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Character Based Learning

The Key to Helping Your Children Thrive in the 21st Century

Part 1

by George L. Rogers

President, ChoiceSkills, Inc.; Author "The Seven Cís of Thinking Clearly"

As we enter the 21st century, young people are confronted with unparalleled opportunities and challenges that will require of them greater intelligence and greater strength of character than perhaps any previous generation in history. At the end of World War II, Winston Churchill wrote:

"Mankind has never been in this position before. Without having improved appreciably in virtue or enjoying wiser guidance, it has got into its hands for the first time the tools by which it can unfailingly accomplish its own extermination."

Since he wrote those words, the march of science has pierced the innermost secrets of the atomic world, has plunged travelers into the outer reaches of space, has deciphered the genetic code, and has made instant communication possible with almost any spot on the globe. Similar progress may be observed in medicine and every other field of technological endeavor. Yet, though the need has increased exponentially, man still has not improved appreciably in virtue nor do we enjoy wiser guidance.

What the future holds is yet unclear, but one thing is glaringly obvious. Unless the rising generation can somehow surpass the present in both virtue and wiser guidance, the future will be bleak and frightening. Already we lose large numbers of young people who self-destruct for want of both virtue and wisdom. As parents and teachers, we must do more to transmit to our own children and students the three things they most need to take advantage of the opportunities and to overcome the challenges that face them, both now and in the future. They are:

KNOWLEDGE

The knowledge and skills necessary to effectively participate in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world.

VIRTUE

The virtue to use their knowledge and skills in ways that are truly beneficial, both to themselves and to others, and

THINKING SKILLS

The mental and emotional faculties necessary to sustain the acquisition of both virtue and knowledge.

Benjamin Franklin well understood the importance of teaching children principles of virtue and helping them develop their thinking skills.

In a newspaper article published in 1728, Benjamin Franklin wrote, "It is said that the Persians, in their constitution, had public schools in which virtue was taught as a liberal art or science; and it is certainly of more consequence to a man that he has learnt to govern his passions in spite of temptation, to be just in his dealings, to be temperate in his pleasures, to support himself with fortitude under his misfortunes, to behave with prudence in all his affairs and every circumstance of life; I say, it is of much more real advantage to him to be thus qualified, than to be master of all the arts and sciences in the world besides."

Several years later, while in England as a representative of the colonies, Franklin befriended a young lady who was bright, inquisitive and very much interested in science. Often she would write him with a question about one thing or another, and he would write back his answer. In one letter, after discussing several topics of scientific interest, Franklin offered her the following advice.

"There is, however, a prudent moderation to be used in studies of this kind. The knowledge of nature may be ornamental, and it may be useful; but if, to attain an eminence in that, we neglect the knowledge and practice of essential duties, we deserve reprehension. For there is no rank in natural knowledge of equal dignity and importance with that of being a good parent, a good child, a good husband or wife, a good neighbor or friend, a good subject or citizen, in short, a good Christian."

But how do we teach children to be prudent in their affairs, to govern their passions, to be just in their dealings and temperate in their pleasures, and to support themselves with fortitude under misfortune? How do we teach them to be good family members, good neighbors and good citizens? Franklin had something to say about this as well.

In an article titled, Discourses on Virtue and Pleasure, which consisted of a dialogue between two individuals, Horatio and Philocles, Franklin recorded this important perspective.

Horatio: I find, then, that in order to please ourselves rightly, or to do good to others morally, we should take great care of our opinions.

Philocles: Nothing concerns you more; for as the happiness or real good of men consists in right action, and right action cannot be produced without right opinion, it behooves us above all things in this world, to take care that our own opinions of things be according to the nature of things. The foundation of all virtue and happiness is thinking rightly.

Unfortunately, thinking rightly, or even thinking clearly, is not something that comes naturally to most of us, and sadly, it is not a topic to which much of education is devoted. Public schools do little to teach either principles of virtue, or thinking skills.

Fortunately, this is a situation you can easily remedy in teaching home school. In part 2 we will discuss seven thinking skills Franklin personally cultivated in his life and how to integrate the teaching of these skills along with principles of virtue with teaching math, English and other subjects children need to know. Then in part 3 we will provide a couple of sample lessons to demonstrate the process, a concept called "Character Based Learning."

Unquestionably, to take advantage of the opportunities presented them, and to overcome the challenges they will face, the children of this generation will need greater intelligence and greater strength of character than ever before. Employing principles of character based learning in your homeschooling will do much to help you prepare your children for these opportunities and challenges.