Citizenship Is a Key Element in Teaching about Character

Article excerpt

Byline: Ken Potts

I'm not complaining, mind you. It was one of those conversations most parents would love to have, especially with an 11-year-old. I have to confess, though, it did force me to put my brain in gear - sometimes a bit of a challenge at that time in the morning.

I was driving my daughter someplace during the first days of the war in Iraq. We were listening to a report on the radio describing the demonstrations, some pro-war and some anti-war, taking place across the country.

When they cut to commercial, my little girl turned to me with a puzzled look on her face.

"Dad," she asked, "who are the good citizens - the ones who support the president, or the ones who think he's wrong?"

Since I knew she'd been talking about citizenship in school, I wasn't totally surprised by her question. Before answering, I did have to think a bit and found myself falling back on some of the words and ideas in the Character Counts material I had been reviewing for this series of columns.

As the sixth and final Pillar of Character, Citizenship has a lot to do with the previous five we have discussed - trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness and caring.

In being a good citizen, we take these values and apply them to our involvement in the wider neighborhood, city, state and nation where we live. Respecting authority, obeying rules and laws, educating ourselves about history and current events, doing our share, contributing to the common good, even going to war - all can be part of being a good citizen.

More difficult to understand is how citizenship can sometimes involve confronting or even defying authorities, or how it can even mean disobeying rules and laws. Good citizens, at least in the American tradition, hold themselves and their governments accountable to higher standards than are sometimes reflected in particular rules and laws.

While these standards are embodied in our constitutions or charters, good citizens hold their governments and elected or appointed officials to the core values upon which such documents are based. This tension between what can at times seem like blind loyalty at one extreme, and what can at times seem near treason at the other, can tear societies apart. …