To the Editor:
Patrick F. Bassett, Paul D. Houston, and Rushworth M. Kidder’s Commentary “Building Character in Crisis” (July 15, 2009) describes 10 “schools of integrity,” independent schools identified for their success in teaching ethics and character. The Character Education Partnership supports the findings outlined by the authors and congratulates these schools for their commitment and leadership.
But independent schools don’t deserve all the credit when it comes to excellent character education. Since 1998, we have annually selected 10 “national schools of character.” Most have been public schools, though not by our design. Rather, it is because they, too, dedicate themselves to service, integrity, and character.
Many public schools recognize the benefits of comprehensive character education. One such example, and a 2008 award recipient, is Waterloo Middle School, a rural public school in Waterloo, N.Y. It has integrated the partnership’s core principles of effective character education into its curriculum and school culture, and has since realized outstanding improvement in a number of areas, including academics. In 2004, 38 percent of the school’s students were proficient in English; today, 85 percent are. Proficiency in math rose from 43 percent to 95 percent in the same period.
There are countless other examples. Our 12 years of data from the program show that public schools are making strong progress toward becoming “deliberately constructed places where civic virtue is taught,” to paraphrase your Commentary’s authors.
Writing in his college newspaper, Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” We believe that educators and parents increasingly agree with that statement.
They also realize that when students are closely connected to adults in school—when they learn to care about themselves, each other, and the community—they flourish.
Yes, many independent schools stress integrity and character. But many public schools do as well. Messrs. Bassett, Houston, and Kidder are right: All public schools need to adopt education’s original mission of teaching virtue and ethical behavior. It’s the right thing to do—for our kids, communities, country, and future.
Director, National Schools of Character
Character Education Partnership
A version of this article appeared in the August 12, 2009 edition of Education Week as In Building Character, Public Schools Also Excel