Creating Character in Early School Years
James Comer's fundamental insight is that motivation for learning depends on human relationships. At Lincoln-Bassett and other Comer schools, teachers, parents, administrators, and staff members work cooperatively. Although breakdowns in communication within and between groups have occurred from time to time, training teachers to focus on the feelings that spring up in individual relationships has paid off. The children's need for security is supported by the structures and quiet restraints of the school, including the lines and the uniforms that get no undue attention, the respect and politeness adults give each other and expect from children, and, most importantly, the affection and positive means of discipline.
In New Haven in the 1980s, the dropout rate plummeted from 42 percent to 15.5 percent, and in Comer's school in Landover, Maryland, in the same period, average achievement scores rose from the fiftieth to the eightieth percentile. Comer says these results "are entirely from building community . . . because much of learning is unconscious and related to the surrounding environment."1 The person-related conception of morality springing from care, as opposed to Kohlberg's higher stage aim of impartiality while judging rules and principles, creates the intellectual space for a true community to develop. Comer's schools demonstrate that children feel important, pay attention, and learn well when adults work closely with each other to promote supportive attitudes and treat children as needing both love and limits.
The implications of the lower moral stages for pedagogy need to be grasped as clearly as those of stage three now are. However, many Americans stilltend to bristle at the idea, of grown people forcing children to be quiet, walk in lines, and sit still. Since the Nazi atrocities of the 1940s, this kind of discipline has been thought of as a source of prejudice not its cure. Many psychologists adopted a theory of permissiveness, mistakenly presuming that childhood anxieties cannot grow where restraint and punishment are minimized. Instead, gently