Vocabulary and Character Development

Until the 1960’s, school books were replete with vocabulary words like integrity, industry, work, diligence, perseverance, self-reliance, self-examination, honesty, character, and responsibility. There was a glorification of hard work and an emphasis on education and self-discipline.

Assuming that textbooks have an influence on curriculum and instruction and that they, therefore, have an effect on children’s behavior and character, perhaps it is time to re-examine the contents of our school books as well as the vocabulary we use.

In his classic book, “1984,” George Orwell demonstrated the power of words with the example of the term “freedom.” If there were no such term, how would the concept be imagined, envisioned, and communicated? When we use the word in conversations with the young, we teach this concept of freedom and the values the word represents.

As an aside, this is the reason that the hierarchy of the Raise Responsibility System uses “anarchy,” “bossing/bullying” (both unacceptable levels), and “cooperation/conformity,” (external motivation) and “democracy” (internal motivation) as the vocabulary. Democracy and responsibility are inseparable and responsibility is the foundational characteristic in any character education approach.

Regularly using vocabulary that represents the values we wish to teach would be so much more effective than so many “popular” character education programs of external approaches catching them doing something good.

I am a graduate of Hollywood High School in Hollywood, California. I recall walking daily by the school’s marquee and reading “ACHIEVE THE HONORABLE.” I recently drove by the school and was truly disappointed that the motto was no longer posted. It, too, had gone the way of missed opportunities to foster character development.