By Paul Cicchini, Ed.S, NCSP
When I embarked on my Character Education crusade over ten years ago, I never thought America would be where it is now.
At that time in my career as a psychologist and educator, I looked around my schools and concluded that we had lost something. Students were not empathetic to each other. Bullying incidents were at an all-time high and garnering the attention of administrators and even political officials. Our children often spoke of (and even seemed like they were obsessed with) “being disrespected,” yet their lack of manners and politeness towards adults was disappointing. Test security was a critical issue for districts around the country because there seemed to be an epidemic of cheating. When I shared my thoughts with colleagues, they all concurred: caring, tolerance, respect, fairness, honesty, and a sense of honor all seemed to be lacking in schools. I knew something needed to be done.
When I started to research the issue, that’s when I discovered the principles of Social Emotional Learning and Character Education. I sought out experts in the field, acquired mentors, and even took the extra step to attain certification in SEL/CD from a University that sponsored an academy on the subject.
What I learned was that Social Emotional Learning dealt with management and regulation: being aware of your emotional state, and being in control of it; being able to read the nuances of a social situation, and navigate it successfully; learning good habits that let to better life decisions. Character Education dealt more with incorporating admirable qualities into your personality that made you a good friend, spouse, team member, employee, and member of society: trustworthiness, empathy, responsibility, citizenship, and living by a code of honor. SEL is about skills, Character Ed is about traits.
There more I educated myself on the topic, the more I decided that these were all good things for our students and things that they needed help in learning, because they weren’t demonstrating or practicing them in school. I felt that one time we encouraged that in schools, but with budget cuts, focus on high-stakes testing, and busy parents holding down two jobs, we strayed away from this concept that was just as much our responsibility as teaching ‘the three R’s.’ We needed to get back to that and make it a priority. What could be wrong with wanting that for our kids?
And yet, here we are in today’s climate where politicians are twisting the issue for political gain. Alarmists are manufacturing crises where there are none and making wild claims that SEL and Character Ed are “Trojan horses” for indoctrinating our students into LGBT+ culture, and “sneaking” Critical Race Theory into public school curriculum. I can’t overstate how horrified I am by such a warped political stunt: scoring points with your perceived political base at the expense of harming our children and eventually weakening our society by producing citizens who are not prepared to be honest, caring, teamwork-oriented humans.
Despite the rhetoric coming from some self-proclaimed conservatives that I will generously call, “misguided,” I will continue to fight to get Character Education back in our schools and I urge all parents and educators to ignore the dishonest noise out there and make this effort a priority.
Who knows? With a little perseverance, we might yet be able to instill these good character traits and skills in our politicians as well!
By Paul Cicchini Teach the Essentials of Good Character with The Essentialz