Amazing articles on just about every subject...

School Management - Character Building

( Originally Published 1897 )

The End of Education.-The formation of character is the end to be sought in all the efforts of the teacher. The educated person is one who possesses mental and physical power, systematized knowledge, intellectual skill, pure and elevated tastes, and right habits. It is further assumed that one who has been so trained that he can be depended upon to act rightly has a good character. It follows that besides the original meaning of the term, the word "character" has come to have an ethical significance. It is customary to find it used for " good character." A good character means a moral and virtuous condition of mind, and such control of the feelings and thoughts as will subserve the ends of morality. In this respect it follows that the moral character of a person is the sum of the tendencies and habitudes which he has acquired, and which are called virtues. The excellence of his character is estimated by the strength of these dominant dispositions.

The mental equipment of each individual is the product of inherited and acquired forces. Hereditary tendencies are powerful, but they may be controlled and directed to a large extent by the influences to which each person is subjected. In childhood the forces which form character are mainly determined and guided by parents and teachers. Later in life a person is largely left to his own judgment and strength of purpose. To do his part in developing such forces as will cause his pupils to act aright is, there-fore, the main work of the teacher. He is successful as a character builder if he so influences those placed under his care that, when they enter upon the activities of life, they will follow with persistence what is reasonable, just, and virtuous.

Periods of Development.-A child inherits from his parents a physical constitution and a wide range of aptitudes. His nature is extremely plastic, and therefore it is possible to lessen constitutional weaknesses, and to develop elevating powers and tendencies. It is the duty of the parent to supply whatever is needed to promote proper physical and mental growth. In the formation of character, many tastes must be cultivated, the feelings must be controlled, the habits must be formed, and the will must be strengthened. As soon as the child is admitted to school, new activities are aroused, new tastes are developed, and new habits are created. It will at once devolve upon the teacher to strengthen, check, create )r destroy tendencies, tastes and habits. For this purpose there is needed discretion in the use of that stimulus, incentive or punishment which the conditions require. The ultimate aim should be to subordinate the physical and intellectual nature to the control of conscience and will.

Systematized Knowledge.-In the process of character building, knowledge plays an important part. Conduct that is not based on intelligence has little to commend it. The man of character is continually adding to his stock of knowledge. Where there is no intellectual growth there is no moral growth. The highest type of character demands systematized knowledge, and the acquisition of knowledge is an object to be sought in improving the moral nature. Information gained should not depend upon the memory. It follows that "cramming," (Chapter III.) as popularly understood, has no place in intellectual development,' and therefore has no use in the formation of character. Knowledge which is systematized is scientific in its nature ; and, as a consequence, can be traced to the general principles upon which it rests. Only that knowledge is valuable which is available.

Power.-A properly-trained person has power within reasonable limits to gain whatever will contribute to his physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual strength. He has, besides, that energy which will enable him to think and to act in such a way as will secure good results. Education is weak unless it gives a person power to guard his health and to improve his bodily strength. It is defective unless it enables him to add to his intellectual endowments and to apply his knowledge to useful purposes. It is also defective if his will power is not sufficiently developed to cause him to resist evil by accepting what is right, and rejecting what is wrong. Power is acquired by the cultivation of proper habits.

In training to right action it is necessary to take into consideration the imitative power of the child, his intelligence or legislative power, and his will, or what may be termed his executive power. In addition, his power of reflection must be cultivated, in order to influence succeeding actions. The teacher is continually called upon to determine how he will give effect to the growth of each power, what order he will adopt in his moral teaching, what incentives he will employ, and what measures of coercion he should bring to his aid. Will power is an important object to be sought in the formation of character, but the intelligence and the emotions need to be cultivated at the same time.

Training of the Will.-The will originates and controls actions of body and mind. It controls the thoughts and feelings. Decision, firmness and constancy are features of strength of will. Defects of will, constituting the weak-minded, are inconstancy, stubbornness, irresolution and wilfulness. That which determines the will is called a motive. The child who is inclined to do wrong should be influenced by a counteracting motive.

