Character Formation: The Other Side of Curriculum

“Intelligence plus character ….. that is the true goal of education” (Martin Luther King)

Epistemologically, the term ‘character’ has been derived from a Greek word which means ‘engrave’ i.e., to engrave marks upon individuals which lead them to behave in certain ways (Sullivan, 2004).

Character is also defined as an integration of habits good or ill that gets reflected in a person’s behavior on daily basis but habits are infused by a host of factors e.g. home environment; social milieu; school curriculum; companionship and societal and religious value system. Home milieu and school curriculum plays pivotal role in shaping the attitude of children as early ages are habit formation ages. Gracias asserted, “It is not enough to be intelligent; you must also have the right character”. Hence, the true goal of education should not only to pursue academic excellence, but also to inculcate constructive attitude in younger generation so as to become well-rounded personalities embedded with sound moral values.

Studies conducted by Mayer and Snower (2023) revealed that progress and prosperity of advanced nations were determined as a result of their commitment with core values; professional work ethics and sound morality aligned with their competencies. Values according to Chowdruy (2016) are the beliefs and strong desire that influence attitude and action; while morality in the words of Cambell (2008) is personal belief of what is right and wrong related with a number of things like religion, economics, gambling, politics, cheating, sex and drugs as it works like an internal alarm named as conscience. Whereas, Franks (2011) described ethics as ‘standard of conduct’ through which people ought to behave and distinguish right from wrong based on pre-determined values and principles. Therefore, Josephson Institute of Ethics (1993) emphasized to adopt, assimilate and exhibit the following six universal values as pillars of character in personal, social and professional lives. The six pillars of character are hereby illustrated below:

Respect is the first pillar of character formation, anticipated in two ways: give and take. However, it is suggested that one should always treat others with respect by tolerating differences of opinions; by anger management; by using good manners; by avoiding vulgar utterances.  Moreover, being considerate of other’s feelings and emotions is also significant sign of respect. In short, one should not threat, hit or hurt one’s opponent rather differences and conflicts need to be resolved through dialogue and negotiations in peaceful manner. However, the value of respect is vanishing from our society as differences of opinions are frequently less tolerated; instead polarization is carried out to extreme level of hostility, character assassination and even bloodshed.

Secondly, ‘trustworthiness’ is yet another critical pillar in character building process in which an individual abides by golden rules such as the policy of honesty which is said to be the best policy. To make someone trustworthy, one should abstain from deception; refrain from cheating and avoid from stealing. Moreover, having the courage of doing the right thing and building reputation to earn the trust of others is vital symbol of character building. However, in an era of negative competition people have become the victim of their unbridled wishes and that fueled the idea that honesty is not always the best policy rather the policy of might is right leads to success and prosperity. Moreover, power and authorities are often misused for personal gains and duties are frequently polluted that led to poor performance at individual and institutional level resulted in trust deficit. Learning morality and ethics starts from home; while school complements in it. However, reflecting upon forgery and social ills in society; it is safe to assume that parents; school curriculums and larger society are confronting challenges in nurturing younger generations on moral grounds as virtue and ethics may easily be sacrificed to the pressures of the moment that eclipse the value of trustworthiness.

Next ‘responsibility’ is the third pillar of character in connection with task accomplishment and acknowledgement of what individuals need to fulfill and are supposed to do with persistency till the target is achieved. During the process of doing the assigned task one should not quit responsibility or dishearten in time of hardship; instead self-discipline need to be stirred up as it stimulates individual’s motivation to get on track by following the golden rules of punctuality, regularity, sense of responsibility; exhibiting honesty and being passionate with their jobs. In addition, confessing of one’s actions and faults along with having self-critique for course correction is quite significant for progress with social harmony at individual, organizational and societal level. Edwards stated, “When people accept responsibility for their own conduct and for the well-being of others, ethics serves to stabilize society.” However, nobody seems ready to accept responsibility of one’s own faults; rather it is common to blame other factors for the misconduct and failure frequently.

