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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

NBC’s Brian Williams Focuses on Using Veterans to Promote Character Education

By Peter DeWitt — October 10, 2013 3 min read
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Society doesn’t seem to offer young adults many people to look up to these days. We have politicians who can’t get along or compromise with one another, far too many celebrities twerking with their tongues hanging out and sports figures who tell us time and time again that they didn’t take performance enhancing drugs even though a whole host of people watched them do it.

We turn on our televisions and are slammed with images of reality television personalities (and I use that term loosely) exhibiting bad behavior. This behavior gets our attention, and unfortunately, it brings them more media exposure. It’s a sad day when the Real Housewives are viewed as celebrities.

Unfortunately, too many of our young adults see these images, and believe this behavior is the best way to get the attention they want. Why wouldn’t they? There is a plethora of reality shows and news segments that focus on bad behavior. What happens when our young adults look up to these people?

NBC’s Brian Williams is trying to offer our young adults another option...and he is focusing on veterans.

The Veterans Around Us

The VFW is down the street from the school that I lead. It’s a big part of the town. Many of our parents and grandparents serve, or have served, in the various branches of the military. For full disclosure I never served, but my dad was in the Navy and my brother was in the Air Force. I didn’t know my dad for long but have a great deal of respect for those who serve because they felt the call for duty.

It doesn’t matter what your philosophy of war may be, we all have someone we know who has served in a war and should respect them for doing so. Most active military and veterans have a love for the country that goes beyond a love for themselves, which is why I was so impressed with Brian Williams the other day.

This past week I participated on a panel, and sat in the audience for, NBC’s Education Nation. There was a lot to see, and spending three days talking about education is just about the best way I can think of spending my time. Some of the panels angered me, and others inspired me. However, none of the panels were as moving as Brian Williams’ Panel which focused on veterans who received a Medal of Honor, and what they can teach our students. Watch the full panel discussion here.

Character Education

Truth be told, I like Brian Williams a lot. I thought he was funny on the various Saturday Night Live segments I saw, as well as his visits to the Today Show. But getting to see him MC a dinner at the Mayor’s Gracie Mansion residence and moderate a few panels at Education Nation helped me see how funny he really is. He can really draw in a crowd.

Brian Williams began his Medal of Honor panel with a video from a school in Erie, Pennsylvania (beginning of the panel discussion). He then introduced two men who were recipients, Staff Sergeant Ty Michael Carter, Medal of Honor Recipient, 7th Infantry Division and U.S. Army Colonel Jack H. Jacobs, Medal of Honor Recipient, U.S. Army, Retired, and Military Analyst for NBC News. Before he called them out on stage, Williams said, “Veterans are the ones who should be on cards...the cards often reserved for football, baseball and basketball players.” He said that veterans are the real role models that our students could learn from, and he is right.

If you take time to watch the very moving story from a small school district in Erie, Pennsylvania, you will see that kids who have it tough find some people to look up to in the veterans they learned about. They learned about the sacrifices they made and the conditions they grew up in. It is amazing to see how young many of these men and women were when they went off to war.

Williams is on the board of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. He is promoting a character education program developed by veterans. It’s called the Medal of Honor: Lessons of Personal Bravery and Self-Sacrifice.

The website for the program says,

Medal of Honor recipients will attest to this: Extraordinary events motivate ordinary people to do extraordinary things. On and off the battlefield, crises form the stage on which valorous action takes place. But extraordinary acts are possible only if ordinary people rise to the challenge of the moment and if society values sacrifice. Lincoln is quoted as asserting that "any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure." What is important is not to extol the acts of an honorable few but to imbue Americans with the understanding that, if our objective is to protect freedom and our way of life, each of us has an obligation to the community. The Medal of Honor Curriculum Development Project demonstrates with crystal clarity that our young citizens, those who will carry our democracy into the future, can be taught the importance of service to the community and the values that made this nation great."

It’s important to note that the program is for middle and high school students due to the content, but all kids can benefit from understanding the sacrifices that veterans make every day.

In the End

There are thousands of character education programs out there for schools. We get inundated with new programs that say they will change our instruction or our thinking. Our young adults go by billboards, watch commercials, and see television shows that provide them with image after image that make them question their values. They see thousands of images a day that send them mixed messages.

Perhaps, Medal of Honor: Lessons of Personal Bravery and Self-Sacrifice may help them look past the negative images and focus on the positive ones. Hopefully, it will even help them make greater contributions to our society.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.