Character Education

Bringing a spiritual perspective to world events and daily life.

RECENTLY, the building across the street from my office was surrounded with television trucks and a crowd of photographers. A schoolteacher who had been on a two-month cross-country spree with one of his students, a fifteen-year-old girl, was turning himself in to the police.

The reports showed up on the six o'clock news and in the next day's papers. The justice system is beginning its work with the teacher. The young girl has begun a difficult reunion with her family

After an incident like this we, as citizens, are left with a lot of questions about what we have the right to expect from the teachers and administrators who work in our schools. Unfortu-nately, at least here in the United States, the whole question of schooling has become extremely politicized. Yet this charged atmosphere shouldn't dissuade us from using our best moral and spiritual sense to find guidance and answers on how to do better for our children.

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Most parents and teachers recognize the sound sense of the Bible's counsel in Proverbs: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (22:6). This is a parent's primary responsibility. Such character education is demanding. It requires attentiveness, persistence, precept, and example. And the latter is the most essential! This education is successful when the spiritual roots of good character are acknowledged.

The Bible speaks of man as being created in God's image, after His likeness. It also urges us in First John: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (3:1). God is good, all good, good alone. Therefore His children are not the proverbial "blank slates," subject to dubious environmental influences. The children of God are naturally good and love good. Goodness has already been inscribed in each of us by the hand of God.

On the other hand, the allegory of Adam and Eve and the early history of Genesis present children who are disobedient, rebellious, bad. This account illustrates the danger of thinking of children as vulnerable mortals, as independent egos separate from God. The First Epistle of John corrects this mistaken view, averring "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin" (3:9). How important, then, that we be aware of this Christlike view of children and of their uninterrupted spiritual link with their Father-Mother God.

We do this best when we begin by recognizing that we, too, are God's children. If we teach by example, we want to claim our own God-derived ability to be good. This awakens us to our spiritual capacity to demonstrate self-control, unselfishness, love, fidelity, consideration, and patience in our own lives. Naturally, we want this same kind of example to be before our children in school where they spend so much time.

Doesn't this help us understand the following counsel given by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures? She writes: "The teachers of schools and the readers in churches should be selected with as direct reference to their morals as to their learning or their correct reading. Nurseries of character should be strongly garrisoned with virtue. School-examinations are one-sided; it is not so much academic education, as a moral and spiritual culture, which lifts one higher. The pure and uplifting thoughts of the teacher, constantly imparted to pupils, will reach higher than the heavens of astronomy; while the debased and unscrupulous mind, though adorned with gems of scholarly attainment, will degrade the characters it should inform and elevate" (p. 235).

This counsel expresses a great deal of common sense as well as spiritual sense. The roles of the school and the Sunday School and the home are discrete. But the character that is necessary to instruct our children successfully is a constant. We can strive to do our best at church and at home and prayerfully support those who work with our children in school. The public school is not the place for religious instruction, but that doesn't mean that schools cannot feel the support of God, good, in the important work being done there.

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