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Coalition Seeks To Foster Core Values Among Youths

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Warning of a "crisis in character'' among the nation's youths, an alliance of 27 education and community groups has launched a campaign aimed at strengthening such core values as trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship among young people.

Founded by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, a philanthropic organization devoted to teaching ethical behavior, the Character Counts Coalition includes such groups as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Urban League.

"I think [this effort] has to start with an awareness that there is a hole in the moral ozone and it's getting bigger,'' Michael Josephson, the president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and founder of the coalition, said last week.

To illustrate what it says is a state of moral decay among adolescents, the institute, based in Marina del Rey, Calif., this month released a survey showing that younger people are consistently more cynical than adults and more likely to lie, cheat, and steal.

The survey found, for example, that 61 percent of all 15- to 18-year-olds said they had cheated on an exam, while 30 percent of high-school-age males had cheated at least four times during the previous year.

The coalition's emphasis on the "pillars of character,'' Mr. Josephson said, will help stem the erosion of ethical values in the next generation and "swing the pendulum the other way.''

Each member organization in the coalition has pledged to develop context- and age-appropriate methods to foster ethical traits. The coalition plans to devise curriculum and instructional materials that target particular populations, and to establish a National Character Education Academy where teachers, adults, and youth leaders can regularly share strategies on promoting ethical conduct.

'The Hardest Nut To Crack'

Mr. Josephson acknowledged that there will be some resistance from educators and others who object to a any particular set of values being taught in the classroom.

"Schools are going to be the hardest nut to crack,'' he said. "Professional educators are most timid about making any absolutes. But we are not talking about the subtleties of condom distribution. We are talking about kids killing each other.''

Values are important because they help people make sense of the their surroundings, which contain many confusing messages, said Frederick H. Brigham, the executive assistant to the president of the National Catholic Educational Association, a coalition member.

"We're drowning in information, and we have to stand back from it and say, 'What does this all mean?''' Mr. Brigham observed.

The coalition has already received $60,000 from corporations and foundations, and hopes to get more grants and individual donations to cover operating costs. The group's members plan to meet this week to develop a budget.

The coalition will also launch a line of merchandise, including videotapes, T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, pins, and posters emblazoned with the message "Character Counts'' to raise funds for activities.

The coalition's efforts also have the endorsement of such prominent individuals as former U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas.

"We have a deficit in values and we are plagued by young people who seem to have a disregard for human life,'' Ms. Jordan said in a statement. "If we are successful, we are going to make character the number-one call of young people in this country.''

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