By Deb Austin Brown
History is the best teacher. In any century.
Almost 2,400 years ago, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that the only way to be happy is to be good. His studies on moral and intellectual virtue raised the bar for teachers who want to call their students to personal, academic and professional excellence.
In the 21st century in every American community, there are obstacles crowding the educational horizon: fragmented families, unemployment, poverty, drugs, violence, neglect, abuse, crime, disrespect, the Me-mentality, and a shift in core values, principles, and priorities. These challenges put holes in our boats and make it difficult to navigate the seas of life.
We need to reset our educational compass. We need to make intentional efforts to help young sailors find their way.
Each day in classrooms, teachers go head-to-head with the real educational enemy -- apathy and indifference. Overall, American kids today don't really care that much. They are not truly hungry for an education. They are not intrinsically driven; they are not passionate about their future. There is no real look of ambition in their eyes. It is disheartening to see.
And so, when setting high expectations and delivering the rigors of the curriculum -- teachers must do more. They must be more. They must be master motivators, counselors, advisors and sages. They must integrate 21st century learning skills with character education, success strategies, and academics. They must teach students everything from how to sit up straight, listen and look people in the eye, to how to set goals, see beyond today and get ready for the world of work. It would be a tall order in a 24/7 world -- a definite challenge in the 7/5 educational setting.
The 21st century is demanding more of teachers than at any time in American history. Today there are nine compass points -- the nine Cs intead of the three Rs -- that we must teach if we are to survive and thrive in the global community: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, common respect, core integrity, civic responsibility, character and the common good.
One C that we must avoid is simple compliance. Teaching compliance is easy, and it is easy to measure. Textbook-driven curricula produce a focus on minimum competencies; standardized testing measures mastery of the minimums. Anyone can be average. Is that all we want for our kids? What about excellence? What about ambition and innovation? What about goodness and greatness?
We need the hook of meaningful and relevant education to reel in our students to the joy of lifelong learning and the thrill of achievement. If we teach character and initiative, we will see the look of excitement and determination in their eyes. It is an important step in the upward spiral to success.
Teaching for character changes things because it changes people. With character education, students come to care about their education; they work hard to achieve excellence. They develop personal and academic integrity, self-direction, and a remarkable work ethic. They succeed in school because it becomes intrinsically important to them. They go on to become successful in the American workplace and as socially responsible citizens who contribute for the common good.
Teaching character and initiative is difficult and demanding work; it requires Herculean effort. If you do it right, you are truly spent at the end of each day. It is exhilarating to see your students motivated and engaged in learning-going beyond minimum requirements and soaring to maximum achievements. Good teachers stand on the horizon of tomorrow and show students what is possible. They model good character; they teach initiative; they encourage excellence; and they inspire greatness. And on the tests of life, they get real results.
Today there is much negative noise in the news about public education. Perhaps it is time to get away from the noise and do some quiet thinking. Reflection is the first step in positive change. Think about the kids. What do you see when you look in their eyes? A love of learning? A determination to succeed? The hook and the look? We need to make sure that all students have these passions.
It is time to reset our compass, renew our resolve, and expect more. An upward shift in focus is needed. From minimums to maximums. From mastery to excellence. From compliance to initiative. From common core curricula to character education. These are noble and needed goals for our century.
Character teachers with high standards and high expectations are the key. They are the true architects and builders of human potential. They spend their time, their energy, and their lives investing in our greatest American resource -- children. I believe that students intrinsically want to be good and great, but they hunger for the how.
Good teachers who teach initiative, character lessons, and success strategies -- along with the academics -- help our students soar to successful places in school, in our communities, and in the workplace. That's the educational initiative we need in order to secure a promising future for America and the world.
What can you do? Join the cause of resetting the compass of American education to its true north -- teaching for character. Be a giver, a doer and a supporter of character education. Remember that it takes school, community, business and family partnerships to make this thing called school work.
@tag:Brown, of St. Albans, is a 37-year teaching veteran, director of the Alban Elementary Success Club, author of four books about character development, winner of the 1991 Milken National Educator of the Year Award and the 2010 recipient of the Paul J. Morris Character Educator of the Year Award.