Why Can't Character Ed End Your Classroom Management Nightmares?

March 10, 2008

May 6th 2006
By: Ruth Wells

Character ed is becoming more and more popular in schools all over the U.S. But in our workshops around the country, more and more educators and counselors are complaining that character ed is not the solution for every youngster. They want to know what is wrong with character ed approaches.

First, let's make sure you know what character ed is. Character ed approaches attempt to use character-building to ensure or engender appropriate behavior. A character ed approach to bullying might require that the bully apologize and make amends to the victim of the bullying, for example. Character ed methods essentially use a single force to elicit satisfactory conduct. The logic is that by building character, conscience and moral values, students' behavior can be improved or maintained at a satisfactory level.

Unfortunately, human beings are not "uniform" creatures. Single-mode interventions of any type can be expected to fail with at least a portion of any group. Character ed is subject to this potential flaw just like any other style of student management. The education world does tend to move from trend to trend, and character ed may be the current one. This article will explain the biggest flaws and serious safety issues you may encounter if you use character ed, and will explain how to supplement character ed approaches to make them more effective with different types of youngsters. We'll also look at how to avoid the predictable safety issues that character ed methods can engender.

WHO DOES CHARACTER ED WORK WELL WITH? Ironically, character ed works best with the students who least need it. So, character ed can most impact youngsters who have a conscience, remorse and values. Obviously, youngsters who fit that description are not likely to be your worst bullies and agitators.

WHO DOES CHARACTER ED WORK WORST WITH? The sentence above may not be grammatically correct, but that is the least of your problems. Character ed works worst with students who lack a conscience, remorse and compassion. A whopping 11-15% of young people will fit this description. The mental health term that might be applied by a counselor to some of these youngsters is "conduct disorder," but the rather grim bottom line is that character ed is utterly ineffective with these students. You can can't successfully use conscience-based approaches with students who lack a conscience. These students will be your worst bullies and agitators yet character ed is virtually powerless to control them. These students are likely to be the source of many of your worst classroom and group management nightmares but character ed is utterly ineffective when used with them-- plus, safety concerns may be generated.

HOW CAN CHARACTER ED CAUSE SAFETY PROBLEMS? Safety problems can easily be created or worsened by using character ed methods with conduct disorders (children without a conscience). Here is an example: A conduct disordered child bullies another youngster. The bully is given classic character ed-style consequences such as being asked to apologize and make amends. Lacking relationship capacity, the child is unable to benefit from these relationship-based approaches, but it gets worse. Having been caught and required to make an apology may have angered or annoyed the bully, putting the victimized student at high risk of retribution.

ARE THERE OTHER SAFETY CONCERNS? Character ed approaches often involve helping the misbehaved child understand the harm he has done to his peer. If you help the bully "understand" how his behavior upset or saddened the victim-- which was his goal in the first place-- aren't you marking the victim for more torment? Bullies love a strong negative reaction from their victims, and character ed methods often highlight the victims' negative reaction. The effect is to place a "kick me more" sign on the back of the victim. Expect the bully's problem behavior towards the victim to increase. There are additional, important safety concerns that we cover in our workshops, books and ebooks (http://www.youthchg.com); we have covered just the most common concern here.

HOW CAN I SUPPLEMENT CHARACTER ED TO AVOID SAFETY PROBLEMS? It's easy to supplement character ed methods and eliminate the safety concerns. The most important step is to be sure all your staff are trained to know about conduct disorders. You must use a different set of interventions with conduct disorders. You can continue to use character ed methods with others if you are satisfied with the results that style of intervention delivers with some students.

HOW ELSE CAN I ENHANCE CHARACTER ED TO WORK BETTER? Character ed won't make up for a lack of skills, a bad attitude, or if students lack the motivation to improve their behavior. Add in those items, and watch the improvement. So, be sure to teach all the skills you want students to use, and cover everything from what to say to where do hands belong and not belong. Any behavior that you expect, you must teach. Without skills, students can not perform better no matter how much you build their character. Similarly, character ed usually doesn't make up for a bad attitude or poor motivation, so be sure to teach both of those. If you are thinking that no one knows how to teach students to have better attitudes and motivation, then you haven't been exposed to my terrific motivation-builders and bad attitude-busters. Great methods do exist. For example, check out a completely free sampler of great bad attitude-busters at http://www.youthchg.com/solvat.html so you can see that these tools do exist.

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