Ethics and Freedom

A corporate executive applies the Boy Scout Law to the workplace and the schoolhouse by SANFORD N. MCDONNELL

In 1983, after years of telling young boys to practice the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law-to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent-I asked myself how well was I doing against that code of ethics, and I realized I had a lot of room for improvement.


Then, as chairman of McDonnell Douglas, I began thinking about our employees. Surely they knew we wanted them to behave ethically. But by what values?

You see, McDonnell Douglas had a code of conduct, as most organizations do. Ours was a "thou shalt not" set of rules, but we didn't have a positive "thou shalt" code of ethics. So I gave a small task force of people who reported directly to me the Scout Law and asked them to draft a company code that covered its 12 points.

After numerous iterations, we came up with a code of ethics that covered all the points except "A scout is reverent." As a Christian, I wanted to think all of our employees believed in God, but I agreed with the task force that we should not use our executive position in the corporation to pressure our employees to be reverent.

A corporate executive applies the Boy Scout Law to the workplace and the schoolhouse. When we adopted that code of ethics at our April 1983 board of directors meeting, we didn't just hang it on the wall. We set up an eight-hour training program to teach us all, beginning with me and my direct reports, how to apply the code in our daily business lives.

By the time I retired in 1988 we had trained well over 50,000 employees. This training program was part of the corporation's comprehensive, proactive ethics program. It grew more and more effective each year and is stronger than ever today.

Roots of Character
After starting this program, I felt the need to check into the character of the young people coming out of the schools into the community and into McDonnell Douglas and other companies. In the process of that investigation I went back into history and found out the following about character education.

In 1748, Baron Charles de Montesquieu published his magnum opus, "The Spirit of Laws," which had a profound effect upon our founding fathers. In it, Montesquieu developed the concept of the separation of powers, which formed the basis of our Constitution more than 200 years ago.

Montesquieu also explored the relationship that must exist between a people and different forms of governments for the government to survive. For example, a dictatorship depends upon fear. When fear disappears the dictatorship is overthrown. A monarchy depends upon the loyalty of the people.

The most desirable form of government is a free republic, but it is also the most fragile because it depends upon a virtuous people. What did Montesquieu mean by a "virtuous" people?

Well, virtuous means living by high ethical values. And one of the best definitions of ethics was given by Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who said, "In a general sense, ethics is the name that we give to our concern for good behavior. We feel an obligation to consider not only our own personal well-being but also that of others and of human society as a whole."

Montesquieu meant, therefore, that in a free republic the leaders and a majority of the people must be committed to doing what's best for the nation as a whole. When that commitment breaks, people can no longer be depended upon to behave in the best interests of their nation. The result is laws, regulations, red tape and controls-things designed to force people to be trustworthy. These are instruments of bondage, not freedom.

Vital School Role
Throughout most of our history, certain basic, ethical values were considered fundamental to the character and people of this nation. These values were passed on from generation to generation in the home, the school and the religious institution-each one undergirding and reinforcing the others. We had a consensus not only on values but on the importance of those values, and from that consensus, we knew who we were as a people and where we were going as a nation.

Today in America we have far too many 12-year-olds pushing drugs, 14-year-olds having babies, 16-year-olds killing each other and young people of all ages admitting at epidemic levels to lying, cheating and stealing. We have crime and violence everywhere and unethical behavior in business, the professions and government. In other words, a crisis of character all across America is threatening to destroy the goodness which, as Alexis de Tocqueville put it, is the very foundation of our greatness and ability to remain free.

That is the bad news. The good news is that we know what to do about it. We know that we must get back to the core values of our American heritage in our homes, our schools, our businesses, our government and, indeed, in each of our daily lives. And we know that the schools have the greatest potential for helping us do so.

When our country was founded, Harvard, Yale and Princeton were already in existence as theological seminaries whose whole thrust was teaching the values of our Judeo-Christian faith. And from kindergarten through the university level, character education was considered just as important as intellectual knowledge.

A Win-Win Approach
Ten years ago when I retired as chairman and CEO of McDonnell Douglas, I formed a business-education-community partnership in St. Louis that led to the creation of character education program called PREP (Personal Responsibility Education Process). PREP, a K- 1 2 program, is now in its 10th year and operates in 34 public school districts representing 426 individual schools with almost 250,000 students throughout the metropolitan area and two outlying counties. To my knowledge, PREP is the country's largest public school experiment in character education.

