Character Under Attack


Author's Biography

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Character Under Attack & What You Can Do About It

     Questions and Answers

       Q. Why do you say our nation is facing a crisis of character?

A. America leads the world in riches and power, but it is also at the top of the developed world in violent criminal activity, rates of imprisonment, sexually transmitted disease, abortion, and teenage suicide. Our schools are a prime indicator that our nation is suffering a character crisis. America is on top in the industrial world, but in educational achievement, it ranks near the bottom. My book demonstrates that the character crisis facing our nation has a direct relationship to educational success. We must take action now!


Q. What can the average person do about it?


A. The average person needs to speak out boldly for principles of morality. It was a welcome sight to see the moral outcry over the episode of Janet Jackson on prime time TV. Because of this incident, the FCC instituted strict fines for stations that violate decency standards. We need to protect our children. People need to be concerned with educational success and moral virtues, even if it’s just at the local school. The future of America lies with our children. One of the most important things parents can do is to discipline their children and train them in positive values and not simply rely on schools to do the job for them. Parents also need to have moral standards and teach them to their children.


Q. Most wouldn’t argue that schools are turning out kids with less skills and knowledge than previous generations.  But can you really blame schools for other societal failures, such as the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the increased rate of imprisonment, and the frequency of suicides?


A. Absolutely! I’ve examined sex education courses. What’s the basic message of many of today’s sex education classes? How to have safe sex, and in case you get pregnant, the earlier you get an abortion, the safer it is. Then we wonder why sexually transmitted diseases are rampant. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national advocacy group consisting of over 2,000 law enforcement officers and victims of violence, reports that each year children in grades six through ten, nearly one in six, or 3.2 million were victims of bullying, and 3.7 million were bullies. Of those labeled as bullies in grades six through nine, nearly 60 percent of the boys were convicted of one crime by the time they reached 24. Those bullied, the report stated, citing U.S. and European studies, are five times more prone to be depressed and more likely to become suicidal.


Q. How can schools help with the escalating criminal problem facing America today?


A. Wayne Scott, head of Texas penal system, the nation’s second largest, said, “I think you have to look at pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade. You really have to put a lot of emphasis on children. Those are the formative years.” Scott stated that his 25 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system shows those who end up in prison had “established criminal records by the time they were 10 or 11 years old.” Concerning substance abuse, Scott pointed out that most at-risk children had “problems very early in their lives—by 8, 9 or 10.”

What a common-sense solution: Train children early to develop positive values. What better way than insisting that every school has an atmosphere of character and provides students with books and programs promoting virtues? A study by Vanderbilt University estimates that each high-risk juvenile that is saved from a life of crime would save the country from $1.7 to $2.3 million.


Q. How has the nation drifted from its core moral system?


Having grown up in the 30s and early 40s in New York City, I never saw a prostitute or witnessed drug activity. My wife and sister as teenagers could ride the subways late at night and walk home in safety. Back in 1940, the public school teachers rated the top seven disciplinary problems: talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in the hall, cutting in line, dress code violations, and littering. Sixty years later, these were the top public school disciplinary problems: drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, and assault. What happened? The permissive, “do-what-you-want” philosophy of moral relativism permeated our educational system.


Q. So what’s the solution – read the Bible in the classroom? Corporal punishment?  Mass suspensions, leave kids behind a grade, reform school?


A. The educational crisis facing America today is a philosophical one: Should the inherent values of our educational system be based on moral relativism that there are no absolutes, or on America’s historical value system that there are moral absolutes? Here are the four keys for successful schools:


1. Educational: Insist that every child receives a proper education by providing appropriate teaching materials for every grade, eliminating automatic promotion, administering standards for every grade, and evaluating teachers.


2. Disciplinal: Insist that every school provides a disciplined learning environment so children are protected and can receive a proper education.


3. Racial: Create a learning atmosphere that treats all races the same, and provide extra resources so all children can reach their full potential.


4. Moral: Reject moral relativism by providing textbooks that teach the values that built our nation, and promote virtues that help children develop successful habits.


Q. You wrote a groundbreaking book in the 1980’s – Schools in Crisis: Training For Success Or Failure? You were on Oprah and got a lot of media coverage for it.  How have things changed since its publication?


A. Today the family is being attacked more than ever before. George F. Will, in the article, “Can’t fix education until we fix families,” reports: 1958 the percentage of children born to unmarried women was 5; in 1969, in 1999 almost half (48.4 percent) of all children born to women ages 20-24—women of all races and ethnicities—were born out of wedlock.

What is going to happen when these children from single parent homes enter school? It is obvious that children from stable homes with a loving father and mother do much better in school. We’ve sowed the teaching of moral relativism that there are no moral absolutes, now we’re reaping it fruits.


Q. Carl, you’ve written over 100 books and created numerous educational materials.  What’s missing from the books read by young children?


A. One will find that there is a scarcity of children books that convey instruction and information as well as pleasure and entertainment. When we surveyed librarians nationwide with the question, “Is there a scarcity of character education children’s books?” Overwhelmingly, the response was, “Yes.”

