Character Education

 

One of the strangest, if not the strangest, controversies in my lifetime is the conflict over character education. I know there are differences over what constitutes character, but how could any reasonable person oppose teaching character at every level of education, from kindergarten through doctoral programs? The key term in my question is "reasonable person." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other radical groups are the ones who object to character education in our public schools. Anyone who thinks the ACLU is composed primarily of reasonable persons has not kept up with the unbelievable shenanigans of this unreasonable, un-American, uncivil, anti-liberty and ungodly group. The ACLU fears the results of teaching character to our children and— young people. If our children are taught character, the ACLU knows it would disappear from the face of the earth.

 

The truth of the matter is: Every school in the world teaches character. We either teach good character, that is, character based on absolute standards, or we teach bad character, that is, character that is determined by what appears right in our own eyes. The Old Testament describes the attitude and behavior of many of the people in the period of the Judges. "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6). If the school has no organized program of character education, it still teaches character. It teaches the children and young people that it makes no difference what they do or fail to do. Could that be one of the reasons that cheating on term papers and on examinations is rampant in most American schools, including some of our most prestigious colleges and universities? Could that explain why thousands and thousands of our teenage girls become pregnant every year and hundreds of thousands of Americans contract sexually transmitted diseases? Could it also explain why violence has destroyed so many of our young people?

 

Pat Williams, senior vice-president of the NBA's Orlando Magic, has written a popular-style book dealing with character. His book has the title, American Scandal: The Solution for the Crisis of Character (Shippensburg, PA: Treasure House, 2003). Williams outlines the "basic values" of AmSouth Bank: "Do more than expected. Improve someone's life. Make a difference. Make time for people. If something's wrong, make it right. Do the right thing" (p. 45). Pat Williams quotes these words from Mark Twain: "Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest" (p. 64).

 

Perhaps it would be appropriate at this time to discuss what we mean by character. Os Guinness's book, When No One Sees: The Importance of Character in an Age of Image (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2000), says President Eisenhower listed the following qualities of a good leader: "Vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the-power of articulation, and profundity of character" (p. 13). Dr. Guinness offers the following observations on the meaning of character: "The indelible stamp on a person beneath all masks, poses, disguises and social veneers....Put differently, character is a variation on three recurring motifs—core, consistence and cost....Character, then, is what we are when no one sees but God" (p. 16). In another of his excellent books, Character Counts: Leadership Qualities in Washington, Wilberforce, Lincoln and Solzhenitsyn (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), Dr. Guinness argues: "Just as a nation's constitution expresses its fundamental character and makeup, so a person's character expresses most deeply what constitutes him or her as a unique individual" (p. 12). Dr. Guinness quotes James Q. Wilson, the distinguished American criminologist, as saying: There is "a growing awareness that a variety of public problems can only be understood—and perhaps addressed—if they are seen as arising out of a defect in character formation" (p. 22).

 

Mike Huckabee became lieutenant governor of Arkansas in 1993 and governor in 1996 after his predecessor was convicted in the infamous Whitewater investigation. His book, Character Is the Issue: How People with Integrity Can Revolutionize America (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), quotes Bill Clinton as saying, "Character isn't the issue" (p. 1). Governor Huckabee affirms: “What it all comes down to, though, is that people of good, godly character make good, godly laws" (p. 2).Both houses of the Arkansas legislature passed a bill that mandates character education. What
does that mean for the children and young people of Arkansas? The governor explains:
"Teach them the simple things that most of us learned when we were at home as toddlers:
how to be on time, how to be attentive, how to be respectful. Things like forgiveness,
kindness, generosity. Not so much religious values but character values. Character
qualities that are hardly arguable but are most needed in our culture today" (p. 185).
There is much more in Governor Huckabee's book that is of great value, but I shall not
take the time today to discuss it.

 

Dr. Thomas C. Reeves, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, has exposed the immoral behavior of former president John F. Kennedy. In his very disturbing book, A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1992), Dr. Reeves observes: "Americans tend to equate good looks with intelligence, sensitivity, self-confidence, independence, poise, competence, and good character" (p. 2). He accuses President Kennedy of "abusing his high position for personal gratification…..His reckless liaisons with women and mobsters were irresponsible, dangerous, and demeaning of the office of chief executive" (p. 418). Dr. Reeves recommends that Americans "find and elect people of high moral character, as well as intelligence and experience" (p. 420).

