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Books for building better citizens
I am curious about how the Character Education and Citizenry Development Programme is going to look in our primary schools. The programme will reportedly cover the disciplines of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship in primary schools and can lead to more responsible citizens in society.
These are important lessons to learn—too important to be treated in a cavalier manner. There must be much thought and even more planning on how teachers will tackle these abstract principles in a visual, relevant manner so that they will be meaningful to children and not just another subject.
The first issue is how to make this come together as a discipline that children will take seriously. One of the hazards of an exam-oriented education system is that children, parents and teachers feel that only those subjects directly related to the SEA exam carry any semblance of importance. This could be easily rectified by addressing one of these disciplines or principles as a creative writing question on the exam.
On the other hand, my biggest fear in terms of teaching a programme like this is that it becomes too academically oriented. Teachers can’t merely talk about principles. They have to recognise them in class and in society, and show children what these principles look like in real life. They must establish how they are relevant to children’s lives now and in the future.
Students need to see these values and principles demonstrated in the literature they read in school and outside of school. A course in character education and citizenry development must be linked to literature so that the children can see and experience those concepts through the characters they read about in the books they study in school. This reinforces the programme. These principles should be taught as themes linked to subjects that are already being taught, particularly English and social studies.
Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh is right when he says: “We are losing a whole generation that is becoming increasingly dysfunctional and unconcerned with basic social graces. If this slide is not checked, we can only expect higher levels of crime, juvenile delinquency and anti-social behaviour.”
There is a definite connection between the principles and discipline we learn in school and the way we express ourselves as individuals and citizens. The books below can be found in local bookstores and amazon.com.
1. The Trial of Cardigan Jones by Tim Egan (Pre-K-Standard 3)—Cardigan the moose is put on trial for stealing a pie even though he insists he was only smelling it. This is one of my favourite books in my library for its invaluable lessons about caring, kindness, responsibility, fairness and respect.
2. The Crayon Box that Talked by Shane De Rolf—(Pre-K-Standard 3)—Although they are many different colours, the crayons in a box discover that when they get together they can appreciate each other and make a complete picture. This book demonstrates any of the targeted disciplines in character education, but above all it is a creative, colourful story of citizenship.
3. What if the Zebra Lost Its Stripes by John Reitano (Standard 1-5)—A thought-provoking look at how prejudice undermines respect, fairness and caring. Using religious elements, the book discusses what a zebra would be without its stripes.
4. Duck at the Door by Jackie Urbanovic—A duck knocks on a door looking for a home after his flock leaves him behind for the winter. All the animals in the house must learn tolerance as they care for one another in this funny lesson of respect, responsibility, caring and citizenship.
5. Brown Sugar and Spice by Betty Peter (Standards 4 and 5)—This great Caribbean tale of Harriet is a hilarious read that demonstrates trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, good manners and citizenship.
6. The Giver by Lois Lowry (Standards 4 and 5)—Jonas learns what happens to people with imperfections in his perfect world. Popular children’s author Lois Lowry creates a suspenseful tale of respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
7. Legend of the St Ann’s Flood by Debbie Jacob (Standards 3-5)—This folklore story of the 1993 St Ann’s flood examines trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship when two children try to save St Ann’s from the wrath of Mama Dlo. This novel also examines the consequences of prejudice and anger.
8. The Elephant’s Magician by Kate DiCamillo (Standards 3-5)—A magician conjures up an elephant who falls into a woman’s lap in an opera house when he tries to conjure up flowers. After he’s taken away to jail, the magician must earn back trust and respect as he learns to take responsibility for his actions.
9. Why Pick on Me? by Louis Sachar—A boy who stands up against cheating becomes the target of a bully in a riveting story about respect, responsibility and caring.
10. Boldly the Trips by Roy Galt—The Trip series about three adventuresome boys demonstrates all of the targeted values, particularly citizenship.
I hope teachers will make Character Education and Citizenry Development a thought-provoking, fun-filled, relevant programme with interesting literature and projects that help students develop into confident, responsible individuals and citizens.
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