We seem to speak about character education a lot these days. It has become fashionable to view the process of a child’s upbringing as closely intertwined with actively nurturing character, and all the adults who for one reason or another fail to successfully integrate into the society are thought to be in need of character education. However, how often do we stop and thing what is it exactly that character education entails? What concepts and values do we try to instill in people when we speak about providing character education? No matter how abstract the concept might seem, in reality character education is built around several ideas that are supposed to contribute to a successfully functioning individual and thus a society.
This is one of the very first ideas that appears if you look up the exact meaning of character education. And its importance is undeniable, because people who lack the sense of justice are very numerous and can be very dangerous to those around them; whenever we see a child taking sweets away from their peer or, even worse, an adult stealing, we try and find ways to reprimand them so that they understand how inappropriate this behavior is and how negatively it influences those around them. However, what can be brought to question here is the definition of justice. Does it entail only the most basic aspects everyone can agree on, such as stealing and hurting others, or do we go deeper? Because if we do, the definitions can become very individualized and thus it can be dangerous to teach children something that other societies or individuals might completely disapprove of.
The responsibility of a citizen is taught at a very young age. Children are told to love their country and many adults sacrifice their lives for it if need be. However, this again raises some questions. Should a person really feel obligated to be loyal and in support of their home country if it seems to work against some simple principles of life, such as human rights? And where do all immigrants, the numbers of whom rise every day, stand when we start discussing civic duty? The reality is that telling a child to love and respect their motherland is for the most part a good thing. However, it can be used for extremely malicious purposes and shape societies that blindly follow their leaders and do not possess autonomous voices.
This is one of the more difficult ones, even though it seems pretty straightforward. The fact is that it is a lot easier for everyone to agree that justice and civic duty are mandatory if we are to have a functioning society and a stable country. If an individual does not see others as equals, though, instilling the virtue of respect can be an unachievable task, simply because there are no grounds on which you could build arguments except for simple human decency, which can hardly be taught.