It was a relatively routine occurrence when giving a school tour as a principal to be asked the question: “So what character development program do you use here?” I usually felt somewhat insecure about my answer that we didn’t use a particular program, but stressed that character development was something that my teachers worked on every day and took very seriously. The parents I was touring around likely had just come from a local charter school that touted their character development program highly in their advertising campaign (“we teach morals and it’s no tuition!”). Yet as I considered my own teaching and administrative experience in public schools, the most frustrating thing to me was that I could not connect any morals I taught to an absolute truth or Christian worldview. When questioned by students why they should behave, I usually could go no further than saying that they needed good behavior to do well in school, get a good job, and be a good citizen.
At the same time I wondered if we are intentional and systematic enough about focusing on virtues and character traits. Isn’t this an area that should “belong” to us because we can relate virtues back to the true source of authority, the Word of God? I am challenged by this quote: “In our culture we tend to substitute identity formation for character development.” – Wesley Kort in C.S. Lewis: Then and Now. If we value these areas (virtues, character traits) and think they are important for students’ faith development should we place greater emphasis on assessing them and discussing them with parents or do we do this already? How do we know if they are “caught by students?”
There are many lists of character traits and various programs to choose from but I want to suggest that it goes beyond the personal and individualistic level with students. I am grateful to Syd Hielema for the term “prophetic living.” In his book, Deepening the Colors, he lists five aspects: 1) being observant rather than blind to culture, 2) pondering – looking for deeper realities, 3) discernment rather than going with the flow, 4) rebellious risk-taking rather than conforming to culture around, and 5) true community and worship versus superficial associations – pseudo-community.
In closing I believe this quote sums up our task beautifully: “A Christian school must aim, in its learning goals and in its curriculum, to free young Christians in and for the religious moral life, one in which piety replaces pietism, ethical awareness replaces legalism, conscience replaces conformity, and allegiance to God’s will replaces sectarian withdrawal from life. Young Christians must be frequently unsettled in a Christian school, wisely, carefully, pedagogically, in order that they may be brought to greater moral maturity. Such growth, along with intellectual growth, can help young persons grow also in the disposition and competence they need for creative participation in the Christian life.” Beversluis, Christian Philosophy of Education.
*(For an explanation and definition of Faith Enhancing Practices see my post of February 3, 2007 entitled “What’s the difference between teachers?”) If you are interested in seeing all 12 Faith Enhancing Practices modules at once, you can go to the Member Community Center and access them there.