as William Damon at Stanford indicate that these character qualities are embedded within young people and they need to be cultivated or developed.

Families, of course, are the primary educators, but schools play a significant role in helping students become people of good character. Character education is not a new technique of the latest educational reform. It always goes on in the process of educating young people. Its significance is either ignored or emphasized. If ignored, students are handicapped and are less likely to succeed. Teachers may feel it is the responsibility of families and communities to educate the character of young people. And so it is. However, schools play a central role in the process and they cannot avoid this responsibility, especially if they expect students to perform at higher levels. The failure of students is a failure of our future.

It is a cost that we cannot afford.

Mose Durst is chairman of the board of The Principled Academy, a nondenominational religious school for preschool through eighth grade in San Leandro.

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