Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book review: "Character Connections" by Robert Baggett

I'm not sure who the audience of this book is intended to be, and I didn't find it to be clear what the purpose of this collection of essays is supposed to be. Good content, but what is someone supposed to do with this book? The copyright statement gives permission for schools, churches and other non-profits to reprint his essays that are less than 700 words; but is this the intended audience? There doesn't seem to be much "practical application" or suggested actions/activities to followup the content. In the introduction, the author says he is trying to "offer ways for parents, teachers and others to teach" fundamental values and character development to children, but again the essays don't really lend themselves to clear action steps.

Each chapter is about 6 pages, which is then followed by one-page "essays" or articles that are loosely related to the chapter topic and are supposed to be illustrations of the topic. Each section closes with a few pages of relevant quotations.

The first chapter is "The Values of Freedom", and the main point seems to be that "there are limits to individual freedom and children must be taught how to live in harmony with other humans according to traditional norms." One of the best short essays in this section is called "The Democratic Family?" and talks about three types of families: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. Another good essay in this section is "Real Self-Esteem" which summarizes the thoughts of Dr. John Rosemond, psychologist, parenting expert and syndicated columnist. This essay discusses Dr Rosemond's thoughts on pampering children, correcting children, and the purpose of guilt in inducing change in behavior.

The second chapter is "What Do You Worship?" and discusses the differences between fundamental and supplemental ethical values.

The third chapter is "Character is Destiny". One of the short essays in this section says "Bad character is the sum of a series of bad choices; and good character is the result of making a habit of telling the truth, showing respect for others, being responsible and showing others that you care."

The fourth chapter is "Fit to be Free" which basically summarizes the thoughts of pastor and teacher Wayne Oates on the topic of the values of poverty. Oates says "Poverty is far more than simply not having money, goods, and luxuries. Poverty is a way of life, which once learned, is very difficult to unlearn."

The fifth chapter is "Trust and Trustworthiness" which starts with a summary of the thoughts of Francis Fukuyama on the topic of trust. Fukuyama says America is "regressing into a more fragmented society of isolated individuals seeking more rights and fewer duties. Without shared values and a commitment to something higher than selfish interests, America may be losing the 'social capital' of trust necessary to any free society."

The sixth chapter is "The Siamese Twins of Freedom" which tries to show that "freedom, responsibility and personal power are all part of the same package." Baggett says that currently students "are taught that equal achievement is their due, when they are taught that the highest good is to have freedom without limits, when they are protected from the consequences of bad behavior and outright laziness, when the responsibilities of students and parents are shifted solely onto the shoulders of educators, children fail to develop the respect and responsibility needed to thrive in a free society."

The seventh chapter, "What is this thing called love?", discusses the feelings of love as compared to the actions of love. This chapter is the most obviously religious chapter.

The final chapter, "How to have a happy school", attempts to "describe the crucial features of a well-run school." These features are: good leadership (principal who is neither aggressive nor passive; and who involves the staff in teaching group norms of "mutual respect for the dignity and worth of everyone, respect for the authority of adults, doing one's personal best, responsible behavior, and caring for one another"); enforcement of clearly defined rules; leaders who advocate "the lifeskills or character traits" students and staff should develop; models the behavior advocated; high academic standards; commitment to the idea that all students can learn; continuous improvement; accountability; fun; special activities for students; recognition of achievement; concern for the whole person; and clean and safe facilities.

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