Character, Education & Bailout 
By Walter Sorochan, Emeritus Professor San Diego State University

Posted October 04, 2008

The mix of economic, social, educational, health and political problems we have in this country are related to the decay of our moral system. Values held by many persons [ not all ] are contributing to the decadence of democracy and our way of life.

Moral decline has been taking place in a most transparent and hidden manner for the past 50 years. Many parents in all walks of life have been less than prudent in their conduct and morals. The political system has allowed politicians to become lackeys of corporation masters. Athletes personify an image of self-indulgence and becoming millionaires. High schools have become subservient systems in supplying universities with athletes. Universities have lost their real mission!


This erosion of morality began in the 1960s by the Episcopal priest, Joseph Fletcher and his popularization of situation ethics! Situation ethics basically states that sometimes moral principles can be cast aside in certain situations if the new idea or situation is best served. This idea was stretched to justify many economic, political and educational situations and decisions since 1960. In essence, this approach tended to discard the principles of good and stable character behavior!

cartoon A classic example is the proposed “Bailout $ 700 “ proposal by secretary treasurer Henry Paulson in September, 2008. Paulson perceived it appropriate to use citizen funding [ situation 1 ] to bail out speculators on wall street [situation 2 ] because the bail out will affect many innocent citizens [ ethical is greater common good ] in addition to the speculators. So in order to save citizens it is also all right to save speculators who gambled and lost! Paulson’s approach has cast aside the validity of fair and honest working values and replaced these with speculative temporary values just to save a bad situation 2. Paulson argues that his proposed bailout is a special situation and therefore justifies disregarding honesty and fair play. Paulson’s argument adopts a new value to replace a previous dominant and stable social one. In the past, public money would not be used to bail out private speculators who made bad investments.

Situation ethics has been used in politics, economics and education. Situation ethics may be acceptable to mature adults but it can become most confusing to children and teenagers who are seeking values by which to live.

So whom are children supposed to use as exemplar models of good living? President Bush, professional athletes, politicians, or their parents? How can children, youth and grown ups make good decisions when persons in high office use situation ethics to make decisions that often contradict values that society had used in the past?

The Evidence:

American values have eroded in the last 50 years. Consider the following observations:

dot The majority of American people believe that this country is headed in the wrong direction.
dot The majority believe that president George W. Bush lied to them about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and going to war in Iraq.
dot Majority do not trust the government. That the president has lost credibility is a reflection about moral decay in this country.
dot Our reporting of news on television is manipulated by the white house and corporate advertising. Mass media has lost credibility with the American people.
dot That we have more convicted persons in jail than any other country in the world should have everyone asking questions about the morality of people in general.
dot “Only seven to eight percent of people are truly ethical." [ Huddleston 1996 ] That Institute for Global Ethics report found that each of humanity's fundamental moral values--compassion, truth and honesty, responsibility, respect for life--are being undermined today. Journalists and the media, among others, increasingly refuse to take a moral stance, in part because sensationalism wins a larger market share. (Holland 2000) . web-site Global Ethics
dot Polls continue to show 90-some-odd percent of Americans believe there is a significant "moral decline" in our country.
dot a national survey of more than 20,000 middle school and high school students (thereby representing the largest and most comprehensive national survey of the ethics of young people), recently released both by the Josephson Institute of Ethics and the Character Counts! Coalition: web: Character counts
dot Nearly half of all high-schoolers are active thieves. Forty-seven percent of high school students reported stealing from a store in the previous 12 months -- an 8-percentage-point increase over a similar 1996 survey. -- Seven in 10 high school students reported cheating on an exam within the previous 12 months, up from 64 percent who said they did so in 1996.
dot An overwhelming number of high school students (92 percent) said they lied at least once to a parent.
dot More than 1 in 3 high school students say they would lie to get a good job. As Josephson himself laments, this report card shows that, "in terms of honesty and integrity, things are going from very bad to worse."
dot Most disturbingly, Russell Gough found in a survey a striking dichotomy in what young people do vs. the values they claim to believe in: Virtually all of those completing the survey said character was important, and 91 percent were "satisfied with their own ethics and character." [ It comes as no surprise that other studies have revealed the very same dichotomy existing in a decisive majority of adults as well. ] web: Gough 1

Beyond the fact that the results of this report card are themselves most noteworthy, Gough calls attention to this vexing issue to remind us that the very best gift, tangible or intangible, we can give to our children is a character-building one.

The issue about morality is “ character". That is: "honesty, truth, commitment, responsibility, justice, fair play, good vs bad, integrity, and loyalty. One has character when one behaves in ways that exemplify consistent virtuous value traits. For example, a person has good character if one continues to tell the truth all the time. Such a person would be loyal and commited to truth. This person would have integrity!