In addition, the fourth pillar of character building is ‘fairness’ i.e. showing justice in treating others and being impartial in judgment and abstaining from favoritism and discrimination. Fairness according to Wooden giving all people the treatment they earn and deserve. It doesn’t mean treating everyone alike. However, being open minded and looking at things from multiple perspectives and by listening to others carefully is far better than having pre-conceived notion and ego-centric decision. In addition, taking advantages of other’s compulsion and blaming others without solid evidence would undermine fairness but this attitude is frequently noticed in our daily lives.

The fifth pillar of character formation is ‘caring attitude’ through which a person shows kindness and extends support especially in times of need. This attribute helps to discern between kind and apathetic hearted person.  Furthermore, a caring person is always sympathetic and empathetic in his/her attitude towards others as the former is feeling of some one’s emotion of sadness or suffering; while the latter is having the feeling of pity and affinity with someone over their sorrow, misfortunes and sufferings. A care giver heels the wounds and sufferings of the people by extending support in terms of time, physical help; knowledge and financial add.  However, there are a number of individual and group of philanthropist in the country who extend support and relief to the deserving people when need arise.

The sixth pillar of a character development is ‘citizenship education’ through which students have to participate in school improvement initiatives actively. They also learn to cooperate with each other in community affairs and take part in their welfare programme to uplift their socio-economic status. Moreover, always staying informed; using right to vote for the right person; having good relation with neighbors; obeying law of the land; respecting authority; protecting the environment from degradation; conserving wildlife and taking localized action to mitigate climate induced mishaps are the salient features that a good citizenry should possess.

However, if individuals don’t learn moral and ethical values as discussed above, how would they be able to distinguish between right and wrong; good and evils; legal and illegal; moral and immoral things?

Moral and ethical values if abandoned in early life would hurt individuals and create problems for families and society at large. Aren’t we decaying morally and ethically as disparity is growing and widening in our society in which the wealthy is getting wealthier by hook or by crook and the poor are getting poorer. In addition, dearth of respect; disappearing honesty and integrity; increasing polarization in society; intolerant attitude;  indulging in corrupt practices and cheating; dearth of caring attitude towards the needy; injustices and inequality; poor ethics in citizenship education have exposed the immoral and unethical fault lines that we as nation have chosen intentionally by setting bad example for the younger generation. Moreover, our poor work ethics and corrupt practices have further trickled down in our daily commercial activities and civic responsibilities. For instance, unhygienic food items; substandard medicines, smuggling; black marketing; self-price hike; hoarding of commodity items; polluted environment; profiteering and money laundering are the authentication of our compromised value system.

Nevertheless, the way forward is to nurture younger generation with sound character by incorporating moral and ethical values in our curriculum and textbooks. Case studies regarding inspirational attributes of our Holy Prophet such as his decent conduct; honesty, truthfulness, trustworthiness, kindness, justice, equality and brotherhood should be incorporated in textbooks especially in social sciences. Just passing verbal pieces of advice on morality, ethics and civic sense can’t inspire youth; rather stakeholders (parents, teachers and civil society) should teach moral values through role modeling; mentoring and true guide that can influence and inspire younger generation as habit is caught not taught.

Succinctly, character is an integration of habits which is influenced by a host of factors such as home environment, school curriculum, companionship and social milieu. Research findings also noted that a strong co-relation exists between progress and prosperity of developed countries and their commitment with core values and sound morality. However, raising children on sound ethical ground is not a child’s play; rather an uphill task as it takes time; consistent effort and role modeling on the part of key stakeholders such as teachers; parents, religious leaders; companionship and social milieu. Furthermore, the core pillars of character formation by inculcating the values of respect, trustworthiness, responsibility, fairness, caring attitude and citizenship education are crucial aspects in inculcating positive attitude in younger generation. Exhibiting moral and ethical values in schools should be appreciated and rewarded; while children’s immoral and social ills need to be curbed with the help of their parents and larger society. Finally civil society and media can also play their roles in uprooting social and moral ills from society through multiple platforms such as workshops, seminars, conferences, talk shows and genre of write ups.

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