For months, I have been besieged with inquiries and accusations
about my opinions and my role in the public discourse on character
education. "Are we raising ethically illiterate children?" "Where
do we derive our values, morals and ethics?" "What is the role of
education in developing character?" "It was the civil rights
movement with its emphasis on individual rights instead of
responsibility and the growing specter of multi-culturalism that
has led to secularization in our schools." "When God was banished
from our classrooms, we sealed our fate."
There is no short way to address all of those convoluted
concerns. Suffice it to say that thoughtful dissent on any issue in
this society is absolutely essential if we are to survive our
prejudices and our convictions. As a society, we need all the help
we can get from every quarter. But in so doing, we must realize
that "truth" is one of the most dangerous words in the English
language - in any language for that matter.
In the relatively short American experience, three mythic
institutions have given shape and meaning to our collective lives:
the family, the temple and the schoolhouse. All three are under
siege as we seek to redefine the role of each in the matrix of this
I cannot say definitively whether it was my family, the temple
or the school that shaped my character - I do know it was from the
schoolhouse that I acquired three indelible aptitudes that have
served me well across the years.
First is irreverence (I do not mean sacrilegiousness). I was
imbued with a strong conviction that nothing, not even God, is
beyond investigation and challenge.
But I quickly learned that, if one chooses irreverence,
critical mindedness is an absolute necessity. Footnotes,
bibliographies, quantum testing of one's own predilections is
And, finally, passion. My best teachers and colleagues were
passionate, even when they had considered all the facts. I believe
these three protocols are essential if one is to teach or lead
others in this societal work of character development.
But whose morals and what kind of character do we aspire to in
such a diverse culture as ours? Therein lies the rub.
We are in the midst of a constitutional crisis, wherein two
elemental institutions in our society - religion and politics - are
colliding. The framers of the great document that has carried us
across 200 years understood the agony and the ecstasy between the
two and sought to separate the sphere of their conduct and design.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison clearly understood the dualism
of good and evil inherent in the church and the state. They drew a
line between the two while realizing it was impossible to actually
keep them totally separate. …