“ Good character is defined in terms of one's actions. Character development traditionally has focused on those traits or values appropriate for the industrial age such as obedience to authority, work ethic, working in group under supervision, etc. However, as discussed in the SCANS report (1991) and Huitt's (1997) critique, modern education must promote character based on values appropriate for the information age: truthfulness, honesty, integrity, individual responsibility, humility, wisdom, justice, steadfastness, dependability, etc. “ [ Huitt William G., “ Moral and Character Development,” Web: Huitt 1 ]

The conclusion that can be drawn from the surveys is that schools, parents and communities are doing a very bad job of inculcating values and character in children. If this is true, then many of the decisions made by politicians in the past 30 years may be due to their incomplete value systems.

If our values system is broken then the question arises: “ how do we fix values system? “ Fixing the values problem requires us to understand how values develop.

Pedagogical research and earlier observations of common sense [ Samuel Smiles (1812-1904; Scottish biographer, essayist ] suggest that children begin developing values from the day they are born. Indeed, most values continue to be formed until age 12 to 14. After age 12 - 14, values are mostly reinforced. Stages of moral development in humans  | Kohlberg's stages of moral development  Kohlberg moral devlopment in population

An interesting observation about children is that children are born without values. They need to learn values. Children are especially naïve and are instinctively honest, truthful and idealistic. We fail to provide a reinforcing culture for teens and young adults. This is a continuing problem in structuring character and values. Unfortunately, the idealistic traits of children gradually erode as they get older.

Parents are the first and most important significant persons in a child’s life. As such they have the most important task of grafting values.

"Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for the latter only gave them life, but the latter gave them the art of living well [with moral virtue]." Aristotle (c.384-322; Greek philosopher)

Numerous programs have been adopted in schools and communities to help children develop values. For example, the Poway School District in the San Diego area uses Josephson’s Character counts model. Like many other similar programs in Arizona and Illinois, it has had very limited success in evolving better morality. One can only speculate as the reasons for such failure; but the emphasis on high school athletic programs appear to have high jacked character education away from elementary schools. Josephson’s Character counts program is given a high priority at the high school level when it is too late to inculcate lasting values. The curriculum for grades K to 6 for character education, as in Arizona, appears to advocate more discussion instead of behavior being acted out in games and play situations.

A real disconnect with school values programs is lack of accountable values programs at the community and elementary school levels. Another is failure of parents, schools and the American public to understand the opportune and critical times for values education to take place. This is exemplified by the following quotes:

"To point out the importance of circumspection in your conduct, it may be proper to observe that a good moral character is the first essential in a man, and that the habits contracted at your age are generally indelible, and your conduct here may stamp your character through life. It is therefore highly important that you should endeavor not only to be learned but virtuous." George Washington (1732-1799; 1st U. S. President) [In a letter to his nephew in 1790]

So how do kids get values? hand up There are three practical places for character education to take place in elementary schools. One is in the regular classroom situation. Following Robert's rules of order is a good example; that is, putting your hand up in order to speak while giving others an equal opportunity to speak. Another is waiting for one's turn in a line. Providing direct classroom discussion about character and values is superficial and probably not effective. hop A second opportunity for character education to take place is on the playground at recess and noon-hour. Children's actions and behaviors reflect their feelings about right and wrong, good and bad, truth and honesty. How elementary children play in informal games like hopscotch, tether ball, prisoner's base and tag are all laboratories for character to be acted out and displayed. Thus, informal playing during recess, lunch time and after school can be a most effective times for values to be grafted; but only if there is good teacher supervision! The third place is through minor games and sports during physical education classes and intra-murals.

kids1 The critical time for character to be grafted is in the early formative years in a child's life; that is, during pre-school and the elementary school days. Parents need to reinforce at home what happens in the elementary school setting. They need to convert from "Do as I Say" to " Do as I do!" Likewise, the junior high and high school settings need to provide the glue to further graft character as the teenager grows into an adult.

Free play and games, next to a good values system in the classroom, are critical for children. kids Minor games at the elementary school level, not organized sports programs, are essential as opportunities for youngsters to act out and practice values. The values of dodge ball and blind man’s bluff become the rules of life. As children progress into the teen years, junior high and high schools should focus on intra-mural activities; thereby allowing mass participation and to solidify previous character development.

Intra-mural programs

tableT are a wonderful opportunity for teens volleyball to become enforcers of rules of the game while their peers play the games. Intramurals are the missing link in today's junior and senior high schools. While elite athletes do act out their values on playing fields, the majority of their peers are denied an opportunity to further stabalize their character traits.

