Although character education has three components – teaching, training and environment – the training piece is the most difficult to understand, accept and implement. It is easier to talk about the teaching component. It is not difficult to locate inspiring stories or quotes that illustrate virtue and good character. Just visit any school, classroom, YMCA, or other venue for children and you will find the rooms and hallways sprinkled with pictures or quotes impressing virtue and character.
Character training, however, is less accessible. It is tedious. It is difficult to sustain. It requires relentless and systematic efforts. Frankly, it is a grind, not only for the child but even more so for parents or teachers – here referred to as adult trainers (AT).
After all, in the world of education, the core of character training is the formation of good habits and good habits seldom agree with a child’s personal preferences and will. In the eyes of a child good habits are a pain in the neck. In their minds, practicing good habits is downright unpleasant and better avoided.
It is important for parents and teachers to understand this challenge. Children will be resistant toward adult efforts to shape habits. Their minds cannot yet comprehend how far good character and good habits will take them toward developing their academic and human potential.
They only understand pleasure now, happiness now, gratification now, and they will resist anyone who appears to be depriving them of these joys. But if adults understand this challenge, they will also understand and accept the level of commitment and work required for developing those habits of character that will lead to a child’s academic success.
Understanding and accepting an adult’s role in shaping character, makes it possible to talk about implementation and plot strategies to train character. The training itself requires three modules.
Character training needs a “playing field,” some sustained activity that will provide children a chance to practice good habits over and over. For example learning to play the piano. The playing field is a real world environment where success is realized only through building good habits.
Then there must be a significant time commitment for sustained practice on the “field.” Once the piano lessons become difficult, the child wants to quit. This is always the case. And too often the AT gives in. The child whines and complains. The AT quits and allows the child to quit. Time is lost and no habits are built. At these junctures the AT needs backbone, “No, you cannot quit. We have committed to these lessons for the year. We will not quit until we fulfill this time requirement.”
Understanding the place of the playing field and time commitment, the AT can implement a habit-forming training plan. This is the real purpose behind the piano lessons. Building habits!
However, implementation requires a heroic effort. For success, the AT is called to be firm, insistent, and strict about practicing good habits. But at the same time he must be gentle, kind and supportive. The AT who hopes to build good habits in a child must combine unrelenting perseverance with unwavering patience, two characteristics of an AT who cares deeply about the child. Herein lays the great secret of character education.
In other words, because the AT is committed to the child’s development, the AT creates a character development bubble around the child. He provides unrelenting discipline and structure that forges habits. At the same time, the AT supplies the strength, willpower, encouragement, support, kindness, and the gentleness that a child needs to persevere and build good habits.
One day the child will become a young man or woman of stellar character. Friends and family will have respect for, and honor, the person they have become. But it will be the AT who enjoys the deepest satisfaction.