Building Character Among Children Through Schools
Not so long ago, one would not have even mentioned the word “character” as something that needs to be given importance, because the values and morals that we imbibed came naturally to us either from our parents or schools and the community.
Today, however, it is different - children are exposed to a wider world through social media and are often witnesses to a world that is filled with turmoil and uncertainty, corruption and dishonesty and misinformed judgment. The lack of human warmth is overwhelming, making each one of us realize that the crux of the problems lies in our corroded value system. We are predominantly turning into social beings who are more materialistic and less spiritual and humane in our thoughts and behavior. So what should be done and where can we look for inspiration? A student on average spends eight to nine hours daily in school, interacting with many different people and getting educated in a number of ways. It is as such the school’s responsibility to ensure that the students are inculcated with values that make them strong, caring, responsible and contributing citizens. Character building is a step and a long-term plan if one wishes to see any positive results. It is a process that requires patience and people who themselves have integrity and a relentless desire to pursue this aspect of education that cannot be taught through school books and must be shown or demonstrated through exemplary behavior. We cannot live by practicing double standards; today’s kids are smart and they can easily detect when teachers are at fault. Character building begins at a very young age and right here in our classrooms when children enter an environment which is threatening and in which their ability to fit in will be tested. It is at this point that his character begins to shine, as he can either be courageous and stand up for himself or choose a means that is dishonest but will help him survive. A good value system begins at home. When a parent lays down rules and sets parameters for children to follow, it allows the children to imbibe good habits and discipline their young minds. Getting up early, following a certain routine, greeting and addressing family members politely and eating proper meals all are a part of character building.
Similarly, in schools, teachers are the first humans to whom these young minds look up to and try to emulate. It is as such imperative that a teacher’s behavior, and not necessarily his knowledge, be impeccable. His impartiality toward one and all, constant encouragement in the face of flippant attitudes and immense patience to pursue the latent talent are some of the characteristics that strong teachers need to practice. Counseling a child for his bad behavior and making him understand the implications of missing a deadline can have a greater effect than insulting him or punishing him with a detention of two hours.
At times teachers face ethical dilemmas when dealing with adolescents – should we tell them that their behavior is unacceptable? What if he starts hating me and calls me a bad teacher? Teachers are humans too and essentially sensitive, so it is not surprising that he or she may feel conflicted when being strict.
Treating students as adults and intelligent beings can create trust between students and teachers and help them acquire an identity of their own as well as become critical thinkers. Conflicts must be resolved through dialogue and becoming transparent with school policies. No child should feel that there is a hidden agenda behind our objectives. A school that allows its children to be who they are and treats them with respect and listens to them can hope to see individuals with integrity.
Character building has to be integrated in both a school’s curriculum and the school’s culture. Again it is not merely the content, but one’s approach toward that content, that is important. Teaching literature from different parts of the world not only allows students to become more tolerant toward others’ cultures, but also helps them accept their own more favorably. A recent debate about discussing religion in the class rooms was resolved when it was decided that the approach should be to investigate different cultural perspectives, the prevailing standards of the times and the personal belief and faith of individuals while exploring this topic. Teachers and schools need to be more open-minded when it comes to dealing with curriculums that are international in nature.
Character building cannot be done in isolation; it is the collective responsibility of parents, teachers and the community to make sure that we ourselves are who we want our children to be. Being a parent or a teacher is not the best of or the easiest of roles but one that must be played with integrity and honesty so that our children can be the beneficiary of a good value system.