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New curriculum aims to stop spread of violence with “character development”

school-violence-characterUnfortunately, it seems that school violence has reached an all-time high, as ‘kids will be kids’ bullying has escalated from hurt feelings to suicide, and banned items from campus have gone from slingshots to guns. In a time when hardly any parent feels safe sending their child to school, or any student feels safe on campus, should schools now also teach what it means to be a good person?

At least one teacher thinks so.

Created by Bobbi Callis, a mother and full-time reading intervention teacher, Veracity Matters is a multimedia character education program for children in elementary school, which hopes to reduce the percentage of children who suffer from bullying and depression.

The program, geared toward children from pre-K to eighth grade, emphasizes concepts such as empathy, manners and character values to young children, not just to stop the cycle of violence, but to also help them prepare for college and job interviews.

The fully-online program is “designed to teach children the problem-solving skills and core character value that are lacking in today’s schools…[it] emphasizes to children important communication skills needed in order to become productive citizens-skills that colleges and companies value.”

In theory, the curriculum, chocked full of videos, science experiments, physical activities, and animations, looks promising…but will it set a dangerous precedent?

(Next page: The implications of a ‘character’ program)

According to the curriculum’s website, which is currently looking for funding on Indiegogo, students will be expected to master concepts such as truthfulness, respect, self-control, responsibility, justice/fairness, perseverance, and caring.

“There are plenty of bullying prevention programs, but there are very few programs that focus on the elimination of bullying at its source through empathy,” says Callis. “With Veracity Matters, we hope to successfully eliminate the problem of bullying altogether with our proactive approach.”

Rather than replacing the curriculum currently taught in schools, Veracity Matters is designed to be a supplemental program. The entire program is scheduled to last 28 weeks, with short lessons meant to fill in some of the down time children have throughout the day. Additionally, the curriculum provides them with practical strategies for dealing with stress, anger and depression.

“This proactive approach enables parents and teachers to spend less time on discipline and more time building a positive atmosphere more conducive to learning,” says the program in a press release.

The program raises some talking points that, perhaps, have been passively overlooked in the general media; points such as: why has violence escalated in the last decade at such a rapid rate? Is it simply a gun control issue or problems in behavioral development? Are schools ultimately responsible for a student’s actions if he or she exhibits outward signs of hostility or depression and the school does not ‘take action’? What does ‘taking action’ mean exactly?

According to Veracity Matter’s website, 75 percent of campus shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying against the shooter. College counselors have also noted that shooters tend to feel isolated but are otherwise uncommunicative about these feelings with peers.

The website also notes that students who are bullies as young adults continue the trend of abuse and violence into adulthood—by the age of 30, approximately 40 percent of boys who are identified as bullies in middle and high school had been arrested three or more times.

So, maybe the answer is character development curriculum. Maybe if schools teach students traits like empathy and skills like personal communication, less violence will occur.

But let’s look into the future. Say schools do implement “character” curriculum, just like math and science curriculum: if bullying or shootings then occur at the school, or from a former student, is the school then to be held responsible in a court of law?

And if a student becomes a serial killer later in life, is the serial killer nothing more than a victim of a bad school education? Can that killer still be held accountable?

In other words, if empathy is no longer considered a basic human characteristic, and instead must be taught in a formal setting with students either passing or failing, will schools be held responsible for all violence committed in the world?

It’s a stretch, but it’s something to think about.

In any case, individual teachers who would like to subscribe to the Veracity Matters curriculum will be able to secure classroom subscriptions for $99, although backers to the Indiegogo campaign will be able to take advantage of a $30 early bird price. School-wide subscriptions will be available for $2,999, but schools that pledge at least $1,500 to the campaign can receive the same subscription.

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Meris Stansbury

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