The Clappety-Clap Bullshit [On Character Education]

Jose Vilson Jose

The Joker in The Dark Knight

In different spheres, educators of all stripes have had conversations about this idea of “character education.” Before this year, I too used to equate character education with all the positive things about schools that concentrate on the socio-emotional as well as the academic sides of students. Especially during my time at Nativity Mission School and Xavier High School, I found myself immersed in lots of reflective activities and spiritual discussions. While we searched for how we defined ourselves as men for others, we also wanted to find how best to do God’s will. As a Catholic, Jesus’ examples were the guiding force behind my burgeoning values and perception of the world. I didn’t always follow it, mind you, but at least I had a solid foundation of how to interact with others in a peaceful, well-intentioned manner.

The crap I hear these days is on some other shit.

A few examples:

  • Schools giving students an hour of instruction, then lining up the students in front of the class, taking them all on a class trip to the bathroom, and re-seating them for another twenty minutes of more instruction.
  • Schools paying kids for doing homework, doing well on exams, and generally staying out of trouble.
  • Districts installing metal detectors in front of a school that neither asked for it nor merited the metal detectors
  • Teachers complicit in telling students how they must sit, stand, and pay attention through a series of claps, stomps, and / or other inane motions.

For one, we can’t say we’re preparing our kids for the future if we give them instructions that aren’t natural to what professional adults do. Most adults get to go to the bathroom whenever they please, and (in an effective work situation) don’t have to listen to one person speak the entire day.

Secondly, none of these things actually help students actually build character. Why do we think consistently portraying students as criminals, thugs, and untrustworthy miscreants will actually benefit this country? We’ll ignore the fact that our country still over-drugs, over-feeds, under-nourishes, over-feeds, over-tests, under-loves, under-empowers our children to do better for themselves and our country.

Let’s be honest, too: we like to think about the words “character education” for only specific kids. It’s not just our Black and Brown kids, but other kids who have neither the resources nor the advocates to really fight for them. Character education is tainted to me now because it sounds more like “We’re gonna teach these kids a lesson,” and not “We’re going to teach our children.” Whereas I once thought character education meant guidance and care, it now feels like one stop short of jail.

We certainly have schools that house children with lots of baggage (mine included), schools that accept all children and take him in despite their more difficult behaviors. Some of these schools ought to be commended because they do this with limited resources and environments that only care about their bottom lines. Frankly, for some children, breaking through to them that they have multiple pathways towards personal success (that doesn’t involve the risk of jail) doesn’t resonate with them because that’s all they’ve ever seen. For them, the work of educators and supports around them becomes that much tougher.

Yet, we still have others (some educators included) that, no matter how well-resourced, still think children should fit in their little squares, implicitly creating a generation of children who obey, never take ownership, and never think for themselves, complaints that adults lob at children whenever they get fed up with their own ineptitude.

When I discussed all this with my fiancee, she snickered and said, “… I just don’t believe in that clappety-clap bullshit that these assholes do.” Sounds about right, miss. What a bunch of … characters.

Jose, who likes Louisville thus far …