Character education, when listed on high school curricula, is not likely to generate excitement in teenagers. Having taught high school for years, I know whereof I speak. Teenagers seek independence from parents and are in hot pursuit of adult freedoms. Many rebel against lectures on right and wrong, so how can you find character education they love?
Character education is abhorrent to teenagers when they think it is being pushed on them. Just as with many other topics, teens shove back when we drive them toward high moral values. They think they can sort out their own values, and they want no help doing it!
The trouble is that teens are incapable of sorting out high moral values for themselves. Those who try to do so will always allow room for their own interests and desires. This is true of people at any age. We all try to fashion standards that make our individual lives as easy as possible. We would like to establish two sets of rules: one for self and one for others.
Look at these examples of what can happen when you replace strong character education with personal sorting out of values.
· People weaken the definition of honesty to allow wiggle room when they don’t want to tell the whole truth. They assign a value that finds no wrong in “white lies,” “small fibs,” “tact,” or a “polite facade” in certain situations. They fully expect, however, that others will be totally honest in dealings with them.
· Many decide that it is right to respect some people, wrong to respect those they don’t like. They decide that respect must be earned before they are obliged to give it. If someone in authority fails in their eyes to “earn” it, they give no respect. Place the shoe on the other foot, and they demand respect.
· Some who sort out their own moral values in place of learning through character education settle for a measure of compassion that falls far short of identifying with people in need, unwilling to sacrifice personal interests to meet the need. If they themselves have a need, of course, they expect others to care – to give help.
Character education must not be left to teenagers’ own sorting if we expect them to develop into mature adults who live uprightly. Character education must not take teenagers’ personal preferences into consideration.
“Then where can we find character education programs that teenagers love?” you ask.
Character education that teens love comes in under their radar, surprising them with clear, hard-hitting information woven subtly into captivating fiction. It takes from the ancient philosophers the wisdom of conveying high moral values through stories. It uses the same approach that wise men have used for centuries and centuries. It uses stories.
Character education that teens love is based on moral stories.
Ancient Moral Stories
Most of us have learned moral values from ancient stories. For example:
1. Have you ever heard the story of “King Midas and the Golden Touch?” That story was used to teach high moral values to young people in ancient Greece. It taught them in a memorable way that greed is wrong. Period. Full stop. It was an ancient character education story.
2. You probably have read “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” haven’t you? That was one of the fables of Aesop, a Greek who lived between 620 and 560 BC. Aesop used a lot of stories to teach young people about high moral values. This one taught, of course, that honesty is vital at all times. It, too, was a character education story that made the lesson easy to learn and memorable.
3. Perhaps you have read the story of “The Good Samaritan.” Jesus told it to teach adults and young people alike the importance of exercising compassion and love toward everyone, regardless of who it is. This, too, was a character education story; easy to hear and easy to remember.
Modern Moral Stories
You will say that modern teens don’t want fables. I know. Remember, I taught high school for years. Teens today want stories that portray believable teens with whom they can identify. They want hot teen topics. They want excitement, adventure, romance, and all that the world of entertainment has taught them is important.
Character education books are the answer. They must be books that are written explicitly for the purpose of teaching high moral values. Such purpose-written books provide what teens need in a format that teens love – entertainment.
Purpose written character education books should never stoop to the low standards of the entertainment world lest they lose their own integrity. They can, however, captivate teenagers and help them learn high moral values in a way that they will remember.
Character education books such as those described have actually become bestsellers in the past years, showing that teens love to learn about high moral values when the topic is presented in the right way. The ancient teachers have shown us the way.