This month, the Meeting House joins schools and organizations around the country in promoting National Bullying Prevention Awareness and drawing attention to this important issue. Especially as put-downs, exclusion, and distrust dominate in the media and public sphere these days, it seems all the more important to be discussing bullying with our kids and practicing ways to combat it. I believe our Meeting House community is an ideal space to do that, as our core values -- respect, diversity, inclusion, friendship, and community -- form a strong counterforce to the culture of bullying.
These values aren’t just words we put on our website. They’re the foundation upon which we build all of our programs and are at the heart of our community. By cultivating these values and providing opportunities for our students to practice them, our hope is that ultimately, they will choose to adopt them as their own. Like the old adage says, practice makes perfect, so in order to achieve that goal we put these values into action each and every day. This involves a special kind of education; one that doesn’t involve notebooks or calculators, tests or textbooks. It’s social-emotional learning, or character education, and it is part of everyday life here at the Meeting House.
What does social-emotional learning or character education look like at the Meeting House?
Part of character education is learning how to coexist in relationship with others. As our Advisory Board member, Linda Gardner says, character education is a learning process that teaches “the habits of thought and deed that help people live and work together as families, friends, neighbors, communities and nations.” We incorporate practice in the essential skills of collaboration, communication, and problem-solving, helping our students learn how to get along with others, settle disagreements respectfully, and support each other in the learning process.
What is the opposite of bullying? Friendship. This