Character Education is the Way Forward – Part Three

SUMMARY: Laura and Malcolm Gauld, parenting and education experts, have prepared a timely 3-part series for your education focus. The third article of three is enclosed.

These address the issue of character and challenges that pertain to middle school and high school kids across the nation — namely, character and sports, cheating and bullying, peer pressure, academic pressure, and other important topics. You are invited to run these as a series, or to use any of the press releases.

The Gaulds have led the way in character education for three decades as leaders of a network of public and private schools. Their “Attitude over Aptitude” philosophy has been featured on many major national television, radio networks and news magazines, and in print. They are also the authors of the parenting book “The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have” and the seminars that evolved from it. Laura and Malcolm are available for radio interviews.

Education Experts: Character Education is the Way Forward — Part III

In previous installments of this series, we have explored how character education addresses the current issues of hazing in sports and other clubs, the detrimental ‘win at all cost’ philosophy that has developed in our culture and educational system, and the increasing focus on test scores and grades and how it feeds the cheating crisis in our schools.

Now we tackle perhaps the most insidious problem facing students today: Bullying.

Bullying is reaching epidemic levels in the American school systems, as supported by some troubling statistics from parentingbook.com:

  • 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students.
  • 85 percent of girls and 76 percent of boys have been sexually harassed in some form, and only 18 percent of those incidents were perpetrated by an adult.
  • One in seven students is either a bully or a victim.
  • 71 percent of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.

“We have all heard the heartbreaking stories, including those that lead to teen suicide—and we all want to find the source of blame,” says Malcolm Gauld, president of Hyde Schools, a network of prep and charter schools focused on character education. “But it’s not as easy as having an isolated conversation.”

In fact, isolated conversations tend to further the problem.

“One aspect around bullying that has to change is how it is addressed,” says Gauld. “It is NOT a private conversation with a student out in the hall or behind closed doors. Bullying is a community problem and must be addressed openly in the classroom and with all students. The secretive nature of it needs to be busted.”

One source of bullying Gauld identifies is cliques. Cliques are closed groups consisting of people with like abilities, interests, beliefs, biases who, at best, close ranks against those who don’t fit—and, at worst, tease, ridicule, and/or assault them. They are the prime breeding grounds for bullying.

At its inception in 1966, the first Hyde School in Maine put in place an honor code, which later came to be known as ‘Brother’s Keeper’ and then ‘Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper.’ The basic message to students was “We help others achieve their best,” an academic expectation that competing would take a back-seat to helping peers overcome their challenges.

“The Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper school community prevents or wipes out cliques by breaking down barriers,” says Malcolm. “Why? Because everyone puts both their strengths and weaknesses out into the open, thereby decreasing the need to put on false airs of superiority.”

From his 30+ years of experience, Gauld offers this additional advice to help stop bullying before it starts. As opposed to punitive actions in response to bullying, Gauld suggests what has worked so well for the Hyde community: the creation of a character culture, of concern in the school and home, where deeper principles are at the core of relationships and daily life.
Here are some basic approaches:

  • Raise the issue: There is no need to wait for bullying to occur. Discuss it in classrooms and groups.
  • Let students know what is expected of them: Believe it or not, it often isn’t spelled out. Teachers, tell students exactly what you’re expecting of them. ‘I expect you to…act respectfully…treat others well…participate in the positive environment of your school…. If you don’t, you will continue to hear from me.
  • Let it be known there will be zero tolerance for bullying.
  • Focus on the positive: “We are so busy focusing on our problems in the schools, we can forget to emphasize the positive,” says Gauld. Part of countering the bully culture is to show support for all our kids and to tell them when they do something good, right or well.
  • Praise acts of support among peers: “It is not cool to hurt your peers,” says Gauld. “It is cool to support your friends. Teenagers should hear that message loud and clear.”

How does a school rooted in character education fare in regard to bullying? As it happens, the Hyde School in Washington DC is one of the only public schools in that city that does not have a metal detector at its entry. Gauld contends that it isn’t necessary.

“An honest and positive school environment where kids look out for each other is possible,” says Gauld. “We see it working in our private and public schools and in other schools across the country.

Gauld adds that students can’t do it by themselves, nor can adults do it for them, rather forming a partnership among students, parents and teachers will “get it done.”