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The importance of character development.

Character. Integrity. Purpose. Responsibility. Every year camps and camp professionals strive to bring a diverse community together around common values and goals. The 2003 American Camping Association Conference in Denver, Colorado, will bring character education to the fore from every angle - workshops, shared philosophies, discussions, and dynamic keynote presentations. Ron Kinnamon, chair of the Character Counts! Coalitions. Ron Kinnamon, chair of the Character Counts! Coalition and one of the keynote speakers at the national conference, will explore the six core values in character development and how each can be fostered and implemented in the camp community. His expertise stems from a varied camp background, including serving as assistant national executive director of the YMCA of the USA, camp director of YMCA Camp Grady Spruce, president of the American Camping Association Texas Section, and co-author of the book, Camp Leadership Focus. Kinnamon also volunteers as the senior advisor to America's Prom ise and serves on various committees for the Points of Light Foundation and the Josephson Institute's Board of Governors.

In an exclusive interview with Camping Magazine, Kinnamon shares his unique perspective on character development and his commitment to spread the movement through youth organizations, sports, and schools to reach every kid in America."

Why do you believe that character building -- developing good character -- is essential to youth development?

Children and youth today don't live in a "kid friendly" world. They face serious problems as never before -- problems such as substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and youth violence. These are all ethical issues. The long-term solution to solving these problems is to develop a societal norm based on a limited number of core values.

This is not new to camp professionals. Camp people have known the importance of developing character for well over a hundred years. We have been developing character by teaching a set of core values. Now we need to help the rest of the world to understand that adults need to teach and demonstrate these values to children and youth.

Our society has a problem in providing positive youth development for all kids. In many ways, we adults give the wrong message to youth. Many adults are afraid of teens and because of this, they stop communicating with them. How many adults know the names of the children and youth in their neighborhood? How much conversation goes on between adults and teens when it is not organized? How much eye contact is there with teens who dress differently or who are pierced?

Out children and youth are in. real need of positive youth development -- and the cornerstone of youth development is character development. Every child has the right to develop his or her character so that he or she will know "right" from "wrong" and make decisions that will allow them to be a child of character and competence. Camp counselors have known for a hundred years that you can't "police" kids at camp. They know that they must develop a norm of behavior for their cabin group. This is character development in its purest form. You hove stated that building good character in today's youth is essentially an adult issue/concern. What do you mean by this and why do you feel this way? How can adults reach children through character education?

Kids didn't lust wake up one day and decide that they will no longer be respectful or responsible or caring. Children learn to be respectful or disrespectful from the adults in their lives. We adults teach and demonstrate the values our children possess. This is why I say that we don't have a youth problem, we have an adult problem.

The best way we can change the values of the children and youth with whom we come in contact is by living our lives in such a way that they are able to see how we demonstrate these core values. Kids observe the lack of values in some of the highly visible sports figures, rock stars, politicians, corporate CEOs, and movie stars -- but they also observe the lack of values in the adults closer to their lives They carefully observe us using a radar detector in our cars, buying a child's movie ticket for a small teenager, smoking, not being honest when we fill out our tax forms, and telling jokes that include disrespect for people of a different gender, race, or religion.

We, as adults, must take the responsibility to change the world that we have left for our children.

What is the mission and purpose of Character Counts!? How does the coalition work and what successes has it realized?

Character Counts! is a coalition of over 500 organizations that have committed to teach and demonstrate six core values to children and youth. Character Counts! is not as much of a program as it is a movement. It is spreading across the country and impacting millions of children and youth every day Character Counts! is thousands of trained adults who work with kids in camps, schools, and youth organizations of all kinds. Members of the Character Counts! Coalition include organizations like ACA, individual camps, whole school systems, NEA, Association of School Administrators, YMCA, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the American Federation of Teachers, the United Way the Points of Light Foundation, whole cities, and over five hundred other groups.

What are the six core values and why do you feel that they are important?

About eight years ago, the Josephson Institute of Ethics called together executives of leading educational and youth service organizations to determine how we can best impact character development in children. These leaders came up with the six values that are used today in Character Counts! These values are Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship. Though these grew out of the Judeo/ Christian tradition, they are also the core values of all major religions in the world. They are important because they are a fundamental way to bring people of all types together in agreement, since these values transcend religion, race, gender, economic circumstances, etc.

Many states have already either mandated or strongly recommended that character education be part of the school curriculum and youth development programs. How has the camp community and camp experience been in the forefront of character education throughout the years and what more can we do?

We have gone through a period in the 70s and 80s when schools have been afraid to "teach values." The thing that is very strange about this is that it is impossible to teach without teaching values. We teach values by what we say, the tone of our voice, our body language, etc. The way we establish a societal norm is by teaching and demonstrating the same six values so that kids hear and see these values everywhere they go. Hearing the same words to describe these value concepts at school, at camp, at home, or at youth organizations provides continual reinforcement of those values.

The camp community has always understood and reinforced the importance of character development by teaching core values. While camp has been the leader in developing character, it has somewhat separated itself from the community as a whole. The camp community has positioned itself as a place to "escape." Although this philosophy is changing, the community still remembers this "separate" view of camp. Now is the time for camp to provide leadership in the community Expertise in character development is a gift camps can give to their communities throughout the United States. Now is the time for the camp movement to mobilize the total community to teach and demonstrate these six values -- to develop good character and positive youth development.

