“There is only one way to truly combat bullying. As an essential part of the school curriculum, we have to teach children how to be good to one another, how to cooperate, how to defend someone who is being picked on and how to stand up for what is right.” (Susan Engels, Director of Teaching Program at Williams College)
Engels is right on target with her 4 teaching points, all of which fall under the broad category of character education. Her final two relate directly to one specific virtue: courage.
It’s been said that “courage” is the most important virtue, that without its emphasis on execution, all we are left with is good thinking. But in most difficult situations, the hard part is not cognitive in nature. When you see another boy getting the wet towel treatment, you know what you have to do. The challenge is in doing it.
Aristotle observed that we learn courage by doing courageous things. Gaining courage, then, is more like figuring how to ride a bike than it is learning how to diagram a sentence. We should try to help our boys develop their “courage muscles” by giving them opportunities to test themselves. (By contrast, reading “Huckleberry Finn” or another book with moral dilemmas, may help develop your thinking, but that activity doesn’t provide the pressure you need to actually develop your “doing” capacity.)
A few years ago I worked at a school where the students debated whether or not they should adopt an honour code, a code which would require them – not to turn in a wayward lad to the authorities – but to simply confront the offending peer. (For example, if you saw a boy cheat on his French test, the code would require you to talk with him privately about this.)
After a thorough debate, the majority of students voted against the code. Why? They admitted that confronting a peer was too difficult. I applaud their honesty; it would have made the world a bit more cynical if they had voted to create a code and then not have had the gumption to actually make it work.). But the experience does leave me wondering how we can help boys work on their courage muscles without exposing them to some sort of resistance. Is there another, perhaps less threatening way to do this?