Civility begins in our schools

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 28, 2006

We have been inundated recently by the utter shock and dismay at the behavior of some of our national politicians who, along with their respective parties, have been putting on a show of decorum which is devoid of any civility whatsoever.

And neither party seems to have a monopoly on this market!

Of course, there are exceptions, such as our Congressman, the Honorable Artur Davis, and our State Board of Education Representative, the venerable Ella B. Bell of Montgomery.

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Their grace and displays of courtesy have no comparison with which I am that familiar, but it is easy to add State Representative Thomas Jackson to this list.

They understand civility!

They exude poise!

They listen to their constituents!

They let all who know them that they are proud to serve and that they understand the measure of that service.

But they would have been that way in life no matter what path they had carved for their level of public service.

You see, they live what they believe!

The real question is how did they become so imbued with their auras of appropriate decorum at the appropriate time in the appropriate venue?

Ask any one of them, and I am willing to bet the farm that their answer will include one of their teachers early in their educations.

It will have been someone, no doubt, who insisted on proper etiquette, articulate speech, and a willingness to listen to their opponent’s position.

And it had to have been someone whom they immeasurably respected and by whom they, in turn, had been respected. It was reinforced in their homes, their neighborhoods, and in their churches, but it was practiced on a daily basis in their schools.

There has been much written and uttered in the past decade pertaining to “character education” in our schools.

And because our schools are the most vulnerable of all our public institutions, if it fails there, it fails everywhere.

Hence, our efforts to present a practical and palpable platform for educating our youth to be civil, poised, graceful, articulate, and all the other significant elements which allow someone to be branded as one who has real “class,” must be above reproach in all their elements.

In the early 1990’s, a group of concerned educators, professionals, and other leaders met at the Josephson Institute for Ethics to try to craft an approach to education which would impress upon our youngsters the absolute necessity for civility and decorum in their everyday efforts. They concluded that there were four reasons for “character education” and what follows here is an excerpt from their work.

“Young people increasingly hurt themselves and others because they lack awareness of moral values.

Effective character education improves student behavior, makes schools more civil communities, and leads to improved academic performance. Many students come to school with little moral teaching from their parents, communities or religious institutions. We know today that the inclusion of character development emphases within the curriculum of our schools will do the following:


Add Meaning to Education

Moral questions are among the great questions facing the individual person and the human race. There is no such thing as a value-free education.

Schools teach values every day by design or default.


Sustain and Strengthen our Culture

Transmitting moral values to the next generation has always been one of the more important functions of a civilization. Democracies have a special need for moral education, because democracy is government of and by the people themselves.


Model Civility

There is broad based and growing support for character education in the schools.

Common ground exists on core moral values although there may be significant disagreement on the applicationof some of these values to certain controversial issues (Nyland and MacDonald, 1997). The Boyer Institute has been actively promoting research that reveals North American core values (or “common virtu,” also referred to as “common decency.”

Honesty, responsibility, self-discipline, giving, compassion, perseverance, and loving are virtue terms most often cited.

However, in application, “honesty” can be applied differently according to other elements of the actor’s worldview or philosophy. Compassion and/or responsibility might look different among the sub-groups citing these terms.


Build True Character

Thus, a person of true character, according to experts, is trustworthy, treats all people with respect, acts responsibly, maintains self-control, is fair and just, is caring, pursues excellence, and is an all around desirable citizen.”

Of course, none of this comes as any great surprise to any of us here in Demopolis, as we know the kind of administrators, teachers, and Board of Education members we have at our service.

And because each and everyone of them knows the importance, as well as the essence, of civility, it is passed on to our children in our schools.

-Dr. Arthur Ogden is the Campus Director for Alabama Southern’s Demopolis Campus and holds all his degrees in philosophy.

He can be reached at