 

Dr. Reeves wrote a really outstanding book with the title, The Empty Church: The                         Suicide of Liberal Christianity (New York: The Free Press, 1996). Every preacher and every  other religious leader in the nation should read this book. Dr. Reeves quotes Meg Greenfield of Newsweek magazine a saying concerning men and women who run for public office: "The kind of people they are—their values, their strong points, their weaknesses, their intelligence, their characteristics as people, in short, is what makes them good or bad at public office. It is everything" (pp. 8-9). I wonder if the same principles apply to Meg Greenfield and her allies in the press.

 

Jesse Lee Peterson, whom you may have seen on television, is a dynamic black preacher from California. His book, Scam: How the Black Leadership Exploits Black America (Nashville: WND Books, 2003) outlines many serious problems within in the black community. A few brief excerpts from Peterson's book will help us understand some of the heartaches we face in our great nation. He accuses Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton and other black leaders of lying about why many blacks are in trouble today (p. ix of the Introduction). Peterson provides many examples of the trouble many black families face in America. "Today, by most measures, the black family is in a shambles: black communities are drug-infested, single parenthood is the norm, and crime is rampant in the black areas of our major cities" (p. xi of the Introduction). Peterson affirms—and I wholeheartedly agree: "The most important aspect of a good leader is character." Peterson and the organization he founded—Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny—promote character through after school programs. One of their textbooks is Booker T. Washington's famous book, Up from Slavery (pp. 12-13). Peterson's book certainly has a message for both blacks and whites in our culture. He knows and we should know that "character," as Governor Mike Huckabee affirms, "is the issue." Without character, no nation can survive.

 

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Laureate, was one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. In his outstanding book, Unspeakable: Facing up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), Dr. Os Guinness quotes these words from Solzhenitsyn: "It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts" (p. 160). Did Solzhenitsyn know what Paul told the church at Rome? "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).

 

Solzhenitsyn's comments and Paul's inspired statements show how vital it is for parents, churches and other institutions to teach character education. For the next few minutes, let us examine some tragic examples of men and women who lack character and whose behavior demonstrates conclusively the need for character education. Tragically, the State of Tennessee, like other states in our union, has some unscrupulous men and women serving in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. Four state senators, one representative and two lobbyists are under indictment for taking bribes or for offering bribes. The Tennessean (Sunday, June 19, 2005) published the names of the people involved in what the FBI calls "Operation Tennessee Waltz" (p. 17-A). We will have to wait to learn the fate of the state officials who violated the trust of their-constituents. Did these people have any character education as they went through school and college? Would they not have profited greatly if someone somewhere along the line had taught them some moral values, such as, do not take bribes for your service to the people of your state?

 

Does anyone bother to instill good character traits in people who work in the media? USA TODAY (Tuesday, May 17, 2005) reported that Newsweek magazine published a story about the desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Newsweek accused American interrogators of Muslim prisoners of desecrating the Muslim holy book. The publishers of Newsweek were doing their very best to make President Bush and his administration look bad in the eyes of the world. Mark Whitaker, editor of Newsweek, retracted the original story, but only after the story caused the deaths of fifteen people in Afghanistan. Air Force General Richard Myers said: "We can't find anything to substantiate the allegation....People lost their lives, and that's unfortunate" (p. 7-A). It is time that the American people hold the news media responsible for their reporting. The news media as they are currently constituted are a threat to the freedoms we enjoy under our Constitution. Many in the media like Bernard Goldberg agree with that assessment.

 

Our government, like all human institutions, makes some monumental blunders. For example, The Tennessean (Sunday, May 29, 2005) printed an article with the title, "Medicaid pays for impotence drugs for almost 800 sex offenders." Sex offenders from fourteen states, primarily New York, Texas and Florida, have been given Medicaid-funded prescriptions for Viagra and other impotence drugs. Kyle Smith, a spokesman for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, asked, "Do we have programs giving clubs to wife beaters or drinks for those committing DUI? Weird things happen in this world, and this is one of the weirder" (p. 5-A). Public officials who allow this kind of stupidity should be turned out to pasture.

