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"LEADER" Online: Vol. 8, No. 1

Why is character so "in" these days?

by Michael Popkin, Ph.D.
Founder and President, Active Parenting Publishers

There is a scene in the movie "The Family Man" in which Nicolas Cage is trying to figure out exactly what supernatural phenomenon has turned his life upside down. It seems that one night he is a fast-living playboy in New York City and the next morning he awakens to two kids and a wife in Suburbia, USA.

Given the chance to travel the road not taken—that is, marrying the “girl he left behind” and settling down to the life of a family man—Cage’s character finally gets some answers from the angel who has arranged his adventure. The angel appears in the form of a convenience store clerk and while the two men talk, the angel gives change to young woman customer. Too much change. After she nervously rakes in the money as a windfall and scurries out the door, the angel turns to Cage and says, “Whatever happened to character?”

“Character education” is now a common topic of discussion and is being taught as part of the curriculum in most states. Parents are beginning to look past academic achievement and becoming more concerned about what kind of people their children are growing into. And counselors and other helping professionals are recognizing the relationship between the whole person and their thoughts, feelings and behavior as never before. After all, what is character if not the sum total of a person’s values, beliefs, attitudes, feelings and behavior—their essence?

Many of us, however, have been teaching the importance of character and character education for many years. As far back as the original Active Parenting Discussion Program, published in 1983, we have been emphasizing the importance of teaching parents how to instill courage, develop responsibility, and win cooperation and respect. In fact the Active Parenting model was developed to teach parents the skills needed to instill in their children the qualities that will enable them to survive and thrive in our fast-paced, diverse, high-tech, democratic society.

To this end, in recent years we’ve also added character ed programs directed at children. Programs like Free the Horses and our new Connecting with Kids video series help educators instill core qualities of character in their students just as parents work to do the same at home.

Why is character education now the “new” thing in education? Maybe it’s the realization that many intelligent and gifted individuals have failed to reach their full potential because of flaws in character. From the damaged presidency of Bill Clinton to the damaged economy run amuck by dishonest CEOs, we as a nation are learning that talent and intelligence are not enough for real success. We need kids with the courage to tell the truth, to do what is right and to persevere when the going gets tough. We need kids who value hard work, honesty, responsibility, caring and a host of other qualities of character. And we need the adults they will become.

This will take a concerted effort on the part of educators and parents working together to find the best opportunities and methods for instilling what is ultimately the integrity to do the right thing when you think you could get away with doing the wrong thing. In other words, character.

Be an angel and get involved in character education. The opportunities abound.

Dr. Popkin’s newest book, Getting Through To Your Kids: Easy Conversations about Difficult Things (Perigee, 2002) teaches parents communication skills for instilling character concerning a number of timely topics including courage and fear, drugs, sexuality, alcohol, tobacco, driving, family illness, disability and violence.

Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 2003 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.