The foundation of all education is the culture of the will. To train the will is usually the chief difficulty in education. The successful trainer of the will secures subjection and restraint, and at the same time fosters liberty and independence. The change from authority to freedom must be gradual. If hastened, disobedience may result; if delayed, self-control is not cultivated. The child becomes weak and vacillating, if his intelligence and feelings are neglected while efforts to train the will are made. Fearfulness of responsibility and weakness of purpose will follow, if the authority of the teacher is unduly used as a motive. Harsh discipline is opposed to real strength of will. The discipline which has no trace of sympathy with child nature, no provision to strengthen half-formed purposes, no appreciation of hidden motives, but a stern tone of authority, combined with relentless severity, is sure to have, as a result, minds sullen, gloomy, suspicious, and cunning.*

Tastes.-The educated man has pure and elevated tastes. Tastes are natural and acquired. Some children frequently manifest extraordinary tastes in certain directions. The early cultivation of proper physical and mental tastes is an important duty of parents and teachers. It is necessary to check any natural tendency to form bad tastes. Some bad habits, such as indulgence in the use of tobacco or intoxicating liquors, are the result of persistence in practices which are at first unpleasant. A taste for music, drawing, literature, or other subjects of study, appears natural to some persons. In most cases a taste for what is elevating is acquired by judicious cultivation.

It is evident that the tastes of a person have a powerful influence on the formation of his character. What a man relishes determines his sources of enjoyment, his associations and his activities. The likes and dislikes of a man shape his life. Indulgence in what is good elevates and refines. The gratification of evil tastes lowers and degrades. A taste may become so strongly developed that if it is evil it can scarcely be resisted by knowledge, judgment or reason. Pure and elevated tastes give power and inspiration, and become factors which largely determine the course in life that is pursued, and the character that is formed.

It is the duty of the teacher to provide such conditions as will help to form pure and elevated tastes. Those tastes that are natural should be improved if good, and checked if bad. Many tastes will have to be formed for which there is no inherited tendency. In some cases constitutional antagonisms will have to be resisted. Much judgment is often needed in the use of the proper stimulus A love for good reading, music, mathematics, etc., can be created in the case of some pupils only by skilful instruction. A love for bad literature, sinful pleasures or evil associations, can be best destroyed by furnishing, to take their place, something which will be elevating and ennobling. In creating a taste for what is good, as well as in destroying a taste for what is bad, persistent and continued use of the proper means may be required. The right stimulus will in time produce a tendency. By repeated exercise pleasure will result ; and, as in the case of a habit which has been developed, the taste will become a feature of the character.

Habits.-It is said that character is made up of " a bundle of habits." The knowledge, skill, power and tastes of a person are usually the result of his habits. The formation of all habits, whether of body or mind, comes by persistent effort of the intelligence and the will. Too often the acquisition of knowledge, rather than the formation of good habits, is assumed to be the end of educational efforts. This is a great mistake. In elementary schools, especially, the formation of good habits should receive greater prominence. If proper physical, intellectual, and moral habits are formed in childhood, the work of education is fairly begun. The child requires to have his physical habits so formed that he executes promptly and energetically whatever he undertakes. Indolence is soon wanting. He always does his best, and employs the organs of the body to accomplish right ends. He guards his physical energy by the use of proper modes of living, and by the use of suitable recreation and amusements. Right intellectual habits will promote power and skill. These will be manifested in ability to fix the attention, to con-duct observations, to examine causes, to reflect, to persist in mental effort and to express in language what has been acquired. Right moral habits will secure prompt obedience to the dictates of conscience. The rights of others will be recognized early in life. Selfishness will cease to dominate as a motive, and self-control will hold sway.

Habits are formed by frequent repetition of acts that promote the end in view. By the aid of proper incentives the teacher leads his pupils to act repeatedly in a right manner. The doing of what is right thus becomes a habit with children. Their modes of thinking and acting be-come fixed, and they become strong to resist temptation. Natural instincts are powerful, but there is in habit a weapon with which inherited tendencies and early formed inclinations may be overcome. The child is born, not with habits already formed, but with the capacity of habit. The character of no person need be bad.

Much of the teacher's power has often to be exercised in reversing inclinations that are due to defective home training and bad environments. Early habits are most readily formed, and therefore childhood, with its plastic nature, should not be entrusted to weak character builders. The teachers of elementary schools should be good disciplinarians. The activities of young children require to be carefully directed. Pupils who are restless, impetuous and troublesome, are not necessarily bad. If properly trained= such characteristics may be turned to good account. They constitute the elements by which noble natures may be formed. Some of the most valuable habits which by law (See Appendix) the teacher should cultivate in his pupils, are here considered :

1. Regularity.-Irregularity of attendance is the bane of many schools. It is frequently due to the indifference of parents, to inefficient instruction, or to defective modes of discipline. Irregularity retards progress, and inconveniences both teacher and pupils. Truancy, if not nipped in the bud, may lead to serious crimes. Indifference to any school duty must not be allowed to grow. No child should feel that he can absent himself a day and escape the teacher's notice. The government of school or college is defective when attendance is optional.

