No. 316

The famous American lawyer and statesman Henry Clay once said, “Of all the properties which belong to honorable men, not one is so highly prized as that of character.” Unless you have been under a rock for the past 30 to 40 years you know that as a nation, we have suffered greatly because of the lack of character on the part of far too many of our citizens. You can not think of any area in our society, including the economy, all levels of
government, the church, the home and our most prized institutions of learning, and not find glaring examples of where more and more human beings are failing the character test. This has become so widespread and pervasive that it has almost become a national crisis.
As many of our leaders have recognized this need, the United States Department Of Education has provided over $25 million dollars in Federal Character Education grants to establish programs to provide Character Education programs for students in every state in the nation. I might add there is considerable debate as to whether this money is being spent in the right way. Many schools develop the programs at the elementary level when Dary Matera, a former reporter for the Miami News who has written ten books on this subject, says it should be focused at the high school level.
He points to Columbine and other high schools where tragedies have occurred as the basis for his thinking. Sometimes the need is seen by students themselves and they take matters into their own hands to do something about it. Such was the case at Mundelein High in Illinois. After a gross scene at an annual Homecoming football game and the crowning of the queen dissolved into a raucous cat fight, involving gallons of chocolate pudding, members of the junior class decided it was time to do something about the lack of character by other students in the school. And do something about it, they did!! They now have a far reaching story about a return to the concept of young people wanting to exhibit traits of dignity, class and personal character.
In my case, I don’t have to look far to find a wonderful example of where a whole county of people are involved in developing character in the lives of their young people. One of the best places to live in our state is the progressive, fast growing, city of Monticello, Arkansas located in the Southeast part of the state. I went to college there a couple of years, back in the mid-fifties, so I will have to give you a disclaimer on the front end. But I can tell you this for sure, these people have it together.
Several years ago when the combined schools of Monticello and Drew Central decided to implement a character education program they decided to involve the whole community. It began with a first year kick-off at the town square with bands, students, parents, school officials, business people and a liaison from the governor’s office in attendance. Later, every school campus did activities. For the first three years they instituted a “Word Of The Week” and the local newspaper provided space for people in the county to write an article about this word. The radio station taped spots, local businesses placed the word on their marquees and churches put it in their bulletins. Here are just a few of the words which will give you the idea, Responsibility, Cooperation, Politeness, Kindness, Generosity and Joy.
Two years ago they decided they wanted Character Education to become the culture of their schools and the community rather than just an event each week. Assistant Superintendent Barbara Brown spearheaded this effort and with the help of an advisory board they chose nine Character Education Guiding Principles that school personnel, parents, business people and community leaders agreed to live by. Character is caring. (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)