Children in their formative years should be provided with guidance on implementing the virtues on how they can become productive and successful citizens. The virtues that should be taught are the time-tested common sense values that have been passed down for thousands of years, such as: honesty, compassion, kindness, respect, self-discipline, and responsibility.  Unfortunately, there is a strong bias against such books. These objectors claim that children should determine their value system.


Q. Is there a bias in what’s published for children as well as what books are reviewed and purchased by school libraries?


A. Definitely! When I wrote my first six books and published the two biographies from other authors, I made sure that they were of the highest quality. One of my goals was to reach school librarians. The major reviewer for school libraries is the School Library Journal. I submitted the books and received an extremely very low rating.  Then I read this statement in Children’s Writer concerning Trevelyn Jones, children’s editor of School Library Journal, “Jones says, however, that didacticism can hurt a book. ‘Many very small new publishers think a children’s book must have a moral. Those get creamed immediately.’” My books were “creamed” because they taught moral lessons and were didactic!  We belong to Publishers Manufacturing Association, an organization of over 3,500 independent publishers. Each year PMA sponsors the Benjamin Franklin Awards. For first place in the “Children’s Picture Book” category, they chose The Ugly Caterpillar. The Horn Book Guide reviewed the same book and gave it the lowest possible rating!


Q. Why do you claim some children’s book reviewers are not speaking for the children?


A. We sent one of our latest children’s books, It’s Not Fair! to be reviewed by School Library Journal. The journal stated, “The text is didactic to say the least and Budwine’s illustrations are sophomoric and amateurish. No self-respecting child would be moved by this preachy lesson.”

However, It’s Not Fair! won the prestigious Children’s Choice award sponsored by International Reading Association and The Children’s Book Council where 10,000 children from different regions of the United States read and vote on their favorite recently published books. The School Library Journal review stated categorically: “No self-respecting child would be moved by this preachy lesson”; yet children choose this didactic book as one of their favorites! We’ve received numerous reports how children love interesting didactic books from teachers, librarians, parents, and from children themselves.


Q. One big criticism you have is about schools not providing students with proper instruction and information.  So what can be done about it?


A. The philosophical root plaguing our educational system today is a conflict between two ideologies. One advocating permissiveness, freedom without responsibility, instant gratification, no tests, no home-work, free and open classrooms, automatic promotion, profane textbooks, parental disrespect, laxity toward misbehavior, lowering of standards, situational ethics, maximum individual autonomy, sexual license, euthanasia, right to suicide, and anti-Americanism. I came to realize that those censoring character education books have the same philosophical roots.

The other belief system favors discipline, in loco parentis, law and order, freedom with responsibility, work ethic, academic excellence, knowledge of the basics, tests, homework, achievement promotion, parental respect, decent textbooks, sexual purity, and patriotism.  The conflict is between naturalism and the traditional American value system. We need to implement the philosophy that built our great nation.


Q. How and when will America be severely impacted as it loses its competitive edge in a rapidly changing global market?


A. The deplorable lack of education for many of America’s youth can have a serious impact on our competitive edge in the changing global market. John Gehring in Education Week reports that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development stated, “Poor literacy skills among high school graduates and too few opportunities for adult education put the United States in danger of losing its competitive edge in a rapidly changing global market.” Gehring adds: “The United States lags or has lost ground on several important education measures when compared with 29 other countries. In literacy, for example, the United States has the highest percentage of secondary school graduates who ranked below an international literacy standard.”


Q. There’s a trend in America that teachers should avoid influencing children under the premise that children themselves should be their own authority.  What’s wrong with that?


A. Utopian dreamers believe if you leave children to grow up naturally they’ll turn into beautiful flowers. It’s like planting a garden with flower seeds. There are two options: Leave the garden alone and hope for the best, or watch over the garden by weeding, fertilizing, and watering. Everyone knows what would happen if one doesn’t take care of the garden. One will have a garden of weeds. And that’s exactly what’s happening today—many youth today are filled with the detrimental hedonistic philosophy of moral relativism and bringing havoc upon themselves and on our society. Children need discipline, direction, and training to grow up properly. Wise are those parents and schools preparing children for their future with proper values.


Q. You emphasize the need for kids to read didactic books that show kids how to embrace key character principles such as respect, self-discipline, perseverance, and a proper work ethic.  Are you saying the books kids read now don’t offer such values?


A. Books that teach positive values are extremely scarce. That’s because some of the major book reviewers censor didactic books for children, and publishers must please these journals in order to sell books. We had our character children’s books rejected because they were didactic by School Library Journal and The Horn Book Review; yet these books have received numerous awards and high acclaims from teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, parents, and children. We also interviewed numerous school librarians and asked if there was a scarcity of character books for children, and the overwhelming response was, “Yes.”


Q. We’re increasingly becoming an economy of information and service – and less of a producer of goods.  How are our kids being prepared for tomorrow’s workplace?


