Sara at Choice for Childcare posted an interesting editorial today, discussing Ontario's push for "character education" and to "cultivate virtue."
On the one hand, it sounds like a good, common sense thing. Virtues such as honesty, integrity, fairness, etc. are to be taught and encouraged to students. Such things are, of course, of great value.
So why do I feel so uncomfortable about it?
There are a number of things that come to mind that concern me, and most involve my overall distrust whenever the state becomes involved in parenting. In my view, while modelling virtues is a no-brainer, actively teaching them becomes another issue. Especially since so few actually model virtuous behaviour. Kids aren't stupid. They can tell when someone's throwing them a BS line, just as my peers and I did when we were in school. Yeah, teachers were supposed to be these model citizens that we were supposed to respect - but somehow, the adults neglected to do anything when we told them about the one that liked to look down girls tops or grab their asses, or the other teacher that had a preference for boys, even going to far as to shove his hands down the pants of a friend of mine. Seniority was far more important than the students themselves. Then there's all the other "virtuous" behaviour among our teachers, ranging from the verbally or physically abusive, to the political power games that pitted good teachers we actually liked and learned from against a beaurocracy out of control.
When it comes to such things as "character" and "virtue," it is my opinion that they can not be taught directly - certainly not in a classroom/standardized curriculum setting. These things can *only* be modelled.
Yet, this is not what bothers me most about these implementations. What bothers me is that these are not things schools should be teaching. It is yet another parenting responsibility being foisted on teachers and schools. To my mind, schools are there to teach such concrete things as reading and literature, mathematics and sciences, history, geography and the arts. More and more, however, I've seen schools take on the role of surrogate parents. I suppose it makes sense, in a way. Children today spend far more time in school (and, increasingly, daycares and preschools), with their teachers and peers, than with their own families. Parents, sometimes of necessity, but often because they believe this is the only way to do things, are abdicating their responsibility to strangers. Of course, they believe they are doing the right thing for their children. And why wouldn't they? After all, we've been having it ingrained in us for several generations now, that "experts" are so much better than parents when it comes to teaching and raising our own children (yet somehow, parents can never be considered the experts of their own children).
As the schools take on more and more of what was once the responsibility of parents, extended families, and the community at large, they become spread too thin. Schools are being required to be all things to all children, rather than sticking to core responsibilities. As such, it would be impossible for schools to succeed in any of these areas of responsibility. They've simply taken on too much. Rather than focussing and succeeding in a small number of specific areas, they are failing or having severely limited success with a large number of things they have no business being responsible for in the first place.