I had the pleasure recently of hosting the first meeting of the Character Education Task Force.
More than 20 representatives of school districts, civic groups and faith-based organizations from throughout the state joined members of the state’s Parent Teacher Association in the initial meeting earlier this month. In doing so, we are laying the groundwork for something I hope will help in the development of character education in Oklahoma schools.
Everyone has vastly different ideas of what constitutes character education, but one thing is certain — while we focus on increasing academic rigor and ensuring our children are as prepared for college and career as are their national counterparts, none of it will matter if we are not also developing their character.
As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it is an appropriate time to recall Dr. King’s observation, “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”
Success, whether in academics or the workplace, depends on strong character and traits — perseverance and tenacity, courage and compassion, integrity and honesty. Being a good citizen means being of solid character.
Children need more than knowledge in English and algebra. They need other tools for success in life, tools that can help them earn a living wage, take care of their families, contribute to society, be involved in civic matters and shape the course of their lives and of future generations.
Character education will look different for each school district. Kids in an affluent suburb may have different needs than children in an impoverished area, for example. A child born into a life of struggle and chaos will have a very different set of challenges than another student who hails from a more stable environment.
This is where the task force plays a role. It will examine what’s needed for effective character education, how to ensure local control for districts, and how the state can provide opportunities for that to happen.
Task force members will determine what constitutes valid character education and determine a way to measure needs and what would be appropriate programs. Next, the panel can work to develop an inventory of character education programs statewide. At the same time, it will work to find consensus on a common terminology so we are all on the same page.
I urged the task force members to reach out to other organizations or entities that might offer ideas. We wish to be inclusive. Character education itself must be inclusive. It does not work in a vacuum, but with a concerted effort that encompasses teachers, parents and communities.