Empty Desks at Washington Monument Left as Message for the Candidates

Visitors to the Washington Monument were greeted with an unusual display this past week – 857 empty school desks aligned right in front of the Monument. The desks were placed there as part of the College Board’s “Don’t Forget Ed” campaign and represented the 857 high school students that drop out of schools across America every hour of every school day. Row after row of empty desks on the National Mall lawn made for a stunning visual image of just how big the problem is.

Members of the College Board were on hand gathering signatures for a petition to the presidential candidates, which, according to The New York Times stated: “If you want my support, I need to hear more from you about how you plan to fix the problems with education. And not just the same old platitudes. I want to know that you have real, tangible solutions, and that once in office, you’re ready to take serious action. I’ll be watching your acceptance speech at your party’s convention.”

“We’re not criticizing any candidates and we are not advocating a particular policy. We are mobilizing students and others to create a more visible constituency that wants education to be a prominent issue in the election,” said Peter Kauffmann, vice president of communications at the College Board. A poll commissioned by the College Board in April 2012 found that 67 percent of voters in nine key swing states believe education is an “extremely important” issue in the run-up to the general election.

According to the College Board, more than 1.2 million students drop out of school every year, which averages out to 6,000 students every school day and 857 every hour. Recent data show that students in this country rank 25th in math and 21st in science among students from 30 industrialized nations.

On August 15, Don’t Forget Ed will rally thousands of voices via Twitter and Facebook in order to send a powerful message to the candidates. Don’t Forget Ed will continue staging additional events in conjunction with the nominating conventions and leading up to Election Day to generate further support and engagement.

TV movie highlights bullying issue

Field of Vision on NBC at 8/7c, Saturday, June 11

What happens when the star quarterback finds out his teammates are bullying the new kid? Watch Field of Vision this Saturday to find out. The latest made-for-TV family movie from Procter & Gamble and Walmart’s Family Movie Night, Field of Vision, addresses bullying in schools and standing up for what’s right. Faith Ford, Tony Oller, and Joe Adler star.

The producers of Family Movie Night reported that according to a recent survey, nearly three-quarters (74%) of Americans consider bullying harassment a serious problem in their local public schools, and more than 45 percent of students admitted to having been bullied, teased, or taunted at school, as noted by a Josephson Institute of Ethics survey (that’s us!).

Watch the trailer:

Take our bullying survey.

Check out our free bullying resources.

Learn about our anti-bullying workshop.

Update, 6/14: The DVD will be available at Walmart on 8/30/2011. Here’s the link.

Breaking down walls at Hinsdale Central High School

CHARACTER COUNTS! at Hinsdale CentralIn his new book On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Strong Character, education expert Samuel Casey Carter examines 12 public and charter schools “where confident children joyfully strive to accomplish worthy goals in concert with their friends.” One thing each school has in common is the focus on creating a culture of character.

Carter specifically applauds Hinsdale Central High School, a CHARACTER COUNTS! school in suburban Chicago. Last week, Carter told the Chicago Sun-Times that the school enjoys “the wonderful outcomes harnessed by an extraordinary school culture committed to student character.”

This isn’t the first time Hinsdale Central’s CC! program has made the news. In 2008, the school was designated a National School of Character by the Character Education Partnership. The award recognized the school for its success in building the character and social/emotional skills of its students and granted it $20,000 to continue the program and train other educators.

What does it mean for Hinsdale to have a culture of character?

Beginning when they arrive for freshman year – and continuing for the next four years, students are trained in Conflict Resolution Skills, Peer Leadership Building, Ethical Thinking, and Internet Safety. This curriculum gives students a solid foundation for effectively responding to conflict, controlling negative impulses, and making ethical decisions.

Throughout the school year, Hinsdale Central hosts several events that help establish a culture of caring. One of these is the annual “3,000 Devils Tolerance Month,” which includes a “Mix It Up Lunch,” in which students are encouraged to sit with someone new, and an “Eliminate Hate” campaign, in which students create videos to combat “hate speech” heard in the halls and cafeteria. Those videos are shown on the monitor by the cafeteria. (Watch a recent video at the bottom of this story.)

Hinsdale Central students organize and host “Walk the Walk for Autism,” which raises student awareness and encourages students to be understanding and caring citizens, and “Leave Your Hate at the Door,” a conference in which different schools present their ideas for building cultural bridges.

There’s also “Break Down the Walls,” an anti-bullying performance created and performed by the 52-student Break Down the Walls club. In addition to performing, club members “step in on their own when they see bullying happening.” This actually happens. When a few Hinsdale Central students sat in on our recent “Bullying Stops Here” webinar, one student said she went over and talked to girls who’d snubbed another girl. She told them it was wrong and got them to change their behavior. Another Break Down the Walls student said she participates in the program because, “once you get to high school, it’s not really cool to be mean anymore. It’s cool to care.”

Other clubs that help create a culture of caring at Hinsdale Central include the Gay/Straight Alliance, Peer Buddies, which joins special ed. and regular ed. students, and Spectrum, which allows autistic students to form friendships with each other and with other students.

Since Hinsdale Central implemented CHARACTER COUNTS! ten years ago, incidents of harassment and intimidation went from 49 in the 1997-98 school year to nine in 2006-07, even as total enrollment increased from 1981 to 2656. Those numbers show just how effective CC! can be in changing the culture of a school.

Watch this video made by Hinsdale Central students:

Anti-Bullying Campaign from Sara Klepacki on Vimeo.

Note to Illinoisans: To recognize the publication of On Purpose, Hinsdale Central Character Counts! will host a  book signing event in the Hinsdale Central Library on December 14, 2010 from 8:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. If you buy a book, it will be signed by all individuals who are quoted within it. In addition, Hinsdale Central Character Counts! will present signed books to the Hinsdale Township High School District 86 Board of Education. This presentation would take place during the January 2011 BoE meeting.

During these events, Hinsdale Central Character Counts! will record video testimonials from students, staff, and others about the value of CC! at Hinsdale Central High School.

The empathy deficit

At the annual meeting for the Association for Psychological Science last month, researchers from the University of Michigan presented their findings that college students today are less empathetic than college students 30 years ago. The steepest decline in empathy occurred in the last nine years.

Why might people be less empathetic than they used to be?

Researcher Sara Konrath told LiveScience, “Compared to 30 years ago, the average American now is exposed to three times as much nonwork-related information. In terms of media content, this generation of college students grew up with video games, and a growing body of research… is establishing that exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others.”

Ed O’Brien, another researcher involved in the study, thinks the increase in social media is a factor. On Scientific American’s 60-Second Psych podcast, he said, “It’s harder for today’s college student to empathize with others because so much of their social lives is done through a computer and not through real life interaction.” For example, it’s easier to ignore the problems of a Facebook “friend” than those of a friend who’s standing right in front of you, crying. O’Brien believes the increase in the competitiveness and busyness of our society also might be factors.

In the study, researchers reviewed 72 studies of 14,000 college students from 1979-2009, but LiveScience managing editor Jeanna Bryner points to a Michigan State study of 477,000 high-school seniors, also over 30 years. The authors of this study concluded that students are no more self-centered than their parents were, though “they are less fearful than other generations of social problems such as race relations, hunger, poverty and energy shortage.”

Whether or not we accept Konrath and O’Brien’s conclusions, we can all agree that the world could use more compassion. So how can we raise our empathy levels?

O’Brien suggests spending more time away from our computers, interacting with people in the real world.

We suggest visiting our free Lesson Plan Bank and checking out classroom activities for students of all ages, listed under the Caring pillar.