The Core of Character
(From the Discovering the Real Me Teacher's Manual)
When we say that someone has a good character, we are saying the person has a good heart, because the heart is at the core of human character. The deepest motivation for all moral striving arises from the heart. In particular, the heart is the source of the fundamental impulse for relatedness. It is what motivates a person to yearn for the joy of loving and being loved, the satisfaction of valuing and being valued. Love and relatedness describe a human need no less strong than the need for food or shelter. Indeed, people often are willing to give up both of these for the sake of love.
Love in its true sense is inherently moral. It requires altruistic action: giving, serving, and sacrificing one's self for the sake of one's beloved. Love is also inherently ethical because it can be realized only in a relationship with another human being.
As a plant must be cultivated with love and care in order to become a healthy and beautiful plant, so too a child's heart must be cultivated with love and care if he is to grow to a healthy maturity. The beginning point of education lies with the cultivation of the child's heart by providing him with lots of experiences of love. This enhances the child's feeling of security and worth, making a solid foundation for subsequent growth and development. Because the heart is the core of human character, the ability to give and receive love is the ultimate manifestation of true maturity, over and above knowledge.
Along with heart, the development of a strong conscience is also an important aspect of building good character. Whereas the heart is the source of love, we may view the conscience as an internal compass guiding one’s love in the direction of goodness. The moral example of others stimulates both the heart and conscience to live up to the highest standards of behavior. Parents, teachers, and other mentors serve as important role models for the developing child to follow.
Cultivation of heart takes place primarily in the family, but the school can support this type of education as well when the teacher creates a family atmosphere conducive to the cultivation of the hearts of the children in the class. The teacher also stands as a moral example and mentor, a figure trusted by his or her students, who can support the development of their hearts and consciences.
The school can provide a supportive atmosphere for this type of education by creating a moral community where students, teachers and school administrators are working together in harmony and with mutual respect. By employing cooperative learning techniques in the classroom, teachers can help their students learn how to cooperate and work together to solve common problems. The school also should seek to instill in each student a sense of shared responsibility for creating a moral culture. They should understand that each person’s actions and attitudes influence others for either good or bad.