The best character education program requires not the biggest, most popular program, but effective application of absolute values for absolute results. Those who are serious about character building know instinctively that such things as size and popularity are neither requirements nor quality indicators – yet some programs act as though they are.
How can business professionals, coaches, teachers, and parents find a highly effective program? How do you demand, and get, the best character education program?
Some companies’ claims about their character education programs seem, on the surface, to promise nothing but the best. However, those claims are not necessarily what they seem. Let’s look at four claims made by a large U.S. company. Without imputing motives, look at likely perceptions of those claims. How does the average parent or teacher perceive what the company says? What understanding results from the claims?
1. The Biggest Character Education Program
“The biggest character education program” can look impressive on this company’s website. Tagging itself the biggest provider of character education can seem to equate biggest to best. Biggest has never equaled best, however.
In an article entitled “Biggest Is Not Best”, business columnist Steven Pearlstein wrote: “Bigger companies enjoy all sorts of economies of scale that give them a big cost advantage over smaller rivals. They also have easier access to capital and the wherewithal to ride out the inevitable hard times.” (The Washington Post, January 18, 2008) Mr. Pearlstein argued that although that is true, biggest is not best.
In other words, the biggest character education company has much more money to spend than do other character education providers. That gives the bigger company an advantage, and makes it appear best, but it does not ensure the best materials. Size is no measure of quality. Think, for example, of the biggest people you know, children or adults. Biggest does not equal best.
2. The Nation’s Most Popular Character Education Program
“The nation’s most popular character education program” is another phrase used to attract customers. That can seem to mean the program’s quality is making it the most popular, but does it say that? Does “most popular” mean you are getting the best?
Author Peter Scott writes: “Most popular is not best… Data from the University of Michigan American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) shows that Yahoo had seen its customer satisfaction score rise 3.9 percent from a year ago to 79 out of 100 points, while Google’s rating fell about 3.7 percent to 78 points. According to Reuters, this means that while Google remains the dominant (most popular) Web search engine, Yahoo is offering a better service.” (Fudzilla.com, August 15, 2007).
While I recommend no one search engine over another, these facts show us that the most popular was not best. Popularity, like size, is no measure of quality. Think again of the people you know, young or old. Popularity does not equal best. Even the fictional world of books and movies frequently portrays popular as far below best.
3. This Approach to Character Education Does Not Exclude Anyone
“(Our) approach to character education doesn’t exclude anyone.” Seeming to believe it is best to offend no one, the same company limits to six the character traits in their character education programs. On these six, they say, everyone can agree – we can please everyone.
President Lincoln adapted the words of English poet John Lydgate to convey his belief about such thinking: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.
Abraham Lincoln never sought to limit his principles to those that would please all of the people all of the time. Men and women of character do not approach character education by seeking to include everyone. They know that some will take offence at certain character traits. Authentic character consists of intertwined character traits that cannot be separated one from another. Neither can they be reduced to a least common denominator. The inclusivity approach is far from best.
4. A 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization
“(Our company) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization” claims the company under consideration. This simple statement of fact sounds praiseworthy to many parents and teachers – potential customers. They perceive a nonprofit company as being better than a for-profit company, but is it?
William T. Hutton, a nonprofit attorney and longtime law professor in San Francisco writes this: “Social enterprises traditionally lean toward the nonprofit model because of the perks they can receive from the business’s perceived ‘aura of goodness.’ Particularly in the educational sphere, (there’s) an innate suspicion that
After quoting Mr. Hutton in her article Nonprofit vs. For-Profit Social Ventures, writer Diana Ransom continues: “This perception, as well as the generous tax breaks that nonprofits typically provide to donors, make it significantly easier for social enterprises to raise funds and land government grants.” (Entrepreneur Magazine, June 17, 2008)
In other words, a nonprofit character education company only seems to be better than a for-profit company. While seeming to be better, it may actually make much more money than the for-profit company may since it received government grants and charitable donations. That gives the nonprofit company an advantage, but it does not ensure the best materials. Business structure is no measure of quality.
