Friday, March 04, 2005

Teaching principles and character.

The principal of the high school that Nathan (my middle son) attends wrote recently to all of the parents explaining how he plans to teach principles and character to the students. It's all founded, he said, on the basic rights and responsibilities we all have. The rights are
  • freedom of expression
  • equality
  • justice
all which, he informed us, have been upheld in the courts. The responsibilities are:
  • to come to school with a legitimate academic purpose
  • to act in a safe and healthy manner
  • not to disrupt the educational process
  • to care for and use appropriately individual and state owned property
The principal's strategy for handling situations where students do not receive what is their right or fulfill their responsibilities
"is not the Dean's office, nor is it in detention, nor is the solution in an assistant principal's office. the solution is in the entiere school community opening and continuing [a] conversation through principles."
the hoped for outcome being that
"Teachers would be living what they were teaching, students would be living what they are being taught, and a mutual respect between individual teachers and students would develop. Ideally, principled actions would follow."
This sounds to me a lot like how the United Nations works. We all agree on principles that people should be nice to each other, not stockpile weapons of mass destruction, not practice genocide and not polute the world. When some nation disobeys these principles, the diplomats of the various nations get together and talk to each other and try to persuade that nation that it really ought to be good and conform to the previously agreed to principles. Sometimes treaties are signed with promises that everyone will be good to each other in the future. Yet nothing really seems to change. The genocides continues, polution continues and the contries busily sell each other technologies to produce yet more weapons of mass destruction. Sometimes the weak nations go along with the treaties because they have no resources with which to do differently, but those who are strong and stubborn largely ignore the treaties and sanctions and continue as they have always intended to.

In a fallen world, power is sometimes needed to restrain evil. It is necessary in the U.N., and it will be necessary in a high school as well. Conversations are fine up to a point, but when the talking is done there needs to be a big stick, whether it be a suitably powerful military force or the Dean's office to enforce the desired action. Those who have the principles already may be susceptable to verbal persuasion, but those who do not and have the strength to resist will not be persuaded by words alone (though they may pretend to be to satisfy others). Without a stick of some kind, the unscrupulous will continue to go their own way and those who have suffered at their hands in the past will continue to suffer in the future. If the high school principal has any doubts about this, he can ask the Sudanese (to name only one of many examples)...

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