by Colton Qualls
I interned with Character.org the summer after earning my bachelor’s degree. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be, “when I grew up.”
Before coming to intern with this organization, I told my advisor that I was looking into nonprofits, advocacy and education. This process lead me to character.org. When I started working there, I had my reservations. I remember thinking something along the lines of, “Character Education? What kind of feel-good, hippy malarkey is this? All we need in schools is reading, writing, and arithmetic.” However, coming right out of college, I realized that any job experience is a job experience any way you slice it, and I was happy not running a weed eater all summer for the first time since I was sixteen.
It didn’t take long for me to find out that my misgivings were in no way warranted. There is an outright need for character development in our schools and communities, and you need look no further than the internet to see a clear demonstration of that need. You can’t turn on the news without hearing a story about the growing list of terrible things that happen due to cyberbullying. That aside, it is nearly impossible to find people able to have adult conversations about something they disagree on where the two parties are able to show even a shred of empathy. The lack of character on the internet is so toxic that the only way to have a debate without having to suffer through reading distasteful things directed at your mother is in online communities like reddit, where the threads have moderators who are able to put rules in place for debate, and monitor each post within the thread (and there is plenty of ugliness on reddit, too as moderators can do only so much).
Now, as the parent of an almost two-year-old, I’m terrified by the prospect that my baby, whose favorite thing in the world to do right now is to help his mommy unload the dishwasher, will soon have access to that very same internet, but thankfully not too soon. I am absolutely way in over my head on this whole parenting thing (ask my wife, she’ll tell you I’m being overly generous to myself). However, rather than wringing my hands over the issue of character education and hoping I get it right, I can be confident in knowing that I have the resources to at least point him in the right direction, unlike our experience thus far with potty training. In this instance, I’m doubly thankful for my head start into the foray of character education, because I know I can start now in making sure my kid will never be accurately accused of being an internet troll.
The world can be a scary place, and if you spend too much time on the internet it can seem even worse than it is. That said, it is good to know that there are organizations, such as Character.org that are doing their best to help schools, parents, and teachers produce kids with character, and in doing so make the world and the internet a better place. My kid could have a lot of things going against him. He may get that open-mouth-insert-foot disease that his daddy has, he may even get that dreaded disease his mother has of New England Patriots fandom, but he will be a kid with character.