Plays well with others
Remember when everything we needed to know we learned in Kindergarten? We learned to wait our turn, share our treats and be kind to others. Somewhere in the rush to stuff more academic content into those young brains we forgot all about the role of schools in character building. Now some school systems are beginning to think that perhaps character is one of the more important things we can teach our kids. Imagine that!
Of course, we can’t outright say we are teaching character. For some reason that does not seem to be school worthy. So the new buzz words are social competencies. My grandfather put it more plainly. He frequently admonished me to learn “how to talk to people”.
In Montgomery County, Maryland report cards tell parents whether their children are exhibiting traits like “intellectual risk taking” and metacognition, which is an understanding and awareness of an individual’s learning process.
In Austin, Texas, elementary school report cards tell families about personal development skills and if a student takes responsibility for his/her own behavior.
The idea is supposed to be that families want to be involved in the character development of their children. But what if they don’t? Recently three seventh grade boys ganged up on two sixth grade girls who also happened to have learning disabilities. The boys formed a circle around the girls, taunted them and called them names. They accused the girls of inappropriate sexual acts. By coincidence a faculty member from the school was getting into her car and saw the behaviors. She broke it up and drove the girls home. Then she informed the principal of what had gone down. The principal called the boys and families into his office and meted out disciplinary consequences.
You would have thought if you were the parents of these boys, the school’s consequences would have been the least of it. The old saying, “just wait until I get you home”, seemed to have an appropriate ring to it. If you thought that you would be wrong.
Instead the family went to court to protect the free speech rights of their boys. Evidently, these parents were more concerned about free speech than building character in their children. The district court sided with the school system saying that previous court decisions gave school administrators the right to control speech if the speech was reasonably expected to disrupt the school. The school system argued that since the behavior happened just off of school grounds and at dismissal time and against children in the school who would be impacted by the behavior, the school was within its rights to discipline the boys. The district court agreed. Not satisfied the parents appealed to the circuit court. The circuit court also agreed. Not to be dissuaded by the school district and two levels of the judiciary, the families appealed to the Supreme Court. The Justices in their ultimate wisdom declined to hear the case and left the decision of the circuit court intact.
What do you think the boys learned from this experience? Whatever the school system hoped to teach the kids was probably totally lost as the family kept pushing its case for the value of free hate speech.
We have enough hate speech in our society. Hopefully the efforts of the school systems that are working to include character as a measure parents care about will gain some traction.
On the other hand, maybe we could go back to kindergarten and learn to play well with others.