In her column why character education is an imperative for Sri Lanka, HGS Premarathna, or Sajitha Preamrathna argues eloquently that good character is more important than ever, and posits, as the title indicates, it should be taught in schools.
I have reservations about both arguments.
In the first instance, she quotes Andrew Lickona who justifies the need for character education. According to Lickona, “There is a clear and urgent need [for character education]. Young people are increasingly hurting themselves and others and are decreasingly concerned about contributing to the welfare of others.”
Are young people more selfish today? Stephen Pinker says that as a species humans have continued to evolve to be less violent and more moral, but “our standards about behavior are rising faster than changes in our behaviors.”
I too don’t think our young people are any less moral than when we were young. The world is more complex and their behaviors are more conspicuous.
Secondly, I don’t think ‘character’ is something we should teach in school if teaching character means having it in the curriculum. However, I would agree about taking things out of the curriculum and reducing the pressure for success at examinations so that our youth have the space they need for each to develop his or her own character. Some may be more virtuous than others, but when it comes to a crunch, like the pandemic situation we have or a simple day to day issue, they will do what humans have done in our evolutionary history to survive, they will cooperate.