Do today’s schools fail to build character?

Earlier this week a colleague of mine shared with me a treasure he found in his office.  It was a publication to the community dated December 1927.   This was not a small publication it contained 40 plus pages of information about the Local County Schools.  It even included advertisements from local vendors of which my favorite has the headline “BE MODERN” and it says “if you don’t have a bank account you are still in the horse and buggy age.” Love it!

I was transfixed with this publication partly because of how different it is as compared to what we send parents and community members today.  How it lacked all the things we think communities care about.  The Mahoning Messenger from 1927 does not even remotely mention school finances and that particular topic dominates nearly all publications I see today going to community members today.  Not one mention of TESTING or Report Card Results!  Very insignificant discussion around sports—other than to highlight what is available for kids to participate at school.  No sense that the school and community are separate….it is one in the same in 1927.

In 1927, faculty accomplishments were featured along with student accomplishments.  Both were important and clearly the faculty were involved in the creation of the publications as partners with the students. Working alongside them and with them to create the features in the publication.  In fact, the cover is hand drawn by one of the building level administrators.  We cannot underestimate the message this sends to a larger community about the respect and confidence they have in the 1927 teachers and administrators.

In 1927, it is clear from the publication the focus is on intellectual and character development. You clearly get the feel from reading the features that what schools do is build character and enrich them intellectually. Course offerings and pathways are discussed along with some focused discussion on attitude and environment and how each student plays a role in the success or failure of the school. The idea of citizenship is strong within the publication.  Being a good citizen and how you contribute to the well-being of not only this school but the larger community and society.

I found this incredibly fascinating, we seem to have lost this idea in the modern era of schooling. Not very often do I hear teachers, principals, superintendents or parents discuss with their child how they contribute to the well-being of the whole school environment.  How they are perceived by their peers and whether or not they have contributed positively to the school.  How the student contributed to the schools overall reputation and how they contributed to it’s success.

School in the modern era are very individualistic in nature.  Disconnected from the larger community and at time at odds with that larger community.  Almost all the school related violence that has happened in American Public Schools was done by students who all felt small, disconnected and isolated at school.  I doubt in 1927 that was possible given the flavor of the articles and the obvious attention paid to school climate, attitude and how you as the student fit into the larger school milieu.

The Mahoning Messenger from 87 years ago sends a clear message about the school’s role in this larger community, how it serves students and builds citizens.  When I look at what we send home to the community in 2014 it is dominated with messages about scores on achievement test, ranking, finances and some mentioning of student achievement.  Today’s publications lack the sense that the school and community are one in the same.  They lack the mission to create good citizens. I wonder if we recaptured some of those strong themes present in 1927 that we would have an easier time passing tax levies and fewer kids would feel isolated and disconnected at school.  Maybe we are focused too much on testing, finances and sports.  Maybe what parents and community members really care about is intellectual development and character of the next generation of students?

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About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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