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ON CHARACTER

6/10/02

    I’ve been trying to understand why there have been so few applicants for the PCT Paul Rubin Memorial Scholarship, a two thousand dollar award dedicated to a former President of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers and a pioneering leader of the education labor movement. Not looking to award yet another scholarship to an elite few with 99.999 scholastic averages, our union looks to encourage young people who are attempting to live lives of social conscience and who have already indicated a commitment to serve others. We look for the future Paul Rubins.

    In a recent edition of our union newspaper, The Pledge, I voiced a growing concern of mine that we who work in public schools have been negligent in inculcating the core values of our society into the students we teach. I concluded that, "The simple truth as I see it is that in our zeal to refrain from imposing our values on our students (In my public school, Christian or not, we read aloud from the King James Bible and sang Protestant hymns), we in effect left them to the four winds morally and ethically." While I have little empirical evidence, my intuition tells me that part of our problem of attracting applicants for the PCT Paul Rubin Scholarship lies in the reality that fewer and fewer young people are taught the rewards of service to others. Sure, they know that it is helpful to have some "service activities" on one’s college application, but their motivation is essentially antithetical to authentic service and is really more akin to self-promotion. They do service not because they believe it is important to do so but because it is a necessary component of a good resume.

    We need to do a better job. Public schools should instill in students a sense of obligation to the public of which we are all members. We need to remember that our system of public education was invented with the clear understanding that a free and democratic society required an educated electorate trained in democratic citizenship and concerned with the welfare of our society. The wonderful teachers I had as a young man called us to idealistic pursuits. They taught us songs about, "One world built on a firm foundation. One world no longer cursed by war." They taught us lily-white working class children of immigrants the "Negro National Anthem," exposing us to the struggle of a people who were determined to lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven rang with the harmony of liberty. They very consciously tried to build character in their students. We would do well to take a page from their book.

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