Those who are serious about character building will agree that these four claims are neither requirements nor indicators of quality in a character education program. One or more of them may seem to say this program is the best, but they do not really say that. These are all misleading claims.
What shall we say, then, if size, popularity, inclusivity, and business structure are not measures of quality? How can you demand and get the best character education program?
1. First, realize that no one program fits every goal.
Inclusivity and tolerance are fine words, but no character education program harmonizes with either concept. No program can possibly fit every goal of every person or group.
- One person’s goal may be to satisfy a job requirement quickly and simply without stretching a tight budget. He or she wants a program that skips lightly over the mountaintops of moral values; low-or-no-cost, ready-to-use surface materials that require little preparation time or effort.
- A teacher’s goal may be to help students sort out values for themselves. He or she wants a program that presents provisional or situational values that learners mold to fit; materials that demand little sacrificial behavioral change.
- One whose goal is to revolutionize personal life, or life in the home, school, business, or community, wants a program that asks and answers tough questions. He or she wants materials that clearly and accurately define character traits without apology, demanding hard work. Such a person wants unvarying, absolute values that yield absolute, positive, and lasting results.
- A person whose goal is to avoid all mention of or allusion to religion wants a program that replaces the religious foundations of moral values with human consensus. He or she wants only what will tolerate every religion and exclude no one. Such a person wants the impossible since such a spineless program excludes all with strong religious beliefs.
- One whose goal is to realize and utilize the fact that strong, authentic moral values spring only from religion wants a program that includes religious reference in keeping with his or her religious beliefs. Such a person wants a program that is distinctly Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.
2. Realize that the best program reaps rock-solid, positive results that endure.
Those who are serious about character building refuse to be satisfied with less. They refuse to waste time handling unfixed and limited values.
Demand the best character education and what will you get?
- No Silly Putty Values. Silly Putty is plastic putty. You can stretch, push, and pull it to fit the shape you want. You can make Silly Putty become a ball or a cube. You can mold Silly Putty to the situation. Five different people can mold the same Silly Putty into five different shapes. The best character education contains no soft putty values that people can mold, or sort out to their own liking. It contains no unfixed values that people can weaken with qualifications: protective honesty, deserved respect, partial obedience. It offers no reason to believe that any character trait is open to individual interpretation.
- Only Absolute Values. Absolute values are fixed. You cannot stretch, push, and pull them to fit a desired shape. You cannot mold them to fit a situation or personal desires. Honesty cannot mean different things in different situations, demand different things of different people. These values remain the same from one person to the next, one situation to the next. Perfect and complete, absolute values allow no possibility of change: absolute honesty, absolute respect, absolute obedience. The best character education contains only absolute moral values.
- No Conditional Results. An old proverb says: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” The test of a pudding’s taste consists of eating the pudding. The proof –test – of a character education consists of living daily life. You may observe good results under favorable, but not unfavorable conditions. Joshua may exercise fairness when you are watching (favorable). However, when you leave the room (unfavorable), his fairness disintegrates. Abby may exercise honesty when it is to her advantage (favorable). However, when she stands to gain by being dishonest (unfavorable), she rejects honesty. Such are conditional results. They do not show success in character building.
- Only Absolute Results. The results of an effective, conscientiously applied character education must be visible, pervasive, and as enduring as a rock-solid fortress wall. They must grow and strengthen. You must observe them under all conditions, favorable and unfavorable. Joshua earns a reputation for unmistakable fairness. He insists on fairness in every part of life. He apologizes clearly, and corrects course when he slips and is unfair to someone. Abby trains herself to stop all lying, no matter how slight, and practice total honesty. Even when honesty demands self-sacrifice, she maintains the truth. She goes out of her way to “buy the truth and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23). Such are absolute results. Such results come from, and prove an effective character education.
Absolute values and absolute results are the hallmarks of the best character education. Look for them. Demand them.
What are your goals? You must identify those goals before you can choose an appropriate character-building program.
What do you consider most important in a character education program? You will want to decide that before choosing any given program or materials.
We hope you will take time to look at the character building programs and materials we offer. We strive to make them fit the standard above, and constantly pursue even greater excellence. We hope you will order and prove them.