We are firm in the midst of the holiday season, and if you are like me, you are looking for last second presents for people around the office or for your child’s teacher. Gift cards to Starbucks are always a winner, but let me suggest you select a book. Books are unique, as the title you select sends a message as well as provides personal insight into the mind of the giver. Think about how much fun it is browsing bookshelves in peoples’ houses to learn more about them. Besides, even if they do not like the book, they will think you are an intellectual!
Let me suggest that this year you consider David Brooks’ The Road to Character as your gift option. I am reading this book as part of a headmaster’s book club, which I know is not a ringing endorsement, but trust me on this one. If you are a parent, you are an educator, and you intuitively understand that developing character is perhaps the most important goal of your teaching.
But eulogy virtues are not tested on the SOLs. Schools focus more on resume virtues as they are evaluated on graduation rates, test scores, and college placement. Educational leaders know the importance of eulogy virtues but we struggle with how to best teach them. We struggle, witness the selfie generation, because we live in a culture that values personal fame. In 1950, the Gallop Organization asked high school seniors whether they considered themselves a very important person, and 12% answered in the affirmative. Fast-forward to 2005 and the percentage of students considering themselves very important jumped to 80%. Schools must become counter cultural as we fight against people being famous for being famous. How do we counter the Kardashian effect?
One of the most common ways schools seek to fight Kardashian style self-aggrandizement is through community service. As parents, you should make sure your children take an active roll in community service opportunities at school or, in their absence at school, work to provide opportunities through church groups, Scouts, or other youth groups. While this is an important step, Brooks points out that, frequently, community service becomes a chore, reduced to resume virtue status. This is apparent when schools require service hours from students to graduate in an effort to bolster college applications or, worse yet, students being required to complete community service as an act of penance.
So, community service is a start but successful schools and successful parents must work to make community service a true vocation. Students must be taught to cultivate “small acts of self-repression,” acts that force a student to step outside themselves toward a true understanding of the needs of others. The powerful teenaged self will gradually become subservient to the needs of others and in this way a fuller life will be achieved. To paraphrase Aristotle, if you act well, eventually you will be good.
This article was previously published in the December issue of the South Roanoke Circle.