Sports in community and recreational programs must augment school sports programs and not the other way around. The aim of all programs must be to support civic and character development. One way to get such accountability is through the money trail.

Everybody is an expert!

This is a major problem in American education! The American education system is confused about the kind of priorities that are needed in education today. There is disagreement among school boards and state governments about the real mission of education. Confounding this disagreement is parental interference about the school curriculum and what schools should be teaching. There is no one really in charge of the public school system! And there is a lack of accountability for both academics and values education. We need to get " politics" out of education!

What is needed is to realize that values need to be inculcated along with the “ 3 R’s in the elementary school level. "If you ask what is the good of education in general, the answer is easy: that education makes good men, and that good men act nobly." Plato (c.428-348; Greek philosopher) Socrates on Education

Today, there is no evidence that there are good men in Washington acting nobly! Thus, another reason for our national morality problem is the frailty of the democratic and capitalistic system. George Washington said it best:

“George Washington, our nation's first and illustrious president, in his inaugural speech—that's who declared eloquently and passionately that the essential basis of our democratic form of government would be, must be, "the pure and immutable principles of private morality."

fathers When our founding fathers ardently contended—as James Madison and others did in "The Federalist Papers"—that the new and fragile political experiment called democracy absolutely depended on a high degree of virtue—of ethical character—in its citizenry and leadership, they unequivocally had in mind "the pure and immutable principles of private morality" of which Washington spoke. Their argument, in a nutshell: our national character depends on our private character.

Our system is only as strong as the smallest links in the democratic chain; that is the citizen. "The supreme end of education is expert discernment in all things --- the power to tell the good from the bad, the genuine from the counterfeit, and to prefer the good and the genuine to the bad and the counterfeit." Samuel Johnson (1709-84; English author) Johnson Quote

The following quote from Berkowitz, Professor of Character Education, University of Missouri, St. Louis, helps to pinpoint our inadequate preparation for character in our youth today and in the past 50 years; as displayed by continuing economic, political and educational crises, 2008:

Dating back to the classical Greeks, it has been recognized that a self-governing society cannot endure if its citizens are not virtuous. This was repeatedly and resoundingly reinforced by the shapers of our great experiment in democracy, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Monroe. They knew that the survival of the United States of America depended on the nature of its citizens, and they further recognized that education was a critical force in shaping that nature.

Civic Character Productive citizens are not simply smart people who know lots of facts and can reason in abstract and impressive ways. They also have the skills and mindset necessary for democratic citizenship. In other words, they have civic character. This includes a commitment to the common good, a willingness to enter the public sphere and debate political and ethical issues, and the skills necessary for learning about, intellectually digesting, and responding publicly to societal issues and challenges.

So schools are supposed to promote at least academic learning and civic character. But that is still not all. The traits of civic character, as important as they are, are not all that makes one a good person. All societies ultimately rise or fall on the moral character of their citizens. So a third and related purpose of education is the general moral and character development of students. The job of socializing all citizens must begin in childhood and is the responsibility of all societal institutions, including the schools.

Knowledge and Integrity You may be tempted to prioritize the three purposes of academics, civic character, and moral character. If you are, let me give you something to ponder. Samuel Johnson once wrote that "Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful." In fact, if you had to choose between living in a world of ignorant but caring, ethical people and world of educated and brilliant but selfish and antisocial people, which would you choose? I think it is a no-brainer. As Johnson noted, it is dangerous to educate people without a moral compass, or as former President Teddy Roosevelt once said, "To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society."

As we watch the escalation of interpersonal and global violence [and the quagmire of political and economic corruption in the United States ] , we need to think deeply about the kind of people we raise and educate. We need to recognize that there are multiple purposes of education and that educating for character is paramount among them. After all, there is no future without children, but there is no moral future without children of character. And it is up to schools to contribute to this critical mission.   [ By Dr. Marvin W. Berkowitz, Professor of Character Education, University of Missouri, St. Louis ] web: Burkowitz

Fix! The major fix needs to start with schools. School boards, principals and teachers need to refocus from high school athletics to play and minor games at the elementary school level. Give children a descent chance to garner character. Priority needs to be restored to elementary schools and not high schools. Schools need to return to academic, civic and character education and not have athletics dominate education. Give games back to children and let them play informally without parental and community interference.

The next fix is to re-tool teacher training institutions to prepare elementary school teachers for character and civic education; and not a lot of theory and " talk the talk!" Have hands on training where prospective teachers actually act out the character traits in different reinforcing environments.