 

Does it bother you that our nation does not have enough manufacturers of alcohol to kill the excess population in our nation? Alcohol kills between 15,000 and 20,000 people every year in the United States. Thousands and thousands more are permanently disabled by strong drink. But the population is still growing too fast, as least, for some of our college professors like Paul Erlich who wrote a silly little book with the title, The Population Bomb. If we have too many people, as Erlich foolishly maintains, we can reduce the number by furnishing barrels and barrels of rum. I mention rum in particular because our county has recently become the home of Pritchard's Fine Rum. How many people nation-wide will die because of someone's drinking Pritchard's Fine Rum? Do the Pritchards care how many people die or are severely handicapped because of their product?

 

Have the Pritchards and other manufacturers of death-dealing products, such as, beer, whiskey, Vodka, wine coolers and wine ever been exposed to character-building courses? If they have, they did not learn much from those courses. Does it matter to them that thousands of Americans are killed each year because of their products? Beverage alcohol is implicated in a great many of the major crimes in our nation. Spouse abuse, child abuse and divorce are often directly related to strong drink. Are families, churches and schools teaching our young people to avoid alcohol as they would avoid poisonous snakes? After all, alcohol is a poison and destroys millions of people, thousands of homes and billions of dollars worth of property. Character education should include warning of the dangers of beverage alcohol, although in most cases it does not.

 

I am not an avid sports fan, although I enjoy watching professional baseball and some college football games. Since I have been old enough to keep up with sports, I have never read of the illegal activities of so many sports figures. The Tennessean (Wednesday, April 27, 2005) told of Brad Hopkins' "conditional plea to charges of assault and domestic violence." Hopkins said his wife refused to give him his cell phone. The arresting officer said that Hopkins' wife had red marks on her neck. She accused her husband of pushing her face into the console of their Hummer. It takes a man of real character to attack his wife who probably is no more than half his size. Tragically, Samari Rolle, another member of the Tennessee Titans, faced charges similar to those Hopkins faced (pp. C-l and C-2).

 

The family in which I grew to manhood taught us to have respect for physicians. The medical doctors Molly and I have consulted through the years have been outstanding in every way. How tragic when a medical doctor fails to live by his oath to do no harm! The Tennessean (Friday, April 23, 2005) reported that the state had permanently stripped Dr. Charles Harlan of his license to practice medicine. The Board of Medical Examiners in Tennessee has charged Dr. Harlan with "unprofessional conduct," "making false statements," "violation of criminal statutes," "negligence," "being guilty of fraud or deceit in the practice of medicine," "malpractice" and "incompetence" (pp. 1-A, 2-A). Dr. Harlan "misidentified two of six prisoners who were killed when their prison van caught fire on interstate 40. The bodies were returned in shackles and because of misidentification, they were sent to the wrong families. The list of errors Dr. Harlan made is much too long for me to mention. What an absolute disgrace that men who are supposed to take care of our medical needs in some cases are men of low or no character!

 

My mother and the mother of my sons were two of the most devoted people I have ever known. They would have sacrificed their lives for their children. They taught godly character both by precept and by example. I have on many occasions exalted mothers in our society. I know just how important mothers are. Dr. Harold Voth of the famous Menninger Clinic said, "Mothering is probably the most important function on earth." He also said, "If mothers quit caring, civilization would collapse." I wholeheartedly agree with both statements. But somewhere along the line some mothers lacked the same character my mother and my Molly had. I have time to give you just one example.

The Tennessean (Saturday, May 28, 2005) included this headline: "Mom indicted for hiring stripper for son's birthday." The east Nashville mother defended her actions. She said there was nothing wrong in hiring the 29-year-old stripper for her son's sixteenth birthday. A Davidson County grand jury disagreed with the mother. It indicted her for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and for involving a minor in obscene acts. The mother said that age is just a number. She claims that her son is very mature (p. 1). About thirty youngsters attended the boy's sixteenth birthday celebration. At least ten of them were under the age of eighteen. How's that for a mother's concern for her son and for his friends?

 

There are many other examples I could give if time permitted. But these are sufficient to prove that somebody should be involved in character education. The chief responsibility for cultivating character in our children must be the homes of America. We cannot and must not try to shift the responsibility to the churches or to the schools. All churches must be concerned about the moral and spiritual values of our children and young people, but they cannot replace the homes in teaching our children right and wrong. Schools must be monitored to learn if they are teaching rebellion against parents and against society. Schools are limited in what they can teach, but they must not counteract what parents teach their children. Parents must also be concerned about what their children see on television, in the movies and on the Internet. God will hold parents accountable for teaching their children and for being examples of good character.

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334