'R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me . . ."
In the '60s, it was the trademark of Motown superstar Aretha
Franklin. In the '90s, it's the hallmark of a new trend in the
nation's schools - character education.
When it comes to teaching kids right from wrong, respect and
responsibility are considered by many to be the fourth and fifth
R's of elementary and secondary education. Without stressing those
two traits, the experts say, you can forget trying to inculcate
things such as caring, cooperation or courage.
Chris Hummel, a sophomore at St. Charles West High School,
never had much trouble with the first three R's - reading, 'riting
and 'rithmetic. Despite the fact that he almost flunked sixth
grade, his teachers all describe him as a very capable kid when it
comes to academics.
But Chris had a hard time with the fourth R, in terms of both
self-respect and respect toward others. And his difficulty surfaced
in a big way in his first year at Jefferson Middle School in St.
Here's how Chris remembers it: "I was in trouble just about
every day. I didn't think much of education then . . . I wanted
people to notice me as a funny guy, not a smart guy. I got
suspensions, seventh hours (60 minutes of silence after school),
Saturday campus corps (4 hours of school detention, spent on chores
and academics). And I almost didn't get out - my grades were C's,
D's, a couple F's."
"Chris had a very difficult adjustment to middle school - just
following basic rules on classroom behavior, respect for authority,
completing work. He was very angry and frustrated. He'd do
anything to get attention - throwing books, yelling, name-calling,
making inappropriate gestures," recalls his teacher, Vicky Riley.
"And his negative behavior interfered greatly with his ability to
So why are we telling you about Chris Hummel in an article that
points up the importance of respect in building character in kids?
Fast-forward to Chris Hummel, almost 17, and ask a few of his
teachers to describe him now.
Steve Stahl, St. Charles West physical education teacher and
football coach: "I have nothing other than glowing comments to make
about Chris. He's a hard worker, willing to cooperate with others.
He's very conscientious, very self-disciplined. He exercises a
great deal of restraint when it comes to displays of temper . . .
he takes setbacks well. He's a real asset to the team."
Pattie Raines, algebra I teacher: "Chris was eager to please.
He was very concerned about his studies and really wanted to do
well. He always tried to have his homework done on time . . . if
it wasn't, he'd do it late, without credit, just to get it done."
This is a story, really, about two Chris Hummels. The first is
a troubled kid who spent most of his middle school years in a
self-contained, behavior-disordered classroom, diagnosed as ADHD
(attention deficit hyperactivity disordered) and oppositionally
defiant. The second is a high school football player and honor roll
student, taking a heavy load of honors chemistry, algrebra II,
geometry, German and English, and hoping for an athletic
scholarship to help pave the way to college.
What happened to Chris Hummel between sixth and 10th grades to
cause such a turnaround? Though no one knows for sure, Jefferson
Middle School principal Donna Towers has a pretty good hunch.
Chris, she says, learned to respect himself.
"Middle school can be difficult for many kids - there's lots of
frustration, lots of testing limits. Chris' outbursts were the
result of internal anger. I don't think he felt he was a
worthwhile person. And that made it hard for him to treat other
people with respect," she says.
In Chris' case, however, there was more to contend with than
just hormones running rampant, as they are apt to do in early
adolescence. His home life was a lot less than ideal. …