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Teaching Character In School

"I have a dream that one day my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," said Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963.

When it comes to the contents of students' characters, many parents and teachers are worried. The killings at Columbine High School and elsewhere have raised fears about kids' behavior and prompted new lessons about virtue.

Nationwide, schools are starting to teach not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but the fourth and fifth r's as well: responsibility and respect. Twelve states now require that character be taught in the classroom. Character is part of the curriculum at the Martin Luther King Jr. School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Boston University, where Dr. King received his doctorate in 1955, the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character helps schools put character in the curriculum.

Katy Abel, a reporter who specializes in family issues, appeared on CBS News' Early Show to talk about the increasing focus on character education in our schools with Anchor Bryant Gumbel and Co-Anchor Jane Clayson.

"I think the mission of character education is to help all educators -- parents, teachers, coaches -- recognize that education is in and of itself a moral enterprise and the twin goal of education is the character development and the intellectual development of students. It's not one without the other," Abel said.

And, she offered some advice to parents:

  • First, look in the mirror. It's tired but true, kids learn more from what we do than what we say. If you tell your child to tell a caller mom's not home, you're teaching him that lying is no big deal. Have a radar detector in your car? Those devices tell kids that it's okay to cheat on the speed limit, so long as you avoid being caught.
  • Remind kids that who they are means more than what they can do. Send the message that you're prouder of a C+ honestly earned than an A+ achieved by borrowing someone else's work.
  • Check your attitude about kids' sports. Let's cheer for displays of teamwork, not just a winning score.
  • Say "Please," "Thank you," "I'm sorry" and "I give my word" every day.
  • Remember, good citizenship is a hallmark of good character. Take kids with you when you vote and encourage them to volunteer in their school or community.

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