At yesterday’s after school staff “Monday Meeting” we heard about an incident at the town’s QuickCheck market involving a student from our school. The incident itself was somewhat minor, however it quickly became a community wide issue due to the accusatory and heated social media discussion posted mostly by adults, and mostly parents, living in town. I went home that evening and shared Common Sense Media’s Family Resources with our principal, thinking that if the school spoke with families about their student’s interactions on social media, some of it might rub off on themselves. Tonight, while working through my own social media feeds, I happened upon a list-serve post entitled, “Helping Young People Embrace Civility in a Society Gone Nasty!” The post shared a Washington Post article about a group of Iowa High School students who were using Donald Trump’s image and chanting his name at a basketball game, as a means of taunting minority players on the opposing school’s team, as a means for highlighting a new program to help young people foster positive relations in school and Embrace Civility in the Digital Age.
“I am continually blown away by students’ disrespect and lack of care; it gets worse every year” –anonymous educator
In the district where I’m presently working, class periods are shortened one day each week to allow for an additional period at the end of the day called “Character Ed”. Two teachers with one group of students, from one grade level, meet for the purpose of strengthening students’ characters. A loose range of activities are provided, covering topics such as: respect, citizenship, trustworthiness, responsibility, caring and philanthropy. Considering the sentiment in the above quote, you would think this program would be well received by staff. However, I soon realized that teachers “despise”, (their word not mine), Character Ed, so much so, that when a teacher calls in sick on a Thursday, there’s a 70% chance that the “sickness” has been Character Ed induced!
“…and I blame the parents” -anonymous educator
Whether teacher ambivalence to ours school’s Character Ed program is do to the subject matter, the lack of a defined curriculum, or the fact that by 10th period, the kids and teachers have both “had it” for the day, there is definitely a lack of accordance, in the education community as a whole, about the need for the implementation of character education type programs in schools. According to Maurice Elias, the Director of Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Lab, resistance comes from: parents, who believe character education is best taught at home; teachers, who agree with parents, (as observed in the above quote); teachers, who don’t feel qualified to teach these understandings; and districts, who are pressured to forego learning that is not directly related to tested subject areas. (Elias,2013).
That being said, there is evidence for both supporting the need for social and emotional intelligence for academic achievement in school in addition to the effectiveness of programs which foster these understandings. One such program is the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, with results including students choosing nonviolent solutions for disputes, exhibiting less aggressive behavior and achieving higher test scores; according to a Columbia University National Center for Children in Poverty two year study of 5000 students and 300 teachers (NCCP. 2003).
Last semester, in a Digital Media class, graduate students held a lengthy discussion about teaching cyber ethics and digital netiquette practices in school. Most students saw it as necessary; a few thought that it was best taught at home. In my humble opinion, the discussion remains the same with regards to in school learning of conflict resolution, citizenship, responsibility and the like -whether in face-to-face or virtual environments. I also believe that these understandings are best learned “naturally” as integral to the learning process no matter the discipline. However, without a formal time set aside for this learning, how will we ensure that it is happening? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Aber et all, (2003). Changing children’s trajectories of development. National Center for Children in Poverty. http://www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_554.pdf
Curtis, Diane. (2003) Fostering emotional intelligence lets learning happen. Edutopia. http://www.edutopia.org/ounce-of-prevention