March 7, 1995 in Nation/World

House Sees Virtue In Best Seller Lawmakers Want Schools To Teach Character By The Book

Susan Drumheller Rich Roesler Contrib Staff writer
 

Parents have said for years that moral education is the jurisdiction of the family. But now, teachers are being asked to tackle the touchy subject at school.

The state House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution Monday encouraging local school boards to focus on “character education.”

Specifically, the lawmakers had their eyes on “The Book of Virtues,” a book of moral stories compiled by former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Max Mortensen, R-St. Anthony, said the book “illustrates traits everyone recognizes as essentials of good character” and should be used by schools to instill values. The bill doesn’t require school districts to use the book.

“Can we stress prevention too much as far as our youth are concerned?” Mortensen asked his colleagues.

Bennett’s book, a compilation of classic morality essays, tales and poems, has been on The New York Times best-seller list for 64 weeks. Now it’s listed as the 11th-best-selling hardback non-fiction book. Two million copies are in print, according to its publisher, Simon & Schuster.

“We have received numerous requests from schools in states all over the country,” said Andrew Giangola, spokesman for the publisher. A special edition for use in schools is on the way.

Pam Pratt, principal at Dalton Gardens Elementary School, has been using the book for more than a year in her “Unlock Your Potential” program.

“Some basic things were missing with kids that I think we needed to stress in the schools,” Pratt said. “I thought if we could teach these schoolwide, it would lessen my time disciplining. It has cut in half the number of kids I used to see.”

Each month, the school focuses on one of eight subjects: responsibility, communication, compassion, human dignity, honesty, excellence, service and determination.

The list reads like the chapter names in Bennett’s book.

Though Bennett is a hero of the Christian Coalition and includes Bible stories and biblical references throughout his book, the book contains a variety of traditions.

“I didn’t find anything terribly new or exciting in it,” said Coeur d’Alene school board Chairman Ken Burchell, a firm believer in the separation of church and state.

Although Burchell agrees that universal virtues should be taught in schools, he said, “I wish they (legislators) would spend more time on funding school construction rather than textbook selection.”

Rep. Dan Mader, R-Lewiston, said he frequently hears concern from constituents about the nation’s “inability to pass on to our children the values that worked so well for us for the past 200 years.”

Older teachers have been noticing a decline in moral behavior for years, said Marion Steppe, president of the Boise/Meridian chapter of the Retired Educators Association.

“They’re nuts,” she said of students. “They imitate what they see on television. I saw it in the halls, and I could see it in the classroom.”

The change in behavior is also noticeable at the college level and prompted North Idaho College English teacher Fran Bahr to suggest a college-level program in values.

“I’ve been hearing increased complaints on the part of faculty that student are coming into classes and being unethical,” she said Monday.

She’s of two minds as to whether it should be part of the school curriculum.

“It’s very good to teach values as long as it’s not in the context of teaching religion per se,” she said.

MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Susan Drumheller Staff writer Staff writer Rich Roesler contributed to this report.

Cut in the Spokane edition

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Susan Drumheller Staff writer Staff writer Rich Roesler contributed to this report.


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