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Next We Will Standardize Character

January 13, 2014

One of the fun surprises of blogging is that I never know when something I write will resonate with a large audience. There are times that I pour every detail I can into a post, release it onto my blog, and then check later to find that it really isn’t getting much attention. Other times I will spit something out in about ten minutes, and it will go viral.

Then there is that random January day when a post that was viewed over 4,000 times in November gets 1,000 more page views. I haven’t written for a week, so I was not expecting to go quasi-viral, if that’s even a thing.

The post having such a great revival is Education Reform Candidate Meeting, which covered comments Janet Barresi made in November. If you love that one (and I know you do), then don’t forget to give my coverage of the second part of the video a quick read.

Barresi’s remarks to the local party faithful reveal both her educational philosophy and her campaign strategy. Among her outrageous statements:

  • Misinterpreting the meaning of Limited Knowledge on the 3rd Grade Reading test
  • Claiming that 75% of all special education students are misidentified
  • Vowing to protect our students from learning about climate change and evolution
  • Using air quotes to describe the OU/OSU researchers who authored the A-F Study
  • Damning the education establishment and liberals for losing at least one (possibly more – hard to tell from context) generation of Oklahoma’s children
  • Blaming OU and Whole Language for students who struggle with reading
  • Deferring blame for slow implementation of the Common Core to the school districts

Maybe people are re-reading these old posts of mine on the heels of last week’s news that 20 elected Republicans have thrown their support behind Barresi’s challenger in the primary, former State Board of Education member Joy Hofmeister. To me, this is the key statement from among those supporting the challenger:

“I think this is maybe unprecedented, but I think the nature of how she (Barresi) has ruled has brought this about,” said House Republican Whip Todd Thomsen, of Ada. “It’s ‘do this or we’ll just run right over you.”

It’s not the fact that Barresi is trying to make changes that bothers this group. It’s the way in which she has done it.

It’s with all of this in mind that I had to laugh when I read my email a few minutes ago and saw Barresi’s newspaper column on Character Education. After extolling Martin Luther King, Jr. for insisting that intelligence plus character is better than intelligence alone, she announces a task force that will be formed with the intent to improve character education in schools.

Success, whether in academics or the workplace, depends on strong character and traits — perseverance and tenacity, courage and compassion, integrity and honesty. Being a good citizen means being of solid character.

Children need more than knowledge in English and algebra. They need other tools for success in life, tools that can help them earn a living wage, take care of their families, contribute to society, be involved in civic matters and shape the course of their lives and of future generations.

Character education will look different for each school district. Kids in an affluent suburb may have different needs than children in an impoverished area, for example. A child born into a life of struggle and chaos will have a very different set of challenges than another student who hails from a more stable environment.

This is where the task force plays a role. It will examine what’s needed for effective character education, how to ensure local control for districts, and how the state can provide opportunities for that to happen.

Task force members will determine what constitutes valid character education and determine a way to measure needs and what would be appropriate programs. Next, the panel can work to develop an inventory of character education programs statewide. At the same time, it will work to find consensus on a common terminology so we are all on the same page.

Yes, the biggest bully in our state education system is talking to us about character. She’s also talking about the differences in the affluent suburbs and the impoverished areas. She doesn’t mention what will become of the impoverished students in the affluent areas, and this might be the hardest nut to crack.

The task force will determine what constitutes character, what makes for a good education program for teaching character, and who will be allowed to provide it.

All in the name of local control, right?

I claim no monopoly on truth or character, but I will mention a few qualities (along with my own definitions) that should be considered for the officially-vetted program.

  • Humility – valuing the perspective and experience of others at least equally to your own
  • Earnestness – engaging in an activity with sincerity and seeing it through to completion
  • Cooperation – demonstrating the ability to work with other people in a variety of circumstances
  • Realism – understanding the difference between things in their preferred and actual condition
  • Appreciation – showing people who matter most to you that what they do has meaning

Ok, I’m not describing a program of study, per se; I’m talking about the qualities I’d like to see in an elected state superintendent. As long as we’re creating new standards, let’s start there.

  1. January 14, 2014 at 6:59 am

    Once again, a perfect perspective on Barresi! She throws this “character education” softball so she can fill the airwaves with something other than criticism of her failed administration. Classroom teachers teach “character education” every day they are with students. I love your suggestions!


  2. Brooke
    January 14, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Oh…my…gosh! I am utterly speechless!


  1. January 15, 2014 at 7:57 pm
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