RELATED ARTICLE: Character Education in the Camp Setting

National Camp Executives Group

Intentionality matters.

As the National Camp Executives Group (NCEG) reviewed research about the development of young people in a variety of settings including camp, we learned that it is critical that we be purposeful about what we want youth to take away from the experiences we provide them. It is not enough to just offer program - to just fill time - to just keep kids busy.

NCEG believes there is a higher goal - a more worthy purpose - a target for creating the fun experiences that form the basis of camp." To this end, the NCEG reviewed the work of many character-building, youth development organizations. With permission, the group adapted the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education from the Character Education Partnership and applied them to the camp setting.

NCEG encourages review and dialog on these principles and looks forward to the deliberations on character education that will be part of the 2003 ACA Conference in Denver!

Principles of Effective Character Education for Camps

Character Education holds that there are universally important ethical values such as respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, caring, courage, self-control, and diligence. Character means living by these core values - understanding them, caring about them, and acting upon them.

Center for the Fourth and Fifth Rs (www. cortland.edu/www.c4n5rs)

Preamble For children and adults, forging character is a demanding life task. The camp setting creates a group-living, time-intensive community focused on the needs of youth of all levels of ability, ethnic, cultural, or religious background, to learn and practice character development. There is significant power in both day and resident camp as youth and adults live, learn, play, eat, and communicate together, with values and character being both "caught" and taught. The intentional focused community, oriented to positive youth development, creates a dynamic opportunity to affect the character traits of each individual. To that end, we commit ourselves to the following principles:

1 Character education promotes universal ethical values and ways of living that nurture the common good.

Character education is based on the premise that there are universal values such as caring, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect, which form the basis of good character. Camps committed to character education will model these values, use them as the basis of interaction in camp, and develop intentional programs and systems to embody these values in camp life.

These values must meet the classical tests of reversibility (Would you want to be treated in this way?) and universality (Would you want all persons to act this way in a similar situation?). The camp will recognize that these values transcend individual and cultural differences and will create a sense of responsibility for all persons.

2 Good character consists of understanding, caring about, and acting upon universal ethical values.

Effective character education must include the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of ethical living. In other words, campers must learn about, reflect upon, and practice these values.

3 Effective character development requires an intentional, proactive approach that promotes universal values in all phases of camp life.

An intentional and proactive approach plans deliberate ways to develop character throughout all aspects of camp. "Stand alone" character education programs can be useful first steps or helpful elements of an ongoing effort but must not be considered a substitute for a holistic approach that integrates character development into camp life.

4 The camp must be a caring community.

The camp community must embody good character. It must create a community where all campers and staff belong and have the opportunity to experience and demonstrate caring relationships in all aspects of daily camp life.

5 To develop character, campers need opportunities for action and reflection.

Campers learn best by doing. To develop good character, they need many and varied opportunities to apply values in everyday interactions and discussions. In the group living experiences that form the basis of camp life, campers can develop, practice, and reflect upon skills and habits that make up the action side of character. There must be planned and regular reflection on the demonstration of ethical behavior in daily camp life. Reflection of this nature is an indispensable condition for developing character.

6 Effective character education includes a meaningful and challenging program that respects all campers and helps them succeed.

A camp that believes in character education promotes cooperative efforts in problem solving, experiential learning, and challenging activity. Respect for and valuing of individual camper's needs creates an atmosphere where campers can learn and succeed.

7 Character education should strive to develop intrinsic motivation.

When campers and staff develop inner commitment to good character, they develop an ethical sense that will help them behave responsibly. Camps should minimize extrinsic rewards and punishments that distract campers and staff from the real reasons to behave responsibly both in camp and at home.

8 The camp staff must share responsibility for character development and model the same universal values being taught to campers.

Camp staff (administrators, program, and support staff) must be involved in learning about, discussing, and taking ownership of the character development effort. The same values that govern the life of campers must govern the collective life of the staff. When camp staff members experience mutual respect, fairness, and cooperation in their camp responsibilities, they are more likely to be committed to teaching those values to campers. Ethical leaders uphold the universal values in what they think, say, and do.

9 Character education requires leadership from both staff and campers.

A camp that believes in character education must have identified leaders who will inspire the effort. Campers and staff must be empowered by those leaders and by the camp culture to contribute to and benefit from character education. Camps must involve campers in appropriate responsibilities of ethical leadership and decision making.

10 The camp must recruit parents and community members as full partners in the character development effort.

Parents are the first and most important educators of their children. To build trust between home and camp, parents need to be represented in the identification of desired character traits and in the planning and implementation of the character development efforts. The effort will be enhanced by inclusion of the wider community that influences the camper, whether schools, religious institutions, organizations, or other community members.

Evaluation of character education should assess the character of the camp, the effectiveness of the staff as character educators, and the extent to which campers manifest good character.

11 Effective character education must include an effort to assess progress at three levels.

a) The character of the camp: To what extent is the camp becoming a more caring community?

b) The staff's effectiveness as character educators: How effectively does staff teach character development? To what extent do they model what they teach?

c) Camper character: To what extent do campers behave in ways consistent with the values being taught?

Adapted from 11 Principles of Effective Character Education, Character Education Partnership, Washington DC, 1996. Web address: www. character. org.

Adopted by the National Camp Executives Group, September 2002, Dallas, Texas.
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Author:Kinnamon, Ron
Publication:Camping Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:2453
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