Parents should be informed, if necessary, when their children are absent. Irregularity of attendance, if not justifiable, should receive proper punishment. A loss of some privilege, as position in the class, may answer the purpose in most cases. By making school work attractive, and by securing the co-operation of parents, regularity of attendance may become a settled feature of the school.

Regularity as a habit is not confined to attendance. All the operations of the school should go on systematically. Pupils should be trained to habits of promptness in connection with every duty. Neglect may allow tendencies to grow that will continue through life. Fickleness may i result, and become a hindrance to progress. Regularity promotes perseverance, without which the battles of life are not won. It has a marked, bearing on all that affects the industrial, social and moral institutions of the country.

2. Punctuality.-ln business, in mechanical and in professional pursuits, it is the man who is punctual who has a chance to win in the struggle. To be behind time is to invite failure. The school has much to do with the formation of habits of punctuality. Pupils should learn to realize the evil of lateness. Unless home duties, bad roads, long distance to school, stormy weather, or other legitimate causes stand in the way, lateness should receive no toleration. The plan of sending a pupil home for "a note" is, except in special cases, a senseless practice. When the pupil is himself to blame a "please excuse " recommendation from the parent should not be required. It may be very desirable, however, to inform the parent so that his co-operation may be gained. As in the case of irregularity of attendance, a neglect of punctuality should be punished. A teacher that allows pupils who come late to take their places at pleasure has a badly disciplined school, and fosters a habit which may cling to them in after life.

3. Industry.-The welfare of the State demands diligence on the part of its citizens. Idleness is the mother of vices, and the foe of national prosperity. Labor is a fundamental law of life. The men who get on in the world are persons of application. Diligence is a function of the will. If not spontaneous in its growth, an artificial development must be cultivated by appropriate incentives. Industry involves constant decision, self-denial, and the execution of choice. There is no wealth, nd progress, no bright future, where there is no diligence. The good man works hard:

The school is preeminent as an agency for fostering the spirit of industry. It does not teach trades, but it imparts a love for work. It inculcates diligence, which is an element of success in every trade or calling. It calls into action the several mental powers, secures attention, and trains to habits of application. The child that is not kept busy becomes restless, mischievous, weary, discontented and unhappy. The brightest and happiest classes are those in which every scholar is usefully employed. The whole atmosphere of a well-conducted school is one of activity, and the law of work is felt everywhere.

Pupils should hot be allowed to form idle habits. The taste for certain 'subjects may require development. Skill in making a lesson interesting will do a great deal. Patience and discernment will be in demand. Children must be trained to habits of attention, encouraged to form resolutions and aided in carrying them out. A pupil should be habituated to perform a certain amount of work in a regular time, to abstain from thinking about irrelevant matters, to adhere to purposes without vacillation, and to avoid vagueness of thought or indefiniteness of aim. The child that is idle is sure to get into trouble. The one who is diligent at school is likely to exhibit habits of industry in after life. A teacher who does not lead his pupils to become workers, fails in his duty.

4. Quietness.-Silence is a virtue of the school. The power to hold the tongue has a high moral value. Reason and conscience too often give place to hasty expressions, unguarded language and impulses of passion. To keep quiet may require that exercise of the will, which trains to habits of self-control. Quietness in school promotes self-knowledge, politeness, reverence and industry. It furnishes the soil in which the highest moral and intellectual virtues grow.

The example of the teacher is essential. "A noisy teacher has a noisy school." One who is fussy, boisterous or irritable will demoralize a class and provoke confusion and anger. Work, and not fear, is the means of putting a stop to whispering, clapping, pounding or stamping. The habit of speaking and moving quietly must be cultivated. Self-government 'and co-operation must be brought into play. Devices are needed. A talkative pupil may be cured if kept busy or placed by the side of one who is attentive.

It does not follow, however, that a quiet school is necessarily well governed. Absolute stillness may be a sign of dulness, or may prove to be the crushing effect of harsh discipline. It is a great mistake to expect young children to sit still for any great length of time. Activity is a law of their nature, and should be properly developed. Activity does not imply disorder, disturbance or confusion. Talk, when not irrelevant, is a proper feature of childhood. Conversation is in order, when it takes place between teacher and pupil. A good laugh may sometimes be all right. Pupils must be trained to feel that they have no right to disturb others, and that the power to keep quiet is essential to the prosperity of the school and to the formation of character. Men of talk are not needed so much as men of thought and of action.

5. Neatness.-Neatness is a personal virtue, and any disregard of its value is indicative of a lack of refinement and self-respect A loss of self-esteem is generally followed by carelessness of personal appearance. Improvement in health, intelligence or morals, is not to be expected of one who exhibits dirty face and hands, untidy clothes and unkempt hair. A slovenly way of attending to duties shows a lack of culture. An efficient workman sets a high value on neatness.

