The primary responsibility for instilling good values and building character is with parents. This doesn’t mean, however, that teachers and coaches don’t have a critically important role.
The unfortunate fact is that far too many kids are raised in morally impoverished settings that foster lying, cheating, and violence. If we don’t give these children moral instruction, many of them will become predators. And I know it works because of Jesse, a young man I met in Tulare County, California.
Jesse was in an alternative school because he had serious behavioral problems. About a month after his school incorporated character-development strategies into the curriculum, Jesse found the janitor’s keys. To a kid with a history of theft, this was a mighty temptation. When he voluntarily turned them in, people were shocked. When I asked him why, he surprised me with his answer. He didn’t say anything about a new commitment to honesty. He said simply, “I didn’t want the janitor to lose his job.”
It’s likely Jesse would not have thought about the janitor weeks before. What changed was he had been given a simple thinking tool that helped him see the way his choices could affect other people. Jesse was taught to identify “stakeholders” – all the people likely to be affected by a choice – and to think about how they might be affected.
Despite Jesse’s flaws, he had decent instincts and didn’t want to do something that would hurt the janitor. His teachers didn’t teach him to care about others, but they gave him a way of thinking that unleashed the caring part of his nature.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.