In light of recent national attention and discussions about bullying and school violence, I picked up the May 2009 issue of Educational Leadership, entitled Teaching Social Responsibility. The first article in this periodical, Schools of Conscience, was written by Charles C. Haynes. In reviewing his submission, I paused to re-read the following paragraph, several times.
Developing student’s hearts, I believe, is what educators are called to do. Each and every small act of honesty, service, responsibility, and compassion that teachers and administrators encourage daily in their students – and model consistently in their own lives – helps create moral and civic habits of the heart that instill in students the courage to care.
Wow. Talk about developing a purposeful education for our kids. We need to begin helping students understand that they are the problem-solvers of the future. The content they are learning, the skills they are practicing, and the empathy they develop while at school can be applied now, and in the future, to positively impact the lives of those in need. In the educational profession we regularly utilize jargon such as “real-world experiences” and “relevance.” What better way to provide our students with an educational purpose than to encourage a “civic conscience” and provide opportunities for them to act in the best interest of others. As school reform discussions continue, and as we discuss core/nationalized standards, how important is it that we view curriculum as a means to an ends…and not THE end? [See a recent blog post by Nathan Barber – Content: The Desired End or a Means to an End? – for a great take on this topic.]
In Schools of Conscience, Charles Haynes asserts that “we want students to follow their conscience not in spite of what we teach and do in our schools, but because of what we teach and do.” If we expect kids to develop these characteristics that are key to their success as adults, and our future as a society, our schools must be front and center when it comes to providing students with guidance and opportunities to put these skills into practice. As Haynes asserts, regarding schools of conscience:
To prepare students to be ethical, engaged citizens, we must give them (and all members of the school community) meaningful opportunities to practice freedom responsibly in a school culture that encourages shared decision-making, service learning, peer mediation, ethical use of the Internet, and a free student press. In short, we need schools that actually practice what their civics classes are supposed to teach: freedom and democracy, not censorship and repression.
As educational leaders it is critical that we advocate for the development of the “courage to care” as a vital part of school reform. It is a considerable challenge–especially considering that current educational assessments do nothing to measure our success toward what is arguably our most important task.