President’s Corner

Securing Our Country’s Future

by Donald L. Kussmaul

Consider this: According to a 2004 national survey of nearly 25,000 high school students by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, nearly two-thirds had cheated on exams and more than one in four had stolen from a store within the previous 12 months. In addition, 40 percent admitted they "sometimes lie to save money."

Yet virtually all the high school students agreed with this statement: "It's important for me to be a person with good character."

We are in the business of developing the leaders of tomorrow, of ensuring our society, our country, our world is left in strong, capable hands when we are gone. That means we must look beyond the reading and writing and math and high-stakes testing. We must look to the very heart of our young people and help them develop the morals, ethics and character that make them caring citizens who will uphold our democracy and all it stands for.

Recognizing this important mission, AASA is collaborating with several organizations to promote civic and character education in our nation’s schools.

The American Promise. This civics program lets students experience firsthand what it's like to govern and make the decisions that pull the country together.

One of the program’s largest funders is Farmer’s Insurance. The folks at Farmers were concerned that due to school budget cuts and the focus on standards-based curriculum, many schools had dramatically scaled back their U.S. government and constitution classes. The company vowed to support and grow the program as a means to pull together the diverse communities within the United States and provide the apprenticeship in democracy that’s necessary to develop responsible citizens.

The American Promise videos and lesson plans target elementary, middle school and high school students. The materials are free to educators. Visit their website at www.americanpromise.com. Also visit www.farmers.com and click on the Just For Teachers link. There you’ll find lots of free resources and helpful links.

Character Counts Coalition.The members of thisdiverse, nonpartisan alliance of leading human-service and education organizations, including AASA, are working together to strengthen the character of today’s young people.

The Character Counts program is centered on promoting six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. Certainly nobody would argue the importance of instilling these qualities in our young people. They are the foundation of our great country.

Learn more about the coalition’s work and how your school district can join this worthy effort at www.charactercounts.org.

Operation Respect. This nonprofit organization helps schools and organizations establish a safe, positive environment free from ridicule, bullying and violence. Founded by Peter Yarrow of the folk group Peter, Paul & Mary, Operation Respect developed the Don't Laugh at Me programs that use inspiring music and video along with curriculum guides based on the regarded conflict resolution curricula developed by the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program of Educators for Social Responsibility.

Please visit www.operationrespect.org to download a complimentary copy of the curriculum materials.

These are just a few of the resources educators can and should use to help our young people become civic-minded, responsible, caring citizens. Of course, modeling this behavior for them every day is our responsibility as well and one we should never take lightly. We need to Stand Up for Public Education TM to make sure public schools continue to fulfill their role as the foundation for civility. This is the Heart of Our Democracy.

Donald Kussmaul is president of AASA.