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Character First! won't improve staff morale

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Old August 23rd 03, 02:04 PM
Wex Wimpy
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Default Character First! won't improve staff morale

Character First! won't improve staff morale
By Kent S. Miller

Our current political leaders have taken the art of
say-one-thing-and-do-another to new heights.

Secretary Jerry Regier, of the Florida Department of Children &
Families, recently called for applause for DCF staffers for their hard
work and remarkable achievements.

Meanwhile, back at the department, he has discovered the source of the
problems at the beleaguered agency: the workers are
deficient in character. And better yet, the governor, the secretary
and the Legislature, have the cu mandated attendance in a
program titled Character First!

Imagine that you are a 50-year-old case worker with 25 years'
experience with DCF in Orlando. You come to work on a Monday
morning to face a number of new referrals to be investigated, phone
calls to be returned, and a mountain of paperwork. But the order
from above is for you to report to the auditorium for a lecture on
dependability. (According to a story in Florida Today, the auditorium
walls contained Character First! banners and cardboard cutouts of
Sponge Bob Square Pants and Minnie Mouse.)

This will improve your morale? Character First! is a sanitized version
of the work of evangelist Bill Gothard, with references to God
and Christianity edited out to make it acceptable for government use.
Regier used the program in Oklahoma and Gov. Jeb Bush
used it in his Liberty City charter school.

By statute, Character First! must be considered as the study guide for
character education in public schools beginning in 2004. The
developers of this curriculum have identified 49 qualities that define
character (the inward motivation to do what is right when no one is
watching), correlating with Gothard's 49 "Commands of Christ." The
training includes lectures, laminated pocket guides and

Now, I readily affirm that all of us could stand a little character
improvement. But this is not the way to do it, if indeed the
has any business in this business. The evidence tells us that how we
act and who we are very much reflects the situation that we find
ourselves in. The focus of Character First!, "fixing" the worker,
ignores the real need, which is reform of the system.

A quick Google search on the Internet highlights the controversy that
has dogged the program wherever it has gone, including
Florida. I mention only two issues.

A major problem lies in the fact that there is not a shred of
empirical evidence that Character First! has any impact other than
the promoters feel good. The development of character is a long-term,
complex process, not likely to be affected by lectures (even
with handouts and laminated pocket reminders). And in a time of
increased governmental control and secrecy, do we want to
encourage blind loyalty and deference to hierarchical authority, as
this curriculum does?

Still, I recommend continued use of Character First! on an
experimental basis, with two conditions: The enrollees would be Bush,
Regier and members of the Legislature; and the seriatim study of the
49 qualities begin with meekness, sincerity, humility, deference
and responsibility.


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