Letters to the editor: Aug. 5, 2015

Huckabee’s comment

As Chair of the Holocaust Museum & Learning Center in Creve Coeur, and as someone whose family includes both Holocaust survivors and victims, I would like to comment on Mike Huckabee’s remark that an Iran deal “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” While I admire and respect Mr. Huckabee’s longtime support for Israel and its policies, and appreciate his concerns that the Iran deal would lead to Israel’s nuclear annihilation, I feel that his comment was ill-advised and inappropriate.

The Holocaust has an historical specificity and significance, and to contemporize it for partisan political purposes denigrates its memory. The “Final Solution” against the Jews was a horrific part of an unspeakable Nazi policy; it should never be viewed as a metaphor, packaged and rolled out whenever someone needs a graphic image for a specific agenda.

Kent Hirschfelder, Chair, Holocaust Museum & Learning Center

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Different perspective on character education

As we head toward a new school year, we do, indeed, need to be concerned about what kind of educational environment we want for our children.  Unfortunately, the position advanced by J. Martin Rochester (July 22 commentary, “Character miseducation”) leaves us with an archaic and ineffective plan for students. Professor Rochester suggests a “no-nonsense approach” that punishes those who fail to maintain order and disobey the rules. However, the basics are more than adding and subtracting; a basic value underlies the importance of life and relationships.  Furthermore, punishing and rewarding our students may sound like common sense, but psychologists have studied this process for decades and concluded that we may actually punish our students through rewards, as described in journalist Alfie Kohn’s book entitled “Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and other Bribes.” Likewise, Dr. Edward Deci and Dr. Richard Ryan provide phenomenal research at selfdeterminationtheory.org.

We both are retired educators who regularly exercise our right to vote. That doesn’t make us certain of how to restore public civility any more than the chairmanship of the political science department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis makes Rochester an expert on character development.  We have been studying and implementing character education for many years. Character education is about making schools into places where students want to go because there are people that care about them there, people who are dedicated to students being both smart and good.  We know that the voice of dissent has a place in a democracy.  Character education in school would not only uphold Professor Rochester’s right to be wrong but teach him how to get it right.

Professor Rochester expressed the fear that being against character education might make some see him as a “bad person”.  Nothing could be further from the truth, though we believe that he would leave students with little direction regarding the ability to make good choices.  Character education is not indoctrination into someone’s personal and arbitrary notion of right and wrong. Character education values relationships above all else, while establishing a school climate that emphasizes the voices of all.  All schools transmit values, whether they do so intentionally or not.  Character educators intentionally and systematically build adult culture and create adult connections to young people.  All schools and teachers inculcate the moral values that Rochester wants to reserve for parents; we just want to see that job done well.  

 With a combined 50 plus years at the elementary, middle and high school levels, we find it hard to have patience with those who, just because they have been to school, think that they know how to provide education at the K-12 level.  Our young students live in complex environments that require strong support for student voice and varied learning dispositions.  Simplistic invective about teaching the “three R’s” and veiled misgivings about what “values” public schools are espousing certainly may sound good in today’s political arena, but it does little to inform or inspire those who devote themselves to the development of our nation’s youngsters.  

While Rochester may want to keep values and moral considerations in the home, the reality is that uncounted decisions of right and wrong occur all day, every day in school.  Courtesy, sharing, kindness, patience are needed all day in groups of students and teachers.  That kind of learning needs to be nurtured through the use of scholarly evidence, not a political position.

Mary A. Hoppe and Mark Kasen, doctoral candidates in educational psychology at UMSL