Character Education: Shaping Resilient Youth in an Ever-Changing World
Contributed by Shellon Samuels-White
In light of the recent spates of youth involvement in violent conflicts within our educational institutions both locally and internationally, it is imperative that character education becomes a collective responsibility which demands cooperation among families, communities, and schools. As Tenzin Gyatso aptly states, “Education is the best way to train ourselves; we will secure our own well-being by concerning ourselves with others. It is possible to create a better world, a more compassionate, more peaceful world, which is not only in everyone’s interest, but is everyone’s responsibility to achieve.” We, as a collective have the potential to create greater compassion and empathy worldwide, and this duty extends to us all.
Schools are not isolated entities; they are intricately connected to society, just as our homes are. They, being social institutions, are influenced by sociological issues, which can hinder or support the efforts to develop character education. Consequently, character education must be a unified effort. Character education, as defined by Michigan State University (n.d), is the process of learning common attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors essential for responsible citizenship. This perspective intimates that this mammoth task must be a collective effort - ‘all hands on deck’, in shaping the character of our youth.
Sustain-Recovery (2023) published that “As adolescents’ exposure to violence increases, their reactions to violence change. Whether the violence is experienced in real life or through media, it impacts the empathy, physical reaction, and emotional reaction of adolescents”. In societies across the world, citizens – adults and children seem to have become desensitized to the lack of character, integrity, tolerance and empathy that exists around them. This trend, unfortunately common among adults, is now manifesting in the attitudes of our youth – the leaders of our future."
Effective character education imparts essential life skills and highlights the importance of teaching children and youth behaviors that reflect universal ethical values, attitudes, and dispositions. It helps youth:
Develop greater awareness of ‘the right thing to do’: Are we confident in our youth’s ability to do what is right when it matters? If we need to think before responding, there is work to be done in shaping the hearts and minds of our youth. Schools are mandated by ministries of education to have various counseling and support programs, but these efforts must be supported by other stakeholders external to schools.
Committed and Competent to doing the right thing: Can we help our youth and children resist the pressure to resort to violence as a defense mechanism against bullying and attacks? Have we equipped our learners with the skills needed to make the right choices? In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, where our children are confronted with various forms of bullying and societal pressures, character education has never been more vital. Nurturing empathy, self-esteem, and conflict resolution skills in our youth is essential to empower them with the tools to face adversity with courage and resilience. By fostering a culture of compassion and respect, we can guide the next generation towards non-violent solutions, teaching them that strength lies in their ability to rise above aggression, embrace differences, and seek help when needed
We must teach our youth how to respond appropriately to offensive situations, as impulsive actions can lead to severe consequences. Our youth must come to understand the lasting impact of their actions on their future, such as the potential legal ramifications and long-term consequences of their choices.
It truly takes a village to raise the 21st-century leader! Parents, teachers, mentors, and the broader community all play integral roles in shaping the character of our youth and children. By working together, we can create a nurturing environment where values such as kindness, empathy, emotional intelligence and resilience are not just verbalized but lived. In this collaborative effort, schools through their character education programs, instill these values in the classroom, parents can reinforce them at home, and community leaders can provide positive role models. Together, we can equip our youth with the emotional intelligence and moral strength to stand against violence, thus building a society where compassion prevails over conflict.
Adults should be deeply concerned about the erosion of healthy moral development in our youth. Delinquency, early pregnancies, violence, and substance abuse are on the rise in educational settings worldwide. There is also a worrisome increase in cheating, truancy, and reckless behavior. There is greater need for adults to exemplify high standards of behavior; youth need consistent messages, not just in our words but in our actions, and in the messages we transmit through our silence. The influence of the phantom curriculum [The messages prevalent in and through exposure to any type of media], plays a significant role in character development.
“If we make a consistent effort, based on proper [character] education, we can change the world” (Tenzin Gyatso, n.d)
Shellon Samuels-White is a passionate educator of over 14 years. She serves as a teacher-educator in the faculty of education at the Mico University College (a teacher-training institution in Jamaica) and has served as a faculty examiner where she coordinated, monitored, and evaluated faculty assessments. She is also a 2022 ASCD Emerging Leader.