he present millennium did not see a change in the number of wars and incidents of violence and conflict around the world. Not many areas of the world have remained untouched by the scourge of corruption and evil deeds. At the highest levels of society, in developed countries as well as developing and underdeveloped countries, we see men and women in positions of leadership failing to set and meet acceptable standards.
Why have those elected to lead failed so dismally? Could it be that their character leaves much to be desired?
When man was crafted in the image and likeness of God, there is ample evidence from the Bible to suggest that good character was the foundation upon which all men were expected to live. Good character entails embracing and modeling the virtues that are the foundations of life. Character can be defined as the individual’s actions which are based upon his values. Values such as love, care, trust, honesty, selflessness, integrity, humility and self-control are the foundations for character and are shaped through the process of character education.
Where does it begin and who is responsible?
When we look at society, we are saddened by the level of violence, the number of dysfunctional homes and the number of youth who have gone astray. In many societies there are a large number of children born out of wedlock. St. Lucia is no exception; the World Bank reported in 1999 that "almost all children born in Jamaica and St. Lucia (85 percent) are born out of wedlock, which means that many fathers are absent from the lives of their children."
This type of family structure poses challenges for the inculcation of sound character values in the child. This exclusion of fathering, if allowed to go unchecked, can damage the very fabric of the society, the family. The "family," as noted by Rev. Moon, is the anchor, and if society’s root of stability is being challenged and weakened then the world is thrown into disarray.
We are faced with numerous problems; our societies have sunk to a level of decadence, and few persons take responsibility or want to be held accountable. Few make an effort to address the ills. Most societies have developed a culture of blaming someone else and seldom focusing on the "I" who can be instrumental in making a difference.
Research has indicated that an individual receives the first nine months of character formation in the womb. The coming together of a man and woman produces a new offspring. One needs to look at the characteristics that the mother as well as the father possess.
Rev. Moon tells us that lineage is important for the type of individual that we become. There are also other factors which cannot be ignored. While she carries the baby, the mother’s state of mind, nutrition, thoughts and other personal habits are all channeled to the fetus through the umbilical cord. Hence, we must be aware that an individual’s character commences from the womb. There is, therefore, credence that character education begins in the womb and the parents at this point in the life of the child are the primary educators who will commence the formation of the child’s character.
The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget believed that intellectual development occurs in four stages. The sensori-motor stage begins at birth and lasts until the child is approximately two years old. Piaget believed that although the child at this stage could not form mental representations of objects that are outside his immediate view, his intelligence develops through his motor interactions with his environment.
As the primary educators, it is imperative that the parents model for the child the virtues needed for strong character formation. This is supported by Rev. Moon’s statement that "The more parents’ love reflects the love of God, the happier, healthier, more productive and empathic a child will be, and the more benevolent will be his or her impact upon the larger world." Therefore, it follows that character education cannot be left to chance.
What then is character education? American educator Dr. Thomas Lickona stated: "I believe character education is the deliberate effort to cultivate virtue—that is, objectively good human qualities that are good for the individual person and good for the whole society. That doesn’t happen accidentally or automatically. It happens as a result of great diligent effort." Simply put, the writer defines character education as family, community and school coming together to teach and practice the principled virtues which would impact positively on each other, resulting in harmony and peace.
Character education is rooted in the family. "What is the highest education?" Rev. Moon asks. "The original base to create the heavenly nation is the family." It is indeed true that the foundation of a sound character, the teaching of virtues, values and morals are well established in the family. The smallest child receives the beginning of "sound character education" at the knees of his or her parents. Rev. Moon goes on to note that:
Character education provides a vital foundation for living a life of true love. Such love is only possible where the heart has been cultivated and the conscience is strong. The heart is at the center of a person’s character. From the heart issues our fundamental impulses to seek joy through loving. It is the conscience that then directs our love to be unselfish and confirms the principles that are reflected in all the great spiritual and moral traditions.
The journey to the formation of good character is also the responsibility of the extended family, which can be seen as the school, the teacher and the wider community. This means that teachers become the parental representatives and are not only to attend to the intellectual development of the child but also become a positive role model. The teacher’s concern must extend to the holistic development of the child, and this encompasses the formation of a sound character. Consequently, teacher training must have as a core component character education.
Every teacher must expect good character in his or her students. Teaching simple actions, such as greeting each other, inculcates in the child civility. This civility grows with the child, who then learns to greet his or her teacher and members of the community. When practiced continuously, this behavior becomes a habit. The child then learns that he or she is the responsibility of the community in which he or she functions; this inculcates the desire to do what is right, since this child knows he is not just secure in his family but in the community as well.
As a child feels safe and cared for in a community, it is the duty of each member of the community to engrave upon the child through positive modeling a pattern of behavior that becomes the child’s "moral constitution." As others model behavior such as honesty, caring, love, sharing and many other virtues encompassed in Rev. Moon’s injunction to "live for the sake of others," an individual truly creates his or her moral road maps.
The biographies of Mother Teresa and Gandhi testify to their unselfish work for the sake of humanity. Consider students participating in a summer camp where the facilitators model the right attitude and aptitude. After a while, the participants reflect on their own behavior and make the necessary changes. They begin to emulate the behavior of their facilitators. Children will live what they see around them and not necessarily what they are told. Therefore, good character comes from the consistency of the modeling which teachers and members of the community demonstrate to the child.
It is, therefore, incumbent on us to teach well. Whether we are parents, friends, teachers or community members, it is important that we remain ever conscious of the lessons taught to the young by our individual actions, modeling or coaching. Let the lessons be memorable, tangible and real. Most of all, let us teach them in a fun way so that they always remember the lessons with joy. Even when we need to chastise them, let it be remembered as a positive contribution to shaping their character. I am sure that we all can recall lessons taught through negative and harsh discipline. We do not want to create such memories for our children.
Therefore, as we teach our children and help shape their character, let us remember the words of Rev. Moon: "Growth in love as a child determines the person’s relationship not only toward his or her own parents but towards society in general and ultimately towards God."
Teachers, never give up on your students. Take time not only to teach the academics but stop to help students create a vision for their life, find their mission in life, and craft the lifestyle that they hope to achieve. Capture them early and create a democratic, cooperative learning environment that will help them see you as a friend, mentor and role model. Give them lessons that they can use as moral roadmaps, so they will follow their conscience and make the right choices in fulfilling their vision. Let their road maps be painted with the virtues required for sound character development.
Strong individuals are raised in communities where everyone takes responsibility for each other. Therefore, it is necessary that the community within which a child is raised shares a clear vision and partakes in its fulfillment. Each person must demonstrate accepted standards of sound character and work to benefit all families. They must advocate for wholesome programs and facilities which will impact positively each member of the community. In so doing, the community functions as one large extended family, holding sacred the interests and development of each other.
Rev. Moon’s work has stimulated me, as an educator, to emulate his teachings, and for this reason I have worked hard along with other Ambassadors for Peace of Saint Lucia to organize summer camps for students on character education. We have the burning desire to share with our sister islands this practice which would encourage young persons to remain pure and to abstain from premarital sex, especially with the Caribbean experiencing an increase in HIV/AIDS.
If we all model Rev. Moon’s philosophy of "living for the sake of others," it will have a positive impact on children and produce individuals, families, communities, societies and a world of peace for all.