Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Importance of Character a Good Education Is about More Than Absorbing Information

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Importance of Character a Good Education Is about More Than Absorbing Information

Article excerpt

I wonder, where are the educational standards for character development?

Today I sat with a seventh-grader named Zarra (not her real name). "Two Rs!" she barked, as I scored her name into the rear side of a forgotten ceramics project. The classroom held a stillness foreign to sixth period, due to a class field trip. Zarra was one of two discarded students, left behind to ponder (or ignore) the gravity of their misbehaviors.

Yellow hair, lazily applied eyeliner, an expert in slouching and looking dull. I could probably deduce, from the first five minutes of our encounter, a somewhat accurate outline of this girl's life story. She mentioned her mom had dropped out of high school, that she doesn't really know her dad and that she's failing in most of her classes. Her older brother, she shrugged, has also inherited a habit of failure and troublemaking.

Sadly, she had reminded me of a volume of stories told by female inmates of the York County Correctional Institution. "Couldn't Keep It to Myself" was co-written and compiled by author Wally Lamb, who guided writing workshops at the prison before coordinating the collection of memoirs.

Each chapter is a testimony from the perspective of one of his students, a window into unfathomable pasts of neglect, abuse, addiction and misconduct. Mr. Lamb illuminates, "Of the 11 contributors to this volume, eight have been battered and nine have been sexually abused, a statistic that reflects the norm for incarcerated women."

Zarra fidgeted in her seat about every three seconds, struggling to scratch tiny seams into a small clay baseball pendant, which I mistakenly confused for a softball. "I play baseball, so . it's a baseball."

She's a pitcher, I learned, and when she informed me that she's "pretty good," I believed her. But her tough outward facade could not camouflage her arrested emotional aptitude.

"I can't do this." She threw down her tool with the ferocity of a 3-year-old and scorched the toes of her chair with an impulsive thrust backward. This was one of four temper tantrums I would observe within this single class period. …

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