Legislator pushes for "character development" in public schools

Bill cites national programs as model for teaching kids values

 The content of the program would have to be the "same or similar to the Character Counts! program or the Character First! education series, be secular in nature, and stress character qualities such as attentiveness, patience, and initiative," according to House legislative analyst J. Hunault.

The Character Counts! program is the brainchild of the Josephson Institute of Ethics, a nationwide nonpartisan organization that is leading the rapidly growing "character education" movement. The program aims to "fortify the lives of America's young people with consensus ethical values called the 'six pillars of character'" which are "trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship," says the program's Web site, www.charactercounts.org.

The Character First! program was developed by the Oklahoma-based Character Training Institute, an organization that provides character training for employees in the workplace.

Character First! promotes values including "alertness, attentiveness, self-control, kindness, forgiveness, and truthfulness," according to its Web site, www.characterfirst.org.

A third program, not mentioned in Garcia's bill, is the Character Education Partnership of Washington, D.C. The CEP Web site (www.character.org) describes the organization as "a nonpartisan coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to developing moral character and civic virtue in our nation's youth as one means of creating a more compassionate and responsible society." CEP which includes school employee unions, school board and administrator associations, and the PTA has developed "eleven principles of effective character education" which it believes are key to instilling "core ethical values such as respect, responsibility, and honesty" in students.

Michigan State University Extension which addresses "community-based issues in many areas including agriculture, natural resources, community and economic development, families, and children" takes part in the Character Counts! program. According to its Web site, www.msue.msu.edu, it offers character "training and curriculum for adults and teens in several locations across Michigan." The training features materials to assist adults and even teenagers in teaching children in five different age groups about character.

In Oct. 1996, the Michigan State Board of Education adopted a policy encouraging "public schools to provide character education focusing on principles" similar to those found in Character Counts! and which Garcia's bill seeks to promote.

Garcia's bill was referred to the House Education Committee, where it has yet to be voted on.