A. There are schools that are doing a good job of training children, but unfortunately, many are failing our kids for tomorrow’s workplace. One of the major reasons for this failure is not because of teachers, principals, parents, or children, but educational leaders who impose permissive policies that prevent disciplined schools. Teachers often live in fear of students. I witnessed this firsthand when I was a substitute teacher in 27 different schools throughout New York City. If we want an educated workforce for tomorrow’s workplace, we must give teachers and principals the authority to have disciplined schools.


Q. At what age is it most crucial that kids learn properly, digest values, and develop their thinking skills?


A. The earlier we train children the values on how to live successfully, the more effective will be the results. The critical years are from K-3. Unfortunately, because of the false excuse of not wanting to hurt children’s self-esteem, many educators let the children develop bad educational habits. Then when bad habits are well entrenched, the schools try to help. But by then it’s often too late. A more effective approach would be for schools to apply all available resources to help failing children when they begin to develop bad learning habits.


Q. Is it fair to say that some schools teach values, but they do it as a separate class, where as you recommend values should be infused in every course?


A. One of the criticisms of character education programs is that they are ineffective. They will be if schools are teaching character in the abstract. Character education should be a program that permeates the entire curriculum. Teachers cannot expect students to be honest just because they had a lesson on honesty. If students cheat, they should be punished. If students disrupt classes, corrective action should be taken. If bullying takes place, the bullies need to be disciplined. In A Gift of Character: The Chattanooga Story, Dr. Philip Fitch Vincent, Nancy Reed, and Dr. Jesse Register cites reports from instituting character education in elementary, middle, and high schools that showed some schools with a decrease in office referrals and suspensions up to 300%; less fighting, stealing, and other violent offenses.


Q. You say that naturalism has failed us – that everything cannot be explained by natural law without moral or spiritual significance.  So if there are moral absolutes, please identify what some of them are.


A. Naturalism believes values are relative and situational. America was not founded upon such principles, but upon the principle that everyone should be provided with the values of life, liberty, and justice. What does character education do? It promotes core ethical values, such as: honesty, fairness, caring, responsibility, citizenship, perseverance, self-discipline, and respect. It’s not religious indoctrination, even though practically all religions support such values. Character education provides lessons to show children the wisdom of doing things that will benefit them as well as society.


Q. Why do you link situational ethics and determinism with a hedonistic philosophy that undermines the structure of society?


A. Situational ethics says there are no moral absolutes, and values are relative. Since there are no moral absolutes and values are situational, acts that give the individual pleasure are the decisive test of whether the act is good or evil. Relativists want to do whatever brings them ultimate happiness without guilt—that’s utopia. Unfortunately, the belief of self-fulfillment at any cost has produced Hitler, Mao Zedong, Stalin, Pol Pot, and other ruthless dictators who killed millions to fulfill their utopian dreams. What is the result of a hedonistic philosophy where personal satisfaction is the end objective in life? It undermines the structure of a society. Look at some of our youth who have chosen drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, and a life of crime instead of working to build a successful society.


Q. Let’s not forget the parents’ role in raising children and inculcating good values.  The family structure has decayed with divorce, single parents, unmarried couples raising children, and the deterioration of the traditional nuclear family.  What can we expect from a parent today?


A. In spite of the many difficulties facing families today, concerned parents need to train their children in positive values, and not simply rely on the schools to do the job for them. Parents need to have moral standards and teach them to their children. Above all, parents need to “walk the talk.” Children will imitate us regardless of how much we teach them otherwise. Today, parents must be extremely careful they don’t succumb to the deadly moral standards that are so popularized on TV, in many children’s magazines, and in our present culture of letting children be free to develop their own values. Children need guidance; wise are those parents who supervise their children, provide positive materials, and take time to teach them successful virtues.


Q. Why are teaching morals such a controversial and often debated subject?


A. One of the reasons teaching morals is so controversial is because of some of the teaching that has taken place. In the seventies, there was a cry for values. The educational system responded. They presented values clarification as the way to plant values into the lives of children. Values clarification, however, was another subtle approach to incorporate relativism. Everything children have been taught is taken apart and clarified: religion, sex, family, parents, feelings, attitudes, problems, etc. Nothing is personal or sacred. Children must be autonomous and decide freely, immature and unwise as they are and without parental input, their own set of values. That relativistic philosophy is still prevalent today. But thankfully, some schools are waking up and teaching positive values.


Q. William Kilpatrick, in Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong states: “The core problem facing our schools is a moral one.  All other problems derive from it.”  What about: poorly trained teachers, overcrowded classes, under financed schools, tenured principals who aren’t fit to be dog walkers?


A. When school authorities themselves have strong moral character traits they will desire what’s best for children. They will then supervise that teachers are trained and that they are teaching their children properly. School authorities will also rid schools of unproductive teachers and principals. Schools need money, but many times under financed schools and overcrowded classes are just a smoke screen. What schools really need are strong leaders who have a passionate desire for educational success for all students.