Students confront problems everyday. Some are small like how to study for an exam or get a ride to school, and some large like how to support their friends who are in unhealthy relationships. All of these problems involve the choice of whether to intervene or do nothing and let the situation play itself out. Each choice is hard and leads to consequences.
School is often the first place where students occupy positions of authority where they are able to direct the efforts of others. Being a good leader and having influence are highly valued. The challenge is figuring out the best way to do it. Some think it’s all about having power and expecting others to obey it. Others lead by moral example. Leadership lessons cultivated at young ages carry into adulthood and form the basis for how to treat other people.
Students are in the midst of figuring out who they are and how they can influence the world. Some feel helpless because it seems that they were born into a difficult situation or have experienced an unfair share of pain and heartache. Others feel almost superhuman and think they have the power to change anything they want. And for so many others, the truth of one’s power of self-determination is unclear and revealed slowly, over time and experiences.
Whether at home, in the classroom or in society, everywhere a student goes there are rules. The effectiveness of these rules depends on people’s willingness to obey them. But students like to question the rules, especially when they feel the rules to be unjust or intrude on their happiness in some way. Students must engage in hard intellectual work in deciding when to follow rules and what criteria to use to determine fairness.
Character development is at least as important as the development of academic skills. A strong character fuels self-discipline and self-motivation, both of which breed success in life. But character development sometimes feels like impossible work, especially when a person’s difficult life circumstances get in the way. How a person turns out is often determined by forces out of his/her control.
Success, students are told, comes from doing well in school, building friendships and finding the right career. The only problem is they aren’t told exactly how to find this success and whether actually loving what they do should even be a consideration. As a result, it’s important for students to develop a self-awareness around what success means to them and how they plan to get it.
Anger is an emotion that all of us have to manage throughout our lives. Students get angry with their teachers, their friends and parents. It’s important for them to develop a self-awareness around their anger so that they can decide when getting angry, or remaining calm, is the right response to a situation which aggrieves them.
Students are told to follow the path of empathy and forgive those who do them wrong. This mandate is relatively easy to follow when their friends slip up and do something bad to them. Forgiveness in these cases often results in stronger friendships. But they are hurt by their enemies as well and must decide whether or not forgiveness is really worth it with them. This is a vexing ethical dilemma for which there are no easy answers.
The Coronavirus outbreak of 2020 has driven society into isolation. Schools are closed. Businesses are shut down. Our social lives have stopped functioning. And we’re at home with much more alone time. Isolation can breed some sadness and despair but also offers a chance for us to reflect and evaluate our lives in a positive and meaningful way.
When students interact with others, they have lots of moral decisions to make. It’s hard for them to decide exactly how to treat other people, especially strangers, since many times they don’t have much information to go on and so they must rely on their intuitive judgements and best guesses. How they decide to act reflects deeply upon their characters.