Like many things in education that has been decimated by high stakes testing, character education has taken a hit. In my twelve years, I have seen lying, disruption, backtalk, and disrespect disappear from a disciplinary referral. True, good well behaved kids come from great parents but sometimes the best of parents need good universal values reinforced from the school environment.
Character education means upholding universal values such as telling the truth, not cheating, getting to class on time, not sassing and cursing at teachers. The one moment that told me character education was gone: I called a parent to inform her that her daughter was skipping, violating school cell phone policy, cursing, and then that parent cursed me out on the phone call. In the follow-up conference, the parent asked me to apologize to her. For the first time in my career, I got up and left the room when an administrator and guidance counselor failed to say anything. Later, after school walking to my car, I was asked by that guidance counselor why i did not apologize? What a wake up call right? Why are administrators afraid of upholding ethical conduct in front of parents? You are an instrument of the community and school board. Over the years, I have heard other examples of similar instances with other teachers. When will local school leaders stand up and uphold community values?
There are instances of unequal disciplinary actions everywhere when it comes to enforcing good behavior and character or ethical education. As long as your kid is the parent of someone with strings to pull you can get off free from consequences. The teacher must have it in for my child, is unfair, incorrect or incompetent? This is part of the new society trend: blame the teacher. I have also witnessed parents and their children collaborating and fabricating falsehoods that get a teacher slammed by an administrator. This falsehood only came to light when a student in that class came forward and elaborated on the lying and scheming by adults and students.
Nothing shows this more clearly then the abundance of cheating in secondary schools and colleges. Most students in recent surveys admit to cheating at least once or regularly. I have seen cheating increase this school year remarkably. This must come from a societal acceptance that it is an avenue for success without any ethical blow-back. After all, we have record Wall Street bonuses for individuals that partly crashed the economy, getting rewarded again and a generation that went off to make money not invest or uplift our national well -being. It is about values. Honesty and fairness are deep in the American character. Since when does any teacher get slammed for upholding those values with students? In recent years, I have caught students cheating on projects, turning in the exact same product and when I call parents they are embarrassed to a point. I am not sure that child will get the point until they are expelled from college for cheating. I am pleased colleges are doing it today.
With changes in technology comes new ways of cheating of course but so does new ways of catching it. My students take tests online and I can run queues and fine out what went wrong when the data looks amiss. I can get my technology IT RT to run a survey of what kids did during the testing window. It is getting so well that when I call a parent, the evidence is damning. Yet, I will still get questioned if its a grade of significant value. Administrators will say give them another chance or do this, not a zero. Learning is not copying others or looking online during testing. This is another consequence of a pressured high stakes testing climate. So recently, one day I took time out of class to scare my students with the famous hot YouTube video from Central Florida University. I ended it by telling them, try me, I can do the same thing that this professor does with your online testing. It sent them a message for sure. They know if I catch them cheating, its a phone call home, referral, a zero and referral to the honor court.
The solution to this growing ethical crisis in education is a hunkering down of enforcement of consequences with teeth. Enforcement of consequences must be the same for every kid. A reteaching of character education on universal values is needed more than ever. Cheating stops when students turn others in and take measures themselves to protect their work. It improves when I am not questioned by my superiors or asked to weaken my ethics. I ask administrators: how sure are you when a student sits in your office and admits cheating, cries(it’s fake most of the time), that they got the point, or more importantly the parent got it! Send a message to parents and consistently!
About the Author
|Ben's articles on So Educated|
He is currently pursuing two graduate certificates through American Public University in Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Ben has served on many high school committees on technology in the classroom, balanced assessments, school scheduling, and school safety. He is a strong advocate for teachers being treated fairly and moving away from educational norms to truly move students into a 21st century learning environment. In his spare time, Ben enjoys running, traveling, kayaking and helping others in his community. He is married with two dogs.