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Character Development Needed in Schools

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., July 24, 2004 – It's wonderful sometimes for someone to look up at another person and say, "Let me tell you how I feel about what you just said. It was offensive," retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Foley said during the Military Child Education Coalition conference here July 22.

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The need for added character development is reflected in things around us every day that are unacceptable, retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Foley told attendees at the sixth annual Military Child Education Coalition conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., July 22. Photo by Rudi Williams

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The Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient told more than 400 educators, administrators, military leaders, parents and teachers that being able to make such a statement enhances the education process quickly.

He talked about a model for character development as part of the education process, based on a program he established at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when he was the commandant of cadets from 1992 to 1994. He said he hoped conference attendees would take away thoughts and ideas helpful to them.

Foley said he took a lot of time to assess West Point's mission since 1802 of developing leaders of character for the nation. He asked himself questions such as "What is the mission?" "How are we doing it?" and "How is it being implemented?"

Foley said he looked at the academy's honor code: Cadets don't lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those that do. "There's an honor education process associated with that," he said.

He said he discovered another powerful value. "It was a leader dimension which the cadets get evaluated on," he noted. "There were 12 leader dimensions that each cadet gets evaluated on 16 times over the four-year experience. This leader dimension was called 'consideration of others.'

"Essentially it's treating people with respect and dignity," Foley noted. "We all have that power to treat one another with respect. Unfortunately, sometimes we go down that road of disrespect, for whatever reason."

He read the definition to the audience as "those actions that indicate a sensitivity to and regard for the needs and feelings of others, and in awareness of the impact of one's own behavior on them, being supportive of and fair with others."

He asked about knowing what this is: "What are offensive actions? What are things that I say and do that may offend other people?

"Being supportative and fair to other people is the right way to do business, but are we doing it?" the retired general asked. "Are we establishing ourselves every day to do that?"

Foley laid down two bedrock values for the cadets. "Honor had always been there, but I pushed it over a little and put consideration of others beside it," he noted.

He said, as a result, the honor education program went from 22 hours in 1992 to 50 hours in 1994. "Consideration of others went from zero to 50 hours," Foley noted. "The honor and respect bedrock values had a great impact on the attitudes of behavior, values the cadets addressed every day, and how they felt and learned about being leaders.

"It was so powerful and the results so great that when I went to subsequent assignments, I did the same thing," he noted. "I always empowered the personnel in the organization to do this."

The program can't be implemented just by publishing policy statements and saying it's important, he noted. "Those are good things to do from time to time, but that's not the answer," he emphasized. "You can't show 12 slides to a large group once a year and expect the values to take place."

Foley said he found out that a small-group discussion among 15 to 25 in a classroom environment was the answer. "The idea is that for the participants in the discussion to do all the talking," he said.

"It's facilitated discussion, not teaching," he pointed out. "The discussion could go on for an hour in high school and two hours in college.

Foley had a format called "chairs in a circle," which allowed every member of the group equal opportunity to give their views, attitudes and opinion about a particular moral ethical dilemma.

"We took the tough topics honorable living, race, gender, violence prevention, substance abuse all of those things that trouble us in society today," Foley said. "We wanted students to talk about how we're going to resolve some of these issues."

He said the program can be tailored to meet organizational needs. However, he pointed out that some people are troubled with some things when the program is being established.

"The first thing is time," Foley noted. "In the military you've got training schedules. In education you've got classes that have to be taught, and teachers have all these things to do. There's no time.

"Well, we made the time because we thought it was important," the general said. "And we saw the results achieved. We saw we had a better environment. We saw it was more positive. We knew we were minimizing some of these negative influences and incidences. So we made the time."

There's a need for character development, Foley said. "There are incidents occurring in organizations and on college and school campuses unethical conduct and immoral acts, dishonorable things, violence, harassment and discrimination," Foley said. "It doesn't happen all the time, but it happens enough to have a very negative impact on the organization we belong to.

"That's one of the things that has always troubled me," he said. "When you have an incident, it's not just between a couple of people. It has an impact on the staff and faculty, student body, alumni, parents and external organizations."

He said the character development program could be implemented in any kind of organization involving adults or students, adding that the exposure makes better leaders and citizens. "You also improve the climate. Sometimes we worry about the environment in which we exist because of there are negative influences," Foley said.

Environments are dynamic because things change because of negative influences. "Once this education process takes place in the classroom, it goes outside and expands and grows within that climate," Foley said.

The program also enhances student learning because, according to Foley. "You're minimizing, reducing and eliminating some of the negative influences harassment, discrimination and other incidents that can occur that are bothersome, things that can occur that preoccupy the minds of some of our students when they're trying to study the academic disciplines."

Foley said when he first started the program, he was concerned about where to get facilitators and how much was it going to cost?

"I was told by somebody, they're right here. They're us. We're them. We're the best ones. We have the passion and the sense of urgency to do this," he said. "So that's the answer: They're the parents, teachers, volunteers just like you are.

"People felt good because they were helping to shape the environment that they're going to be operating in every day as well as enhancing the lives of the students," Foley said.

"When you get people who are concerned about doing the right thing and respectful of one another, they're reaching out every day to care for the people around them in their organization," Foley concluded. "That gives you tremendous synergy."

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Military Child Education Coalition

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