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Character maturation never ends

By Nick Zeckets
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
June 14, 2000
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By the time we reach college, our morals and values are already in place, right? Wrong. According to Arthur Schwartz, director of character-education programs at the John Templeton Foundation, character can be changed in college students despite popular belief that such maturation ends between ages six and 16. As university students, we should attempt to continue developing freely and be open to positive character transformations.

Schwartz's article that appeared in the June 9 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education refuted three popular myths about the meaning and formation of character. The first is the idea that humans reach character maturation by no later than 16 years of age. However, he points out that while parental influence is likely the most powerful, "we reshape our character by the different choices we make and the virtues we practice."

With each and every decision a student makes, character is further transformed. Think back to the straight-arrow student in your graduating high school class who turned out to be an entirely different person when allowed the freedoms of college and living away from home. The choices that person made to open up and perhaps become an alcoholic or party animal had character implications.

Secondly, Schwartz refutes the notion that colleges and faculty members are not supposed to cultivate character. Referring to Ernest Boyer's study, College: The Undergraduate Experience in America, Schwartz points out that while no professor's job description includes teaching character, the concept is inherent in education. While university students are gaining academic expertise and skills, the pursuit of knowledge is a "moral enterprise." Students seek knowledge to better themselves, thus influencing character.

Faculty and staff of the UA have no choice but to be involved in the impression of character. While teachers' defined purposes may simply be to drive students to attain usable information, they are necessarily involved in shaping more than the academic qualities of a student. Each lecture, meeting and assignment draws the student to make a decision. Although it may be as simple as whether to complete a homework task on time or late, there is character formation.

Lastly, Schwartz rebuts the definition of character as being another word for a "religious or conservative ideology." For Schwartz, character and virtue are the accumulation of personal beliefs and codes that allow a person to function as a mature member of society. There is no specified list of "right" or "wrong" characters. Rather, whatever leads a person to make the greatest positive impact on society is preferable.

Obvious themes run concurrently through popular doctrines of proper conduct and elements of preferred character like civic aid and honesty, but those attributes not included in popular morality be good as well. Character should not be dissected and diagrammed resulting in a skeleton for every person to aspire to. Rather, it is an ideal that anyone can reach by an endless number of thoroughfares. Each must decide his or her own path of ascension.

While character is defined by an ever-evolving history of personal decisions, there are actors that can have a profound impact on positive development. As Schwartz exhibited, the university structure is one of them. Here at the UA, character is being drawn out every second.

Student futures at this university are open to change, and positive change at that. For your assignment, teachers, analyze your place in the lives of your students. Reflect on what you have done, could have done, and may be able to do in fostering a strong character in your students.

Similarly, students should contemplate what decisions they have made in their college career. Ask yourselves what you have done apart from garnering grades and expanding your social circles and lives' experiences. Have you taken advantage of all the opportunities you've had to strengthen your character, to make yourself a better person? Press yourself to think about how acting or deciding differently could have made you a better person and substantiated your character.

University of Arizona faculty, staff and students have the prospect of bringing this institution into the limelight. Celebrate our academic accomplishments, but do not fail to assess feats of character. Everyday and every moment on this campus affords the student with a decision. It may only be over the nature of lunch, but each decision counts. Regard for character decisions leads to strong characters.

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