We live in a troubled world. A random glance at the newspapers will only confirm that there are many things about our modern society that we need to be concerned about. Crime is on the rise. Divisive thinking is widespread. A basic civic sense is often missing. Tolerance of others’ backgrounds, views, and ways has decreased. Consumerism has created a largely materialistic culture. What were once considered basic and universal moral values are now often discarded as merely subjective choices. Families are being torn apart by conflict and dissonance. And individuals are more stressed, angry, and on edge than at any time before.
There are many reasons we could think of which have resulted in this predicament. We may tend to blame some trends and see them as the problem – technology advancement, globalization, cultural integration and so forth. But in my view, the root of the problem is much simpler. One of the strongest and most compelling factors is the widespread lack of character. A very real and disturbing truth we need to contend with. And if we are to do something substantial about this, we must go back to the roots. To the time when character is formed. We must focus on shaping character in our children. Only by doing that can we sow the seeds for better citizens, better societies, and a better world.
How does it affect us educators?
- Negligible focus on character formation in our education system: The first step to address any issue is to accept the truth. There really is nothing at all in our education system that directly works on the moulding of character. We have been content with the occasional religious classes that attempt to teach some moral values. Apart from that half-baked half-gesture, there is nothing else. The focus has always been, and still is, top scores, a higher standard of syllabus, and a few extra-curricular activities that concentrate on the mind or the body. The moral element has been almost completed ignored.
- Character is formed early, and teachers are instrumental in shaping character: As the great Saint Francis said, “Give me a child till he is seven, and I will give you the man.” What he was really saying is what many psychologists have reiterated; that what is formed and cast in concrete early in life stays with a person right through. Miss out on the essentials, and we end up with loose character, and weak morals. Create a firm foundation in the formative years, and the good character that forms will stay its course, and overcome the many contrary influences that come its way later in life.
- Teaching is one of the greatest responsibilities: Imagine the power to form character, shape people, help determine their beliefs, their values, their outlook to life, and the defining principles that will guide them through! It may be too late to worry about the government officer who expects a bribe before he simply does his job! It may be futile trying to change the doctor who cares little for patients, and is focused on the money flowing in. It would seem fruitless to fret about the large masses of people who don’t hesitate to throw garbage right out of their windows. But with children… the time is now. The power to create character is very real. The possibilities are unlimited – to create a whole new generation of citizens with solid character, deep seated values, social sense, an honest approach, an inclusive mentality, a sense of neatness and order, respect for people of every kind, a deep regard for the environment, a positive outlook, and a peace-loving nature. For us who have this power to shape character, the responsibility is enormous. One way or another, it is a thing we must come to terms with; a privilege we must accept, a mandate we must honour.
Three practical steps educators can take towards moral education:
- Deepen the system of ethical teaching: Rather than the cursory glance at moral values that ethics and moral science classes attempt, the teaching system can include moral teaching and character building as part of the mainstream syllabus. Children need to understand at a very deep level what ethics is, what are the values they must live by, why they are important for them and the society they live in, how they can translate their core beliefs into behaviour, what different religious teachings say about the common core values they preach, how cultural differences impact values, and the how value based behaviour may be contextual, but based on unchanging truths.
- Correlate with reality: All such moral education must help children relate with their daily lives. How will they use value-based behaviour in relation to themselves? How must they see themselves? How should they relate with parents, siblings, friends, elders, teachers, and strangers? How would they demonstrate good character at school, during an exam, on the playground, in a bus, on the road, at home? Only when every teaching has the relevance every child can relate with, the purpose is served, and children see moral education as integral to their lives, meaningful, and making a difference to them.
- Take stock as moral education happens: The core components of academic rigor include stock taking as we go – in the form of continuous assessments like class assignments and tests, milestone related assessments like exams, deep-dive assessments like field work, and projects followed by discussions, presentations and panel interviews. Imagine if ethics and moral education was treated with the same seriousness and rigor! Starting early in childhood; from the very beginning when children can comprehend and assimilate, staying right through to, and past, graduate education, and being measured all the way to take stock of what children have understood, what they have assimilated, how they are applying what they have learnt, and hand-holding them as they make their journey in character formation.
Implementing this kind of an approach doesn’t take too much effort, but it does take some will. Once we are convinced that such an approach is not just desirable, but necessary, we will perhaps be able to create the right people and processes to enable this for our children. And when we take these steps, we can be sure we are in the right direction to shape not merely children of better character, but a world of truly noble citizens!
As the Chinese proverb affirms:
“If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.”
Konrad has a Management Degree from the Loyola Institute of Business Administration and a B.Sc. – Visual Communication from Loyola College. His interests include writing, reading, music composition and public speaking. He is passionate about education in India, and addresses hundreds of young graduates and school students in career and life readiness contexts. He currently runs a consulting firm with focus on Marketing, Sales, and Behavioral consulting.