Improving Our Moral Landscape Via Character Education: An Opportunity for School Counselor Leadership

Article excerpt

School counselors are uniquely positioned to promote social responsibility and good character development in all students. Although every counselor must continue to embrace diversity and respect differences in personal values, unhealthy student behaviors could be deterred by deciding on ethical values that are necessary to ensure an optimal learning environment and student achievement. Consequently, the agreed-upon, consensual values could be taught, enforced, advocated for, and modeled in a preventative and proactive manner.

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School counselors are too often confronted with the by-product of disrespectful, irresponsible, and uncaring student attitudes and behaviors. Unfortunately, many of the counseling interventions are remedial and focused on repairing the psychological damage resulting from unhealthy student choices linked to poor character that can destroy the moral landscape of an academic environment. These behaviors often include, but are not limited to, lying, stealing, cheating, bullying, violence, alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, tobacco usage, sexual promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, academic underachievement, and chronic dissatisfaction with life. The American School Counselor Association's National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs (ASCA, 2003) encourages school counselors to provide direct services to every student and take leadership roles in effecting systemic change in a school. Character education is a proactive and purposeful approach designed to create a healthy learning environment to help each student incorporate values necessary for achievement (Lickona, 1991).

THE STATUS OF OUR SCHOOLS' MORAL LANDSCAPE

Is there really a need for school counselors to clarify and advocate for values that promote good character and socially responsible behaviors? The 2002 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth sampled 12,000 high school students across the United States and revealed the following results: (a) 74% admitted to having cheated on an exam in the past year, (b) 38% admitted to having stolen something from a store within the past year, (c) 43% believed one had to lie or cheat to get ahead in life, and (d) 95% of students believed it was important for people to be trustworthy (Josephson Institute of Ethics, 2002).

Data such as this survey signal a warning sign that our youth need help in becoming socially responsible citizens. As Brooks and Goble (1997) pointed out, "There have been repeated warnings in the past years that ethical behavior was waning. However, the prevailing response remained one of denial and acquiescence. Schools pointed at parents, parents at schools, and society in general pointed at everyone else" (p. 24).

According to Meyers (2000), schools took on driver education and let go of character education. As we lost our resolve to teach shared values, character itself waned during this period of social recession. We were left with more questions than answers. As Meyers said,

   Is there an absolute right and wrong? Are all
   cultures, and their values, moral equals? Does
   someone have a right to presume moral judgments--and
   impose them on our children?
   Should we instead merely help students wrestle
   with moral dilemmas and clarify their personal
   values? Or, despairing of any consensus,
   should we avoid the subject, leaving values,
   virtues, and character to the home?

As a result, educators and school counselors have not been encouraged and supported by their community, parents, legislators, and media to teach children how to behave.

IS IT APPROPRIATE FOR SCHOOL COUNSELORS TO ADVOCATE FOR SELECT VALUES?

One of the most challenging aspects of" being a professional school counselor is to subjugate personal opinions and values and control one's own needs, desires, and preferences to ensure that one is acting in the best interest of the student. …