School Grant Program from Clorox Helps Create Bright Futures for Kids

           This was the conclusion of an extensive study by the National Center for Educational Research just released, titled “Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and [...]

           This was the conclusion of an extensive study by the National Center for Educational Research just released, titled “Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children.” That people are generally puzzled about why invites comment. I’d like to toss a few ideas into the mix.


            When I was about 8 years old, the thing to do was to steal comic books from the corner drug store.  It was so easy, the others said, I should try it. I did, got caught, and that experience and perhaps just one or two others drove me to a conscious decision.  If I were tempted to do something wrong in secret, I could forget about it. I belonged to that unfortunate group of kids who would always get caught. About this decision, there was certainly social knowledge involved.  But its significance paled in comparison to the one thing I knew about myself. I would get caught, which in turn emphasized the value, because it was wrong.  Time and experience enlarged my understanding of the benefits of honesty, but a certain conscious thread began early.

            That experience firming up something in me illustrates one of two kinds of knowledge. One kind is “knowledge I act on” and the other is “everything else.”  The first intrinsically matters. We use it to exert control over our world. The second is everything else that doesn’t matter because we don’t use it to control our world. In a way, this defines the uphill battle that character education faces. How do you take a thousand good pieces of sensible knowledge and enable any one of them to matter to children?  How do you get it installed in that very small set of knowledge they act upon?

            1.  Make sure they’re seen and loved. Years ago a study of inner city youth attempted to sort out those who “made it” from those who didn’t.  A particular scattering did well but for no apparent reason.  Examining their lives further it was discovered that they all happened to have the same teacher in a one elementary grade. Researchers located her, by then long retired, and asked her about the class. Did she remember them?  Yes, she did. Was there anything special about them? they wanted  to know.  No, the lady said, there wasn‘t, but then she added with a smile “…but I loved each one of them very much.”

            A study in the 1970s aimed at identifying “superkids“ who somehow resisted extreme negative influences in both family and environment. Two factors marked this group: the presence of one sane, healthy person in each one’s life and also a “crap detector.”  They could recognize others’ aberrant behavior and not take it personally. 

            Imagining how school programming could replicate the effect of these two things, you get something much different than how people usually think of education at all.  At least one adult has to see this one child extremely personally. For the child, the experience is compelling enough for them to form a conviction that “I am who this person sees me to be;” and about the negative influences, “I am not who these influences imply that I am.”

            Not long ago I was trading school stories with a dear friend, a retired eighth grade teacher.  He related how he’d been team-teaching with a colleague, and at a teachers’ meeting was informed that another teacher had referred to the two of them as “elitist.” He went to the teacher and asked her “What do you mean by elitist?”

            “Well,” she said, “You must get all the best kids because you never send anyone to the principal’s office.”

            At that, my friend’s co-teacher burst in, saying, “If you love them, you always know what to do!”

            Working alongside teachers, it’s clear to me that some don’t know they are commanding the unconscious of certain children to be “bad.”  A boy comes to mind about whom others applied the word “bully,” and whose teacher regarded him as a problem–for her, for other kids, and for himself.  For me he was a kid “who doesn’t quite understand how to use his energy to connect with others.“  For weeks I’ve been giving him personal, carefully selected behaviors to try out. He’s steadily improved and greets me with a smile and wave.  Today he ran up to me to report a playground problem among some others. Later I complimented him and asked him to help out with the problems in relating that the smaller children often encounter on the playground. 

            2.  Don’t rely on impersonal group programs.  Many teachers don’t understand how they must view the child in order for any idea they deliver to enter the child’s tiny set of ideas they act upon. The shotgun method doesn’t work. Projecting one good idea after another over the heads of children is useless if it doesn‘t enable them to make a conscious choice about their personal identity and actions.

            An instructive angle on our design of education came up when the Soviets blasted Sputnik into earth orbit and suddenly the US became interested in what Soviet education might have to teach us. Royce Van Norman wrote then in the Phi Delta Kappan;

            “Is it not ironic that in a planned society of controlled workers given compulsory assignments, where religious expression is suppressed, the press controlled, and all media of communication censored, where a puppet government is encouraged but denied any real authority, where great attention is given to efficiency and character reports, and attendance at cultural assemblies is mandatory, where it is avowed that all will be administered to each according to his needs and performance required from each according to his abilities, and where those who flee are tracked down, returned, and punished for trying to escape–in short in the milieu of the typical large American secondary school–we attempt to teach ‘the democratic system‘?”

            Did that race by too quickly? Did you get it? In the milieu of the typical large American secondary school? Multiple conditions deliver a single dominant outcome, impersonal control of students.  Those bucking the system get funneled to the school-to-prison pipeline or to other low-lying tiers of society.  We don’t know what to do with them other than shunt them to where they’ll cost us the least. While school-wide programs can be presumed to have the best of intentions, we can bet also that they attempt to standardize and systematize. What a blessing that would be to the education establishment; evidence of the mass production of character! Such programs imply that we needn’t really attune ourselves to any individual student as long as we can run them collectively through selected ideas and activities.

            This is not to say that anything planned or systematic can’t work (more on that below), but the bottom line is that we mustn’t sacrifice personalness for group efficiency.



  1. Lorrie


    How would I find the schools throughout the county who have been awarded the grant money?

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August 17th, 2010

Jimmy Kilpatrick

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