Character education proves worthy as program matures
When it was first proposed about a decade ago, the concept of public schools providing character education ran into opposition from a vocal minority. The contention was that such lessons should be left to families or churches.
Despite this concern, some districts, including De Soto USD 232, pressed on. The district now has a mature program that can be found in every building. Its full flowering, however, is in the elementary schools where the effort starts with early lessons of the pillars of character (respect, responsibility, citizenship, caring, trustworthiness and fairness). Those traits are continually defined through contemplation and action.
Looking back, most adults would probably recall teachers or administrators stressing the same virtues in their school days. What is different is the district's elementary schools' admitted willingness to pitch the virtues as commercial products. This is done not through a single class but by integrating the lesson in academic settings and the daily routine.
Although there is much more to the program, an emphasis on community service is at the core of the effort, particularly in secondary schools. For example, students at Starside Elementary rack up an impressive number of community service hours each year. A visitor to the building late in the afternoon will find students in the hallways pushing broom handles equipped with scrubbers designed to remove shoe marks from floors. But students are also encouraged to find ways to improve the community from cleaning litter to visiting the elderly.
It is obvious now the character education in no way trespasses on parental authority. It emphasizes respect to others and provides early and repeated encouragement in civic responsibilities. In that, it is a more focused and welcome approach to an effort that started when older children took on the responsibility of looking after younger students in one-room schools.