Location: Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Annual MSU pre-college program that attracts approximately 2500 youth participants and chaperones representing all 83 Michigan counties.
Parents, teachers, 4-H volunteers and others who work with and on behalf of young people and families can become involved in character education. Michigan State University Extension is a CHARACTER COUNTS! coalition member and is offering training and curriculum for adults and teens in several locations across Michigan.
What is Character Education?
Character education is the process of learning common attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that are important for people to have as responsible citizens. Good character education can provide ground rules for life for adults and young people, and it stresses the importance of helping children learn and practice behaviors that reflect universal ethical values.
Character education helps children become:
- Conscious of the right thing to do.
- Committed to doing the right thing.
- Competent in doing the right thing.
Why Character Education?
Many people are concerned about the breakdown in the healthy moral development of children. Increases in delinquency, pregnancies, violence and substance abuse continue to climb among adolescents. Surveys have shown astonishingly high levels of cheating, lying, stealing and drunken driving among teens and young adults. Adults clearly need to do a better job of teaching and modeling high standards of behavior in the family, school and community.
The Basics of CHARACTER COUNTS!
One organization created to take action in this arena is the Josephson Institute of Ethics. This public-benefit, nonpartisan, nonprofit membership organization was founded by Michael Josephson in honor of his parents to improve the ethical quality of society by advocating principled reasoning and ethical decision-making. Since 1987, the Institute has conducted programs and workshops for more than 100,000 national and community leaders including legislators, mayors, public executives, judges, lawyers and police officers. The CHARACTER COUNTS! youth education initiative is a project of the Institute that involves schools and nonprofit organizations working with millions of kids across the country.
CHARACTER COUNTS! includes a set of materials designed to help adults and teens teach children about character education. The materials include activities for young people in five age groups: 4 to 6, 6 to 9, 9 to 11, 11 to 13, and teens. The universal ethical values stressed in CHARACTER COUNTS! are called the Six Pillars of Character. A person of character is trustworthy, treats people with respect, is responsible, fair and caring, and is a good citizen. Some behaviors that illustrate the Six Pillars of Character include:
- Trustworthiness — Be honest. Don’t deceive, cheat or steal. Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do. Have the courage to do the right thing. Build a good reputation. Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country.
- Respect — Treat others with respect. Follow the Golden Rule. Be tolerant of differences. Use good manners, not bad language. Be considerate of the feelings of others. Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone. Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements.
- Responsibility — Do what you are supposed to do. Persevere — Keep on trying! Always do your best. Use self-control. Be self-disciplined. Think before you act — consider the consequences. Be accountable for your choices.
- Fairness — Play by the rules. Take turns and share. Be open-minded. Listen to others. Don’t take advantage of others. Don’t blame others carelessly.
- Caring — Be kind. Be compassionate and show you care. Express gratitude. Forgive others. Help people in need.
- Citizenship — Do your share to make your school and community better. Cooperate. Stay informed. Vote. Be a good neighbor. Obey laws and rules. Respect authority. Protect the environment.
(Source: The Josephson Institute of Ethics, Marina del Ray, California.)
CHARACTER COUNTS! is used by leading educational and human service organizations across the country, reaching more than 40 million kids. The six pillars of character are rooted in ancient philosophies of moral development and educational research on the moral development of young children. The themes of CHARACTER COUNTS! are also emphasized in all the world’s major religions. The curriculum, however, stresses universal core ethical values that transcend these; they are not religiously, politically, racially or ethnically based or biased. The idea that core values unite us as a nation is the key component of the lesson plans.
The materials are written so that teenagers and adults can easily use them with children. Step-by-step instructions are provided and each activity contains lesson objectives and specific information about what the teacher or group leader says, shows or does, and what participants do. Also included are hints for trainers and extra training ideas to plan more sessions on the topic with young people. The CHARACTER COUNTS! activities are designed to be experiential, thought-provoking and fun.
CHARACTER COUNTS! in Communities
Character education is important in every aspect of a child’s life, including the family, school and community. Kids need consistent messages, and they need all the adults in their lives to have high standards and expectations for ethical behavior. Character education can and should happen as a long-term, communitywide, community-based effort involving schools, parents, social service agencies, law enforcement, churches, businesses, 4-H, and other youth and family organizations.
Character education endeavors, such as CHARACTER COUNTS!, fit well with a policy adopted by the Michigan State Board of Education in October 1996, in which the board encouraged public schools to provide character education focusing on principles such as respect, responsibility, caring, trustworthiness, justice, civic virtue and citizenship. These themes also complement much of the content of the Michigan Model Health Education Curriculum used in school districts across the state.
CHARACTER COUNTS! is a service mark of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.
For more information on how to get involved as a youth or volunteer, contact your county MSU Extension office or:
Michigan 4-H Youth Development