Nearly twenty years ago, I published my first book, Character Building for Families, Volume 1. I had originally written the materials for our family, simply because, at the time, no one else was writing such things, and we had a need that was not being met. By the time we made my book available for the world, two other homeschool families had also come up with similar ideas. We were pioneers, I guess. Now, there are hundreds of character education books to choose from — for both children and adults, from both secular and Christian viewpoints.
Let’s take a look at some of the questions people voice about character education:
Why is teaching character with a book important? Won’t it just sink in naturally? You know, we teach by example more than by our words, don’t we? Well yes, and no. Being a great example is important. Speaking the right words, while not following through by living the way we speak, is not generally very productive.
But teaching by example alone can be rather hit-or-miss. We’re not going to have opportunity to thoroughly model everything our kids (or adult believers we are discipling) need to know about integrity, based on isolated incidents that arise naturally.
Personally, I think it is important not only to show people how, but also to give them a “why” which is founded in the Word of God. Seeing a concept clearly laid out in the Bible, and taking the time to study that concept together, anchors its truth in our hearts. And, if we build a foundation one block at a time, “line upon line, precept upon precept,” the results are going to be more solid.
Isn’t character education just bringing about behavior modification? I’ve heard this criticism a few times, and my answer is, “Not if it is done right.” The goal should always be heart-change. Our aim should be for our children (or adult Christians we serve) to desire good character because they want to be like Jesus, not just so that they can avoid unpleasant consequences, impress other people, or be successful. Outward change without inward transformation is hypocritical, and it can rarely be upheld for any length of time. Somewhere along the way, the real person will leak out!
That is why, in our own character education materials, we focus on applying the presented concepts to the heart. We tell people using our Character Building for Families manuals that the parents are going to have their character built right along with their children — and we’ve had quite a few parents write to us, testifying to the truth of that statement!
Tragically, the Church has often fallen into the mistake of telling our young people that if they will just “be good,” God will love them and take them to heaven. That is behavior modification and a false gospel message. True character education brings to the student an understanding of Who God is and how we should become like Him, coupled with the knowledge that we can only accomplish this through asking God to do it in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our goal should be to raise up disciples who have a passion for the Lord Jesus, not to merely make them valuable community citizens. The outward good behavior will naturally come, as we address and repair the issues of the heart.
Will character training solve our home problems (or our church’s problems)? I’m sorry I can’t promise you that. It would be nice if it did, wouldn’t it? My children did not become perfect by repeatedly studying our character materials. Neither did I. But we made some progress together. The Character Building for Families lady still messes up sometimes.
Every one of us is in a lifelong process of growing into the image of Christ. We learn to be kind, and somewhere down the road, God will take us into deeper levels of learning to be kind. Step #1 is to equip ourselves with the recognition of where the old, selfish nature is still at work in us and the knowledge of how to overcome it, but the walking-out process is challenging and ongoing. Character studies are a tool, but we must wield the tool we’ve been given.
Are you still interested in stepping into the journey? Please visit us at our Character Building for Families website. In addition to our books, we’ve got many free Christian and homeschooling helps there to serve you.