The first course that I just completed this week for my M.Ed. (online!) is called ¨Developing Character through the Curriculum,¨ and I wanted to share an excerpt from one of my essays for the class. Hopefully this will give you a glimpse of values/character education in Honduras.
At my school, a K-12 institution, students are required to take a ¨values¨ class throughout elementary school that meets once a week and consists mostly of doing workbook pages and watching videos. Most elementary school students complain that they think the class is boring, but most teachers would argue that students need more, not less, values education. At the high school level, where I teach, lack of values reinforcement appears all the time through behavior problems and academic dishonesty. It would seem, as Lickona (1991) puts forth, that the problem is not whether we should teach values, but which ones, and especially how they will be taught. Based on my observations at school, and the readings in this course, I feel that artificially isolated character education should be included, but minimized, and that character education integration into core academic subjects should be maximized.
Exercising personal virtue can be likened to speaking a foreign language. As in a language, a grammar point or an agreed-upon virtue can be easily practiced in controlled isolation—it is modeled, and eventually everyone ¨knows¨ what the right answer is. However, out in the real world, the language of moral values needs to be spoken—truly practiced—in spontaneous, often troublesome situations. Can students live out ethical behavior, or are they only able to do the workbook exercise? Moral knowing is not enough—students must demonstrate their embodiment of good character by turning that knowledge into genuine moral feelings and moral actions (Lickona, 1991). Students must face situations in which they must use moral courage, and those situations can never truly be simulated by staged classroom role-play. A contrived, isolated, serial approach to values education does not allow students to see how seamlessly many values are integrated (Kohn, 1997), nor does it allow them to see how they are related to outside subjects or situations.
Even though in my above essay excerpt I berated our school´s values education program as being too workbook focused, there is one activity that the elementary students do every year in values class that I think is really sweet. The students get together and make Tutti Frutti, or the Honduran version of fruit salad. The difference is that it the fruit is soaked in fruit punch to keep the fruit from turning brown, plus a little dollop of condensed milk on top. Each student must bring in their assigned ingredient (the value of responsibility, and being an integral part of a group), help chop and prepare the salad (the value of hard work), and then they distribute the fruit salad to the teachers, administrators, and support staff (values of sharing and gratitude). The students usually don´t get to eat any of the salad themselves—it is purely a practical exercise of values. Now that´s the way character education should be!
My school is a private, bilingual school, so I asked a friend, Nohelia, who is currently doing her teaching practicum in a public school, how values education works there. She told me that there is a weekly, nationally-decided-upon value that teachers must at least mention but hopefully also weave into their class. The idea is that students should get the same value reinforced across the board from all teachers, and see how it fits into their curriculum (there are some problems with this plan, but at least in theory, it´s a good thing!).
All graduating high school seniors in Honduras, public and private schools alike, are required to complete what is known as TES—Trabajo Educativo Social, or Educational Social Work. This is one of my favorite things about my senior students. They have organized toy drives at Christmas, tutored low-income students in English, and planted trees, among other things. Recently, and through the leadership of a parent involved with the Lions Club International, seniors and even students from lower grades have been participating more and more with medical brigades. They interpret Spanish and English for visiting US doctors and low-income patients who receive free medical care. Students even help with organizational tasks such as setting up a makeshift pharmacy for the week that the brigades are in town. The other cool thing is that you can always spot the TES groups from the different high schools around town as most of them get special t-shirts printed for when they participate in TES service activities. I think it´s wonderful that Honduras has asked its young people to give back before they are given their diploma.
PS—Here are the references from the essay (in case you´re interested!). I highly recommend the second one to ALL teachers and school administrators!
Kohn, A. (1997). How not to teach values: A critical look at character education. Phi Beta Kappan, February 1997.
Lickona, T. (1991). Educating for character: How our schools can teach respect and responsibility. New York: Bantam Books.