I’ve been doing some reading lately about a trend called ‘character education.” Ignoring the fact that as an English teacher I spent many years teaching literature that scrutinized the behaviour of individuals and examined both the positive and negative aspects of human nature, I can’t get past the feeling that by encasing it in an official program, as many boards seem to be doing, once more the message being given to the public is that schools can solve society’s ills.
For much of my career, I felt that educational institutions took on far more than they could realistically handle. Whether talking about mediation, conflict resolution, bullying, drug use or almost anything else you can imagine, boards and administrators gave the public a reassuring, politically expedient and entirely misleading view of what teachers can do with their students. This is not to say that such attempts at social engineering shouldn’t be made, but the problems arise with the inevitable large-scale failures of such initiatives. Ultimately, because no one at the top ever offers a realistic view of the limitations of the educational institutions, these failures inevitably have to be borne by the teachers. In other words, it becomes just one more thing that they have failed at. There seems to be an intentional blindness to the fact that our influence over students is not nearly as great as we might wish, and that parents and peer groups are major determinants of the values that children eventually adopt. But the later is a harsh reality that senior administrators and boards are loathe to tell parents. To my knowledge, no education official ever advanced his/her career by telling unpleasant truths.
For an example of what I am talking about, please take a look here: www.hwdsb.on.ca/characterbuildshamilton/documents/bulletins/september_2007.pdf">