PREP is still in a development mode in many of the districts, but where implemented properly, it has produced very encouraging and sometimes dramatic results. Behavior problems have decreased as academic performance has improved. The teachers are happier, the students are happier, the parents are happier and the community is happier.

PREP does not represent a single program. We have a large data bank of pro, grams that are being used in St. Louis or elsewhere from which a school district can pick the approach that it believes best fits its school environment. In fact) each school within a district selects its preferred program.

To make an effective choice, each school or district is encouraged to use "Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education," a document published by the Character Education Partnership, a national organization based in Washington, D.C. Each district must reach a consensus on what values it wants its students to learn. Some can only agree on eight values while others find a consensus around as many as 30 values. But every district, independent of one another, have selected honesty, responsibility and respect.

Character without knowledge is weak and feeble, but knowledge without character is dangerous and a potential menace to society."

It is a win-win program that exemplifies why character education should be an integral part of the formal education system from kindergarten through graduate school.

It is obvious that without order in classrooms, teachers are not able to teach. What is not always so obvious but is equally true is that by creating a moral and caring community environment in the schools by teaching kids, for example, to really care about others, students feel better about themselves and work harder. PREP has proven this time and time again.

Once a month, representatives from each of the 34 participating school districts attend a PREP Development Team meeting to exchange information about their respective programs.

A Working Partnership
The Character Education Partnership, which I also chair, defines character, good character, as "understanding, caring about and acting on core ethical values such as honesty, responsibility, respect, kindness and caring for others." Kevin Ryan, a Boston University professor and a member of the board of directors of CEP, has a simpler definition of character: "knowing the good, loving the good and doing the good."

In other words, building good character must involve the cognitive, the emotional and the dynamic: the head, the heart and the hand.

For many reasons, formal character education now has been largely removed from the public schools. But while we can't teach religion in the public schools anymore, we can teach the universal values common to all the great religions. Developing character in this comprehensive sense requires a comprehensive educational approach---one that uses all aspects of schooling (academic subject matter, the instructional process and the management of the school environment) as opportunities to develop character.

The following are examples of activities that can be used to develop character:

  • Classical literature is full of moral dilemmas. The teacher involves the students in classroom discussion by asking such questions as "What is the moral of this story?" "What was the right thing to do and why?" and "What would you have done?"

  • At the beginning of the school year, the teacher asks the students to decide on the classroom rules and how those rules should be enforced to make the classroom a good place in which to learn. When the process is followed, a moral, civil, caring community is created by the students. It also helps the teacher maintain classroom order and provides rules to follow when inevitable violations occur.

  • Cooperative learning, where students are paired to work on projects and homework, teaches children teamwork, respect for others and caring.

  • Service projects inside and outside school teach students to care about others.

  • Organized team sports provide coaches with a chance to undergird and reinforce the school's chosen values.

  • Restoring Goodness
    Above all, CEP believes the school itself must embody character. It must be a moral community that helps students form caring attachments to adults and to each other. These relationships nurture both the desire to be a good person and the desire to learn.

    Character without knowledge is weak and feeble, but knowledge without character is dangerous and a potential menace to society. America can't regain the goodness de Tocqueville wrote about by graduating young people from our schools who are brilliant but dishonest, who have great intellectual knowledge but don't really care about others or who are great thinkers but are irresponsible.

    America can restore goodness by teaching our young to do what is right, to tell the truth, to serve others, to work hard and to learn as much as they can. We must encourage them when hard, ship comes to have courage, to try again when they fail and to never give up. That is character education. It is one of the most important, if not the most important, answers to our national crisis of character and should be part of all efforts to reform education.

    We know how to provide character education and we are doing it in many parts of the nation. Our goal, however, must be to provide character education as soon as possible in every school in America. For, as Martin Luther King Jr. stated: "Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education."

    Sanford McDonnell is chairman emeritus of McDonnell Douglas, c/o The Boeing Co., Building 100 Dock, McDonnell Boulevard and Airport Road, St. Louis, Mo. 63134.