A culture of immorality that has enveloped United States. Vested interests buy political favors with their campaign funds. The president lies about reasons for going to war. Politicians discolor the truth about the way they vote. Corporations control many aspects of our lives. People no longer believe their leaders and what they hear on television. The examples are numerous! We live in a culture of immorality that does not support children and teens to act out virtue and good character.

Finally, parents and the general public need to re-evaluate their roles in character education. The general public, and especially politicians and corporate masters need to perceive the shortcomings of a failing democracy. The best test is looking in the mirror and asking yourself who you really are? Jack or Hyde? Do you have a split personality? They need to seriously reshape their priorities for the betterment of children; who are our real future!


Bellah, Robert H., “Is Capitalism Compatible with "Traditional Morality? " Lecture, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, August 23, 1983. web: Bellah

Burkowitz Marvin W., “ True Purposes of Education, “ Committee for Education, 2007. web: Burkowitz

Crawford Donald B., “ The stand business ethics,” Crawford Broadcasting Company, June 5, 2006. web: Crawford

Gough, Russell, “ U.S. youth get failing grades on ethics report card, “ Character Matters Ventura County Star, December 10, 1998 web: Gough 1   web: Gough 2

Gough Russell, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at Pepperdine University, in his book entitled, “Your Character is Your Destiny” argues that ethics are practical realities that are “tested” everyday rather than abstract ideological imperatives that pertain only to ministers and scholars. Gough makes a rather poignant observation when he states, “your ethics are revealed by what you do when nobody is watching.” The book is full of advice for how we can lead a more “ethical” lives if we just stop to think about our ethics. Indeed, “thinking’ plays a major role in the ethical process and Gough presents a very simple model to show how our thoughts ultimately determine our “destiny.” web: Gough destiny

  • Thoughts

  • Actions

  • Habits

  • Character

  • Destiny

Green Lauren, “ Beyond the Bailout: Business Schools aim to reshape Corporate Morality,” The Fox Forum, September 23rd, 2008. web: Green

Huddleston in Rossman Parker G., THE FUTURE OF HIGHER (LIFELONG) EDUCATION, July 12, 2006. Huddleson Report

Huitt Wiliam G., “ Moral and Character Development,” Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia Web: Huitt 1 Web: Huitt 2

Huitt, W., “ Moral and character development. “ Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. , 2004, Retrieved [date], from Web: Huitt 3

Josephson Michael, “Six Pillars of Character, “ Josephson Institute, September 30, 2008. Web: Josephson Pillars   web: Character counts

Rhodes Melvin, “ A Worldwide Crisis,” Morality in Government, January/February 2000. Web: Rhodes

Rossman Parker G., THE FUTURE OF HIGHER (LIFELONG) EDUCATION, July 12, 2006. Web: Rossman



Schurmann, Franz, “ Why the World Seems to Be Getting Better and Worse at the Same Time, “ New America Media, Commentary, December 01, 2006. Web: Schurmann

Situational ethics, or situation ethics, is a Christian ethical theory that was principally developed in the 1960s by the Episcopal priest Joseph Fletcher. It basically states that sometimes other moral principles can be cast aside in certain situations if love is best served; as Paul Tillich once put it: "Love is the ultimate law". The moral principles Fletcher is specifically referring to are the moral codes of Christianity and the type of love he is specifically referring to is 'Agape' love. Agape is a term which comes from Greek which means absolute, universal, unchanging and unconditional love for all people. Fletcher believed that in forming an ethical system based on love, he was best expressing the notion of 'love thy neighbour', situation ethics 1

Situation Ethics: It is possible that the average church member does not even know what is meant by the expression, "situation ethics," but it basically means that there is no ethical standard that can be uniformly or consistently applied, for each situation demands its own standard of ethics. Under that theory, you may commit adultery (or almost anything else) if it is done in love, and no one is hurt by it. You may lie, if you think it appropriate to spare the feelings of someone, or to be socially acceptable. That is, if your host wants to know if you enjoyed the gathering, and you were bored stiff, you may say, "I had a wonderful time" for you are trying to do good to him. You may steal, if you do it to help a needy person, such as a starving child. In fact, there is no action you cannot perform if, in your judgment, the action is for a good cause, and if you have the proper motive in performing it. web: situation ethics 2

Venkataraman G., : 4 M's - MAN, MONEY, MYTH AND MORALITY, “ Heart to Heart, Volume 4 - Issue 03 MARCH 2006. Web: Venkataraman

Wallis Jim, “ Greed in the economy: It’s the Morality, sinner,” The Huffington Post, September 18, 2008. Web: Greed

White Thomas I., “ The Moral Life: "What's In It For Me," Center for Business & Ethics, Loyola Marymount University, September 20, 2008. Web: White