Articles From the November 1994 Unification News


Needed: Character Education in Schools

by Haven Bradford Gow

A news story in the Sept. 18, 1994 Greenville, Mississippi Delta Democrat Times reported: "The Greenville School Board has stiffened the penalties for bringing weapons to school. Students who bring guns to school will now be expelled or sent to an alternative program for a minimum of one year, and those who bring other weapons will be suspended at least five days."

Just three days later the same paper reported: "Three teenage boys were jailed on capital rape charges after an attack on a 15-year-old girl at Greenville High School Tuesday.... Because of the nature of the crime, all three boys are being charged as adults."

Incidents like the above reveal the shocking decay of youth morality in the United States. The tragic truth is that every day in this nation, 2,795 teenagers become pregnant; 1,106 procure abortions; 1,295 give birth; 10 children are killed by guns; six teens commit suicide; 135,000 children bring guns to school; 7,742 teens become sexually active; 623 teens contract a sexually transmitted disease; 437 teens are arrested for drinking or for drunk driving.

An article in the Sept. 4, 1994 Catholic Twin Circle provides another reason for alarm: "The University of Michigan's most recent survey of drug use among young people-conducted in 1993-found that the use of illicit drugs, especially marijuana, is on the rise among teens. The Michigan study-which has surveyed 50,000 eighth-graders, sophomores and seniors every year since 1975-also discovered that teens are much less concerned with the ill effects of drug use, despite all the drug education programs."

Alarmed about the tragic teenage suicides, homicides, drug and alcohol abuse, pregnancies and abortions, increasing numbers of educators, government and religious leaders and civic groups have been urging families, churches, schools, social organizations and the business community to reemphasize the teaching, learning and practice of good manners and good morals.

Learning to practice good manners and good morals is an essential ingredient in the formation of good character. In her new book, Ethics (New York: Dutton Books), journalist Susan Terkel explains: "Character is `built' thought by thought, act by act, deed by deed. As you accumulate bad ones, you erode or destroy your character. Eventually, the cumulative effects of these thoughts and behavior give you your character. In turn, it also defines who you are. And with character you earn the trust or mistrust of others. And with that, you earn your reputation, or what others think of you."

According to Dr. Thomas Lickona, a professor of education and psychology at State University of New York (Cortland), "Moral not a new idea. Down through history, education has had two great goals: to help students become smart and to help them become good. Smart and good are not the same.... In everyday life, all of us know highly intelligent people who are arrogant, selfish and inconsiderate."

In this connection, a 1989 report by the American Jewish Committee and a 1990 joint statement by Catholic and Jewish religious leaders pointed out that the public schools can and should emphasizes the teaching, learning and practice of moral values like courtesy, kindness, honesty, decency, moral courage, justice, good sportsmanship, self-respect, respect for others and the Golden Rule of treating the way we would like to be treated. These values are universally esteemed and indispensable to the survival of civilized society.

Certainly we cannot measure educational progress solely by intellectual achievement; we also must consider whether our schools are helping young people develop those moral and spiritual qualities of mind and character needed to become virtuous human beings, good citizens and neighbors and productive members of society.


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