Importance of character education in the age of apathy

Photo by Sara Schmitt

This past weekend, Saturday Night Live produced a sketch titled “What Even Matters Anymore?” The sketch consisted of a game show host asking contestants whether or not some the recent allegations against the president, such as the “sh*thole countries” remark and cheating on his wife with a porn star, even mattered anymore.  The host and contestants continued to discuss ridiculous hypothetical situations the president could be in and how there would not be any sort of repercussions for his actions.

While the sketch was centered solely on President Donald Trump’s character, it got me thinking about life in general.

Hilary Clinton won the popular vote by over two million votes, but she lost. Millions of people spoke out against net neutrality, but it passed. Penn State was aware of its hazing culture, but the university turned a blind eye. Equifax tried to cover a massive data breach and profit from it, but they seem to have silently slipped away. Pharmaceutical companies upcharge necessary drugs, but continue to be unchecked. The food industry, prison system, banks — bad things are happening everywhere with zero accountability. What, actually, even matters anymore?

Then, I was introduced to the concept of “Swadharma,” or a person’s duty to the world. The only thing we have control over is ourselves. No one can be forced to do the right thing and be a good person, and no one can get good values overnight. It needs to be a fundamental part of the societal thread that ties us all together. So how do we get people to want to do the right thing? Education. Specifically, character education.

Our education system cultivates critical thinking and problem solving skills which are very important. However, this is done at the cost of excluding character education from the curriculum and this has major consequences.

According to the 2012 Josephson Report Card on Ethics of American Youth, 57% of teenagers believe that successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating. This is especially worrisome, since schools and colleges are almost exclusively focused on standardized test scores and grades. It almost seems as though we are suggesting that students need to make top grades at whatever cost to get ahead in life. Ironically, these numbers are not accurate indicators of a student’s future successes. Instead, studies show students who display strong values do better in college and life.

Teaching morals is seen as the role of the parents, and parents should absolutely be responsible for their children. But, preaching about good character isn’t enough. It must be practiced. Schools can be a supplement in cultivating a more conscientious society since they provide children with the best environment to reinforce character skills. Students can explore and develop a strong sense of character by engaging in conversations with their peers and getting guidance from their teachers.

The notion of teaching character in schools is not a new one.  It has been discussed in the past and resented for fear of introducing religion in school. But character and religion are not the same. Religion can help develop good characteristics, but good character is not the result of religion. On the other hand, reinforcing good values, does not undermine religious institutions or family values. These teachings can be complementary to one another and help to further strengthen these beliefs.

In a society that is increasingly more focused on individual success, strong morals must be embedded in our education. What is the point of someone being a genius, or rich, or powerful, if they are a self-serving ass? We must see a shift in public consciousness if we want to eradicate the question, “what even matters