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Educating Morality

Jyoti Tibrewala

Last Sunday, Secretary of Education Rod Paige said that guns were not to blame in school violence because there have been reports of students plotting violence with bombs and other devices.

But we already knew that. We don’t need reports involving weapons other than guns to tell us that there’s something wrong with some aspect of a society that drives students to commit violence in school.

Luckily, though, some of the proposed initiatives by the Bush administration look a bit more promising than Paige’s statement. Religious-based after-school programs hope to reach more children. One of the more interesting initiatives is character education -- teaching such things as compassion and open-mindedness, as well as the difference between right and wrong.

It’s wonderful that the government is willing to take on such a responsibility. However, proper character is something that must be learned at an early age.

Not only that, but such an initiative will likely be most effective with younger children. Older children have been exposed to much more violence than their younger counterparts. This contact comes in the form of television, movies, and other media.

Now, it doesn’t make sense to blame the media; they just report the news as it is. As far as the entertainment industry is concerned, we shouldn’t be proud that we find some violence funny, but let’s be honest. There would be fewer good television shows and movies if violence were barred from them.

This, however, is where character education comes in. If children can be taught to understand what’s right and what’s wrong before they’re exposed to violence in TV and the movies -- we at least have more control over these than we do over the news -- we might be able to create more mature individuals, who might laugh when the roadrunner crushes the coyote with a boulder, but who would feel sympathy for the victims of a school shooting.

Another obstacle to educating older children is that they’ve started to form their own opinions on matters. Their minds are not as easily swayed. But perhaps even more daunting is the observation that as children grow up, some become less willing to listen to anyone who appears as a figure of authority. Of course, character education can prevent this, but only by making younger children more comfortable with authority figures.

That isn’t to say we should give up on adolescents. Perhaps involving someone with a more permanent presence in their lives would be more effective; a parent would be ideal, but this is also where long-term mentors play a large role. It might be difficult in the beginning to gain mutual trust, which is why long-term should be stressed. This way, the relationship would have enough time to grow so that both parties involved would get to know each other better and trust each other more. Alienation is undoubtedly a significant contributing factor to the rage that builds inside some adolescents. While there’s no real way to control alienation by their peers, there’s no reason for alienation from the adults in adolescents’ lives.

The Bush administration has some promising plans to help reduce the level of adolescent and youth violence that is plaguing society today. However, some things are easier said than done, so let’s hope they’ve got the strong dedication that this cause needs.