A well-conducted school fosters habits of cleanliness, order and neatness. A school-room that is dirty or untidy, from waste paper, apple-cores, nut-shells, or other refuse, shows indifference to the formation of character. Neatness in preparing exercises, and in arranging books, slates, copy-books, pens, pencils, ink-bottles, etc., will develop habits that will be continued in after life. Many children may come from homes where there is great lack of refinement. Every efficient system of education should set in motion forces that will touch the lowest stratum of society. Vigilance on the part of the teacher will be constantly needed. Pupils should not be allowed to attend to duties in a slovenly manner. Children are imperfectly trained if they are not inspired with a desire to do their best. Thoroughness is a feature not only of an orderly society, but of a well-governed school.

6. Obedience.-Submission to law and order is a mark of a well-governed community. The most highly civilized countries are those in which laws are wisely enacted and well administered. Respect for parents and teachers, and reverence for rulers and magistrates, are virtues which, when cultivated in youth, secure law-abiding members of society.

Young children must be trained to do what they are told before they are competent to understand the value of obedience. There is a necessity for undisputed authority in childhood. As children grow older, authority may be relaxed in favor of moral suasion. The teacher must understand to what extent it may be safe to lessen restraints, and to allow a pupil to act on his own responsibility. Threats and constant entreaties are unknown in good government. Obedience should become cheerful. Unwise regulations and commands weaken a teacher's influence. No law should be a dead letter. Rules should be carefully considered before being made. An injudicious order should be promptly withdrawn. For advanced pupils-especially those in a High School-it is often well to see that rules meet with favor before being announced. Pupils should be led to feel that they and the teachers have a common interest in good government. In a well-disciplined school the students are self-governing. Commands should not be multiplied or needlessly repeated. The practice of the best teachers favors " few rules." The governing force of the teacher should never be exhausted. Children are not so much impressed with the power they see as with what they feel is kept in reserve.

The school should make up, as far as possible, for defective home training. The boy who refuses to obey his parents may, under the influence of a good teacher, become quite amenable to law. The good example of other pupils often cures stubbornness and obstinacy. The boy who refuses to do what is required of him must be dealt with promptly. Isolation - from the other members of the class, until there is time to speak to him in private, maybe prudent. An opportunity for reflection frequently hastens reformation. Signs of repentance should be recognized, and holiest efforts to do better should be encouraged. Firmness and discretion should mark the teacher's methods.

7. Truthfulness.-Truthfulness has been called the central pillar of character. Without it society could not be kept together. Exaggeration,. equivocation, dissimulation, the breaking of promises, and trickery of every kind, are departures from this virtue. The man whose word is as good as his bond has weight in the community. The educated man is a searcher for truth ; he is also a lover of truth.

The way to make children truthful is not by set lessons, but. by constantly cultivating habits of truthfulness. Pupils should be instructed in the great value of accuracy, but this is not enough. They should be compelled-wisely, kindly, lovingly-to abstain from all kinds of deception. Children should feel that they can be trusted. It is a serious mistake to call a pupil a liar. Dr. Arnold's view on this question is too well known to need repetition. No use should be made of cunning, espionage, or any underhand method of ascertaining facts. Falsehood, when made clear, should be followed by suitable punishment. It should be remembered that untruthfulness is often the result of fear, habit, or thoughtlessness. Fear should never become the governing agency in promoting truthfulness. Children often receive scanty credit for the struggles they make to do right. The teacher who cannot look down into the heart of a little child, and understand its conflicting emotipps, has much to learn.

Tale-telling should be discouraged. it leads to mean, sneaking habits, fosters an uncharitable spirit, and provokes resentment. There may be occasions when pupils may be expected to tell what they know about crimes that have been committed. Immoral tendencies must be crushed, and the honor of the school maintained. To deny a teacher assistance in a crisis is ,to prove the existence of a very bad state of discipline. Instances of this kind should be rare, and furnish no warrant for indiscriminate reporting.

8. Honesty.-Honesty is a cardinal virtue of a well governed school. Without a regard for the rights of property, and without a respect for character, all trust would disappear. Pupils must be taught that it is dishonest to take advantage in a bargain, to seek credit for what is not their due, to cheat in games, or to retain property found, when the owner may be ascertained. Children may be selfish in infancy ; but, if properly trained, they soon betray a sense of shame or wrong when detected in the act of appropriating to themselves what belongs to others. A pupil shows resentment if his rights are invaded, and it is evident his sense of justice affords a ready means of cultivating the habit of honesty.

Pupils are often slow to recognize the forms of dishonesty that do not consist in taking valuable articles of property belonging to another person. They should be taught that dishonesty cannot be excused because the thing in question is trifling in value, because it belongs to the school, or because custom has sanctioned the fraud as harmless. They should understand, as they get older, that when they interrupt the class, take up the time of the teacher unnecessarily, or keep other pupils back by their indolence, they are not dealing honestly with their fellow pupils. They should learn that it is dishonest to depreciate or misrepresent the talents, attainments, motives, or opinions of others, either by exaggeration or suppression of some important particular. In short, the cultivation of altruism, or rather that Christian unselfishness which is embodied in the Golden Rule, should be a paramount object in character building. Pupils so trained are not likely to go wrong, " Bring up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

The cultivation of 'this virtue requires discretion. Children are ready to catch the spirit of the one who leads them. It will not do to be suspicious of pupils. It is not often that a child is entirely bad. To tell a pupil that he is dishonest, and will yet go to the penitentiary, may be sufficient to crush all germs of manliness.

Deliberate breach of honesty must be punished. Property destroyed must be made good. Lost articles, if found, must be restored to the owners. The habit of copying from another must be prevented. Vigilance on the part of the teacher is necessary to put a stop to various dishonest practices. A teacher who is literally or metaphorically blind is no good. Many a form of dishonesty, if not checked, will become a disease which will sap all self-reliance or honest independent effort, and will extend its degrading influences to the after life of the pupils.

9. Courtesy.-The man who is gruff in his manner, rude in his conversation, or selfish in his disposition, repels people and fails to win success. True manliness exhibits gentleness, refinement, and that politeness which is void of veneering. Right actions proceed from right thoughts. Courtesy is a product of good motives. Churlishness, or the disposition to tyrannize, shows a want of culture. A good heart is the basis of kind actions and pleasing words.

The school may be a powerful means to overcome roughness, ill-manners, profanity, or the use of obscene language. The moral atmosphere of a good school is often a source of new life to children whose surroundings have made them rude, mean, untruthful, or dishonest. It should lead them to be polite, to be ready to respond with "thanks" for acts of kindness, to restrain resentment, and to cultivate unselfishness. The little responsibilities to be discharged by pupils toward one another may be turned to good account. Pride in the school and a healthy esprit de corps, are marks of good discipline and promises of future manly traits. It should become a disgrace in the estimation of the class for any of its members to apt in an ungentlemanly or unladylike manner.

The example of the tpacher is powerful. One who is lacking in courtesy should not be retained in the school. Firmness does not imply any want of kindness. Even in using words of censure, politeness should not be forgotten. A subdued tone of voice, an act of benevolence, a pleasing look, or a forgiving spirit, will often destroy malice, conquer a rough nature, and sow seeds of kindness in the youthful heart.

10. Self-Control.-For the wise man, whose self is under the control of the will, law is rarely necessary. Legal restraints are for the would-be-criminals. Character building demands the proper acquisition of knowledge so that the pupil may understand his duties; the cultivation of his feelings, so that his heart may be right ; and especially the training of his will, in order that he may gain that firmness, determination, executive power and moral force which answer to the calls of duty and satisfy the conscience. The strong man is the man who pap control himself. "He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city."

Self-control is a matter of education. The will should be trained to act in response to the best motives. It is important that strong emotions should not be mistaken for strength of will. The child must be taught to curb his feelings. In the infant stages there is need, on the part of the teacher, of affection and intelligence to prompt good resolves, to proffer suitable help, and to bring into operation the best incentives. Attention should eventually be secured as a result of the pupil's independent effort, rather than on account of any constant stimulus exerted by the teacher. The power of the teacher need not be lessened by cultivating in his pupils a spirit of self-reliance. If he does not give them a chance to " stand alone" they may fall, not merely when the test of an examination is applied, but when they are confronted with the actual struggles of life. Too often pupils leave school with an abundance of knowledge, but with no habits of self-control. With numerous examples of this nature, it is no wonder that people are so ready to undervalue education.

The treatment of children who have, through neglect, formed habits of stubbornness, demands patience, firmness and judgment. The absurd theory about " breaking the will " is a relic of a time when child nature was poorly understood. A pupil who has a strong will has a nobler gift than genius. The world needs more persons of strength of purpose, and fewer persons who are weak, irresolute and cowardly. The " breaking in" process is opposed to correct principles of training in the case of a rational being. Obstinacy must be cured by the use of counteracting incentives. To perpetuate a system of blind submission to authority in the school life of a stubborn boy, is to throw him eventually upon the world either broken-spirited, or so deficient in moral strength, that tie rushes into excesses as soon as restraints are removed.

Home | More Articles | Email: