Statement of Beliefs
CHARACTER EDUCATION AND THE TEACHING PROFESSION
We believe that teaching is a moral activity. The teacher's first moral obligation is to be prepared to provide his or her students with the best instruction in the subject matter assigned.
We believe that the education of children is a moral endeavor. It is the duty of the teacher to reveal the fundamental truths of human experience. It is the duty of the teacher to make meaning and to foster understanding. It is the duty of the teacher to help students explore humanity and to value it. Irresponsible or careless instruction may have profound effects on children's future and should not be tolerated.
From the dictates of the Ten Commandments, through the writings of the Greek philosophers, to the more modern philosophies of Immanuel Kant and Mortimer Adler, a well-established body of thought has directed our relations with others, including the moral education of our youth. For most of that history, the concept of character formation--the duty of the older generation to form the character of the young--has been a basic principle structuring moral education.
For example, Aristotle wrote about the development of excellence, stating that to become excellent at any craft, including becoming virtuous, we have to exercise (practice) those behaviors that will lead us there. He stated: “We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage. Hence, it is no small matter whether one habit or another is inculcated in us from early childhood; on the contrary, it makes...all the difference” (pp. 34-35).
William Damon of Stanford University and author of the recent book, Greater Expectations (1996), describes research that children thrive on accomplishment, not on empty self-esteem messages. They do not become overburdened by reasonable pressures related to worthwhile activities, including demanding homework. They are tough and resilient and are motivated to learn through both extrinsic inducements (e.g., high expectations, rewards, pressure, encouragement, grades, etc.) and intrinsic motivations. They need the guidance which can best be provided by able, caring, concerned adults.
David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, in their book The Manufactured Crisis (1995), report data collected from personnel directors of major industries. These employers were asked to list the five most important and the five least important skills needed by their employees. The surveys suggest that the habits and motivation of workers are more important to employers than the technical skills workers bring to their jobs. The authors conclude, “...if schools are truly to serve the needs of business, it appears they should concentrate...more on the values that students will need when they enter the workplace” (p. 89).
Daniel Goleman, author of the highly acclaimed book Emotional Intelligence (1995), has documented the effects of positive and counter-productive child-rearing practices that result in either positive or anti-social behaviors. Many of these practices can be related to teaching as well. Such at-risk behaviors as impulsiveness and belligerency, stubbornness and indecisiveness, overreaction to irritation, and inability to put off gratification are learned, and interfere with social and educational success, with what Goleman calls “mental clarity”. Other dispositions, equally learned, are much more conducive to optimism and full maturity. These include a strong cultural work ethic, temperance, the ability to cope with frustrations, optimism and empathy.
The California State Board of Education has proclaimed the third week of October Character Counts! Week, calling upon all schools to emphasize the six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.
The California Department of Education has published a handbook on Moral and Civic Education and the Teaching About Religion. This handbook provides a balanced perspective on character development and the integral role that school personnel play in fostering those values that form the foundation of American society. The virtues defined in Chapter 1 cut across all cultural and socio-economic levels and provide cohesion to America. The remaining chapters (Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, Teaching About Religion, etc.) and their ties to the other California Standards makes this a valuable resource for describing materials and products from the perspective of what California children should be learning.
Character education and the well-being of our children are prime topics for both major political parties. In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 2001, President George Bush stated, "Our public interest depends on private character, on civic duty and family bonds and basic fairness, on uncounted, unhonored acts of decency which give direction to our freedom." His plan for education, No Child Left Behind, includes specific reference to character education. That plan states that , "additional funds will be provided for Character Education grants to states and districts to train teachers in methods of incorporating character-building lessons and activities into the classroom."
At California State University Fresno we believe a teacher's first moral obligation is to provide excellent instruction. Teachers with a high level of moral professionalism have a deep obligation to help students learn, and according to Dr. E.A. Wynne (1995), teachers with that sense of obligation demonstrate their moral professionalism:
- by coming to work regularly and on time
- by being well informed about their subject matter
- by planning and conducting classes with care
- by regularly reviewing and updating instructional practices
- by cooperating with, or if necessary, confronting parents of underachieving students
- by cooperating with colleagues and observing school policies so the whole institution works effectively
- by tactfully but firmly criticizing unsatisfactory school policies and proposing constructive improvement
Schools concerned with developing the morality of their students plan for virtue. The curriculum should contain references to virtuous acts, and students should be recognized and rewarded for virtuous behaviors. And, there should be correspondence about that behavior between teachers and parents.
At CSU Fresno we play an integral role in ensuring the character education of children. More elementary teachers are trained at Fresno State than anywhere else in California, so we have a special obligation to the children of Central California.
Our faculty has developed a statement to affirm that commitment and the statement is designed to guide the perspective of our students as they proceed along the road to professionalism.
I dedicate myself to the life of an educator, to making a difference for successor generations in our diverse and technologically complex society and to providing leadership for that change.
I dedicate myself to the advancement of learning, for I know that with learning our successors will have both the vision to build and the power to grow.
I dedicate myself to the cultivation of character, for I know that humanity cannot flourish without courage, compassion, honesty and trust.
I commit myself to the advancement of my own learning and to the cultivation of my own character, for I know that I must bear witness in my own life to the ideals that I have dedicated myself to promote in others.
In the presence of this gathering, I so dedicate and commit myself.
(Adapted from Dr. Steven Tigner, Boston University, in Ryan and Bohlin, Building Character in Schools).
Aristotle (1962). Nicomachean Ethics. New York: Bobbs-Merrill.
California Department of Education (1988, 1991). Handbook on the Rights and Responsibilities of School Personnel and Students in the Areas of providing Moral, Civic, and Ethical Education, Teaching About Religion, promoting Responsible Attitudes and Behaviors, and Preventing and Responding to Hate Violence .
California Department of Education, Character Education Website: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/ce
Berliner, David C. and Biddle, Bruce J. (1995). The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud and the Attack on America's Public Schools. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Damon, William (1996). Greater Expectations: Overcoming the Culture of Indulgence in America's Homes and Schools. New York: Free Press
Goleman, Daniel (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can matter More Than IQ. New York: Bantam.
Kilpatrick, William, and Wolfe, Gregory and Suzanne M. (1994). Books that Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Lickona, Thomas (1991). Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility. New York: Bantam.
Ryan, Kevin and Bohlin, Karen E. (1999). Building Character in Schools: Practical Ways to Bring Moral Instruction to Life. San Francisco: Jossee Bass.
Wynne, Edward and Ryan, Kevin (1997). Reclaiming Our Schools. A Handbook on Teaching Character, Academics and Discipline. New York: Merrill.
Wynne, E.A. (1995). The Moral Dimension of Teaching. In A.C. Ornstein (Ed.) Teaching: Theory into Practice. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 190-202.