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"Just Because": A Random Act of Unkindness

| Mark Nichol

A friend of mine was bicycling through a quiet neighborhood one day last fall when, like a good citizen, she slowed to a halt at a stop sign. When my friend started pedaling again, a teenage girl who, flanked by a group of friends, was standing in the street near the corner as if she were going to cross, suddenly slugged my friend in the arm, knocking her off her bike and onto the ground.

As the gaggle of teens behind her broke out laughing, the girl looked impassively at my friend, who staggered to her feet, and said, unprompted, "Just because." After making a few insensitive comments, the youngsters headed away as my friend -- shaken, bruised, and bloodied by her impact on the pavement -- walked her bike along her intended route until she had recovered sufficiently to mount it and continue along her way.

The bruise on her arm where the girl had struck her remained visible for a couple of weeks. For just as long, she could barely use the arm she had landed on, and months later, it still ached at the point of impact. But the most acute -- and most chronic -- damage was to her soul. The thought that a group of adolescents could so callously inflict senseless pain and display such insensitivity toward another human being was a heavier blow to her than the physical impact.

This incident is minor on the continuum of inhumane acts, but its very banality is disturbing. It got me to thinking about some of the tenets The George Lucas Educational Foundation stands for: social and emotional learning, emotional intelligence, character education. It's easy to be cynical, to decide that it doesn't matter how many classroom meetings and cooperative-learning activities and affirmations and validations children experience at school if a family -- a community, a world -- can produce a child who commits an act like that, so petty yet so reprehensible.

But we, as educators, cannot surrender; a primary function of our profession is to help children, regardless of the mitigating forces in society, attain a full measure of humanity. Edutopia.org articles such as "How To: Teach Character in the Classroom" and "'We're Here to Raise Kids': Character Development Is Key" attest to the drive we have to accomplish this formidable task. (See our Emotional Intelligence page for more features on the topic.)

What do you think about this issue? Does character education in schools have a significant effect on children's emotional growth? Is it worth the effort, considering how many contradictory stimuli, including influential accounts and footage of celebrity belligerence and other antisocial behavior, exist in the world? Is it sensible to believe that the girl who said "Just because" might have pulled her punch -- or might never have considered striking my friend in the first place -- if she'd learned better behavior in school, regardless of external influences? I'd be interested to read your thoughts.

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Character Education Programs

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Actually the children always teaches from home, If home gives him/her the right character education, he/she would really have the manner, and the other thing that we are lack of is the religious, which is the important part of the life.

Leslie Watson (not verified)

Character Education

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I think it is so sad that some kids today have a total lack of manners and have no idea what behavior is acceptable. I realize that it is difficult to fit in character education. I think that rather than making it a seperate lesson, it should be embedded into everyday lessons. This would show students that the values taught are always important and apply across the board not just in that little segment. I know that it sometimes seems hopeless when you have to deal with the outside factors that these kids are influenced by, but is that a good enough excuse to not teach it. Rather, I think that not teaching character education shows a lack of character on the part of the teacher. We knew when we decided to be teachers that we would be models for children. What better way to model good character than to teach children these traits and hold them accountable for exhibiting them.

Leslie Watson (not verified)

Star Citizen

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I really like the idea of a Star Citizen of the Week. Do you let your students elect this person or do you choose the student?

Ann Augustine (not verified)

I believe that character

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I believe that character education should be taught in our classrooms. In this world there is too much cruelty and insensitivity that "bruise our souls". Teachers have many responsibilities and duties which can make it difficult to fit in character education. However, I do believe that it can be done. In my language arts class, some of my favorite lessons to teach are based on character analysis. This is where I get to have excellent discussions with my class about human behavior. These discussions also gives me the chance to indirectly address certain behaviors that may be problematic.

Anonymous (not verified)

Character Education

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Before a teacher can begin to consider implementing character education in their classroom, an exercise in self-reflection should first take place. Our students often reflect what we display. If our own attitudes and beliefs are not respectful of our coworkers and our students, then we cannot expect to receive this back. Before we judge the moral character of our students, we should first stop to realize that when we roll our eyes, sigh, make 'catty' remarks with coworkers, or whisper to coworkers about others, our students are watching.....and learning.....

Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that character

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I believe that character education should be taught in the school setting, but I also feel that it should be taught at home. It all starts in the home. I can teach it, but will it be practiced at home. I see so many randomn acts of unkindness in my classroom and school everyday. Alot of students come to Kindergarten with horrible attitudes, saying mean and nasty things that I know I never said when I was that age. I think alot also has to be with everyone blaming it on the changing of the times. We have let it become that children control us rather than we control them or have we slowly lost that control because of all the laws that politicians and "educational experts" have made!?

Sarah Mardirosian (not verified)

Character Ed.

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I truly believe it is my job as a first grade teacher to infuse character education into every aspect of my teaching day. I start the beginning of the school year out with a major focus on creating a positive and safe classroom environment. I use the ideas and strategies from The Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete. In this book she explains the concept of letting children know that "it mattered" they came to school. By creating a positive atmosphere in the classroom, it supports the teaching of respect, fairness, and citizenship. I also have been choosing a Star Citizen of the week, each week since January. The students created the requirements in order to achieve this honor- they thought a good classroom citizen should be kind to other students, complete all of their class work, be helpful and considerate, be responsible for taking care of the classroom and for doing their homework, etc. The students really want to be chosen and try their hardest to be in the running each week.

I make it a priority to let my students know that I care about them. I feel that this has helped my students to maximize their potential as learners!

Wendy (not verified)

Character education

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I too believe that character education should be incorporated within a classroom setting. I feel that students spend a great amount of time with educators. I am a teacher, and feel that incorporating self discipline and character education is important within a classroom. I often ask students to evaluate actions, by asking, "would you like someone to do that to you?" By asking reflective questions, I do not attack students, but rather direct thinking back to the student that has made such actions. It makes students evaluate the situation and think about actions in hopes that it will lesson the amount of times that happens.

Elizabeth (not verified)

Character education

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I'm a college student, studying to become an Elementary teacher and because of this I consider myself to be somewhat naive to many school isses. However, I agree that there should be character education in the classroom. Children are in the classroom 7 hours a day. It is fair to say that some children see their teachers more hours than they do their parents during the week. Therefore, it's an incredible opportunity to use every situation in the classroom to educate the children's character. We can only hope that the teacher displays good character him or herself in their classroom. I am the mother of 3 who have 2 children in Elementary at the time. Unfortunatley, my children come home with stories of their teachers and teacher comments that leave a lot to be desired. We can't only depend on the teacher, character education begins and home.

Julie (not verified)

Act of unkindness

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I do believe that character education has an effect on students' emotional growth. The students come to us with so many different backgrounds. School needs to be a place where they feel safe and are given opportunities to grow with positive role models. Not all the students have that at home. Many students try to bully others. At our school, the counselor comes to the classroom each month to talk to the students about character education. Through the conversations some of the students come to a realization that they have at one time or another been a bully themselves.
Students need to be taught strategies to handle conflicts. So many times at home the parents tell their kids to strike back. At school we need to teach the students how to de-escalate the situation. With positive character education, I think when the students see the celebrities belligerence they will know that isn't the path they want to follow.

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