What does “good moral character” really mean and who has the right to say whether one possesses it or not?
In the US, the legal meaning of the phrase is “a personal history of honesty, fairness, and respect for the rights of others and for state and federal law”. I guess we also take it to mean that way.
So, where does one learn to become honest, fair and respectful of others’ rights? I believe the best way to teach these to our children is by showing them how it’s done—preferably how it feels to be respected, to receive fair treatment and hear the truth.
The school shares primary responsibility, along with the parents, of instilling good moral character. This brings to mind several experiences.
I remember having questioned the behavior of certain adults in school since I was in first grade. Needless to say, I have had to defend the act of questioning adults, but I was lucky that there were better adults who saw the value of what I later discovered was called “critical thinking”. One does not take everything—hook, line and sinker—only because certain people said so.
Practice What You Preach
I knew adults told lies and I made it known that I did! Many of them did not take this too well. My mother warned me that students are always at the mercy of teachers and that no matter what they said, a certain part of the grades we got are actually based on their subjective evaluation. My father, on the other hand, encouraged me to speak the truth—and he stood by me as long as I did it respectfully. He even wrote a few letters explaining my behavior!
As an adult, I began to realize the impact of teaching by example. No mail, not even magazines or ads, were ever opened by persons other than the addressees. That was my father’s way of showing how important privacy was. Although we teased him a lot about black being called white whenever he said so, he taught us the value of “a day in court”—the right to be heard, to explain. He lay down his rules and policies and though there were times when we had no say on them, he made sure we knew those rules. Once, he said that with few exceptions, such rules were laid down for everybody’s welfare.
The one thing that was clear was that no one was above such rules. My father did not excuse himself from his own rules and would abide by them. Whatever standard he used always applied to him as well. My father practiced what he preached and stood by us unconditionally.
Certifying Good Moral Character
The person or institution that nurtures a child should be able to confidently issue a certification—the proof that they did a good job. After all, the child should not have been allowed to graduate if something was so terribly wrong with that child.
The story of Krisel Mallari is not new and has countless versions. I watched her deliver her speech and though she was questioning decisions made by the school, she remained respectful. To a certain degree, I do believe that it is the school’s prerogative to say who should get what honor—but standards, criteria and other bases of evaluation should be made clear. To me, respectfully asking questions is one of the marks of good moral character.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.