Originally created 08/14/97

Teaching character to become policy for Georgia schools



ATLANTA - The state Board of Education is set Thursday to approve a guide for educators to teach Georgia's 1.3 million public school students about virtues like civility, honesty, moderation and frugality.

The state board will pass the burden of developing a specific plan of action to teach character-building onto local boards.

While Georgia won't mandate a curriculum or teaching method, state School Superintendent Linda Schrenko, a former teacher, has her own ideas.

"I think it's a good idea to teach character to students by example," she said. "I don't think it's a good idea to set aside 10 minutes a day and teach kindness."

The General Assembly passed legislation during the 1997 legislative session calling on the state Board of Education to set up a character curriculum.

Local boards will not be forced to adopt a curriculum, but Mrs. Schrenko believes most, if not all, will do something.

"There is a lot of pressure from parents and the citizens of our communities for character education or at least modeling of character ... to say we do stress some character traits," she said, "even if it's just mentioning or putting a word on the bulletin board."

The state board approved a rule in the early 1990s calling for values instruction, but there has been little state follow-up on whether any district is complying.

This year, state Rep. Carl Von Epps, D-LaGrange, sponsored legislation calling for the development of character curriculum after he said a program in his district at West Point Elementary School dramatically reduced discipline problems.

"At West Point, the number of office referrals decreased 75 percent," Mr. Von Epps said. "That means the teachers were less bothered by troubled students."

Students at West Point get 10 minutes of character instruction on values such as honesty and self-respect at the beginning of each school day.

Troup County High School Principal Bill Parsons, who implemented the program at West Point, said, "The biggest thing is, we talked about it so much that it created an atmosphere schoolwide that this is what we expect."

The state board is expected to tentatively approve a measure today to effectively merge the value education rule of the early 1990s and the new character education program.

The guide the board will consider provides a list of core values and character "concepts" under categories such as citizenship, respect for others and respect for self.

Among the values are citizenship, equality, justice, tolerance, patriotism, courage, loyalty, conservation, respect for the creator, altruism, truthfulness, fairness, patience, accountability, commitment, perseverance, self control, frugality, self-esteem, moderation, cleanliness, punctuality, dependability, pride and creativity.