Schools should teach values found in Constitution

Sunday, April 6, 1997

“What is the public school's role in character development?
Do character education programs in schools violate the right of
parents to be their children's first teachers?”

Ceryle Moffett, Alexandria, Va.

Some parents have misgivings about character education programs
because they are concerned that schools will adopt approaches
that undermine religious convictions. Much of this distrust may
be traced to the “values clarification” movement that
was once popular in some schools. Today, the consensus approach
to character education acknowledges that many people look to religious
authority and revelation for moral guidance. This approach affirms
the value of religious and philosophical commitments and avoids
any suggestion that morality is a matter of individual choice
without reference to absolute truth.

In fact, one of the most significant areas of common ground in
the United States is the desire for strong character education
in the public schools. A 1993 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll reported
that more than 90% of Americans support public-school teaching
of core moral and civic values such as honesty, caring, patriotism
and moral courage.

Keep in mind, however, that this agreement is rooted in what
we share as American citizens across our political and religious
differences. For this reason, it's vital that character education
programs in public schools be framed by the civic principles of
the U.S. Constitution and its accompanying Bill of Rights &3151; the
core civic values that bind America as one nation of many people
and faiths. Within this framework, community members and educators
in each school district can work together to identify the consensus
moral values and virtues they want taught and modeled in their

Approached in this way, character education upholds the rights
of parents as the first and most important moral teachers of their
children. Sound character education programs that are developed
in close partnership with parents support the shared values of
the community without undermining family values and convictions.

Hundreds of school districts throughout the nation are successfully
implementing character education programs with the full support
of parents and other citizens. In St. Louis, for example,
more than 30 school districts are involved in Personal Responsibility
Education Process (PREP), a school-community partnership that
develops comprehensive character education programs in the schools.
PREP brings together parents, teachers, students, administrators
and community and business leaders to put in place a character
education approach that reflects the values and needs of each
individual school district.

Parents support PREP because it works.

Annual evaluations show
that after implementing PREP, schools see better student behavior
and improved academic performance. (For more information, write
PREP, Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis, 13157
Olive Spur Rd., St. Louis, MO 63141.)

The moral crisis in the United States and its devastating impact
on our young people is an urgent challenge for all Americans.
We must rebuild trust so all parents, especially those with
deep religious convictions, will support the efforts of public
schools to teach moral character and civic virtue. The Character
Education Partnership, a nonpartisan coalition of organizations
and individuals that promotes comprehensive and sound character
education is one source for advice on how to bring
a community together in support of such programs.

Its for us to move beyond our differences to build
consensus on this issue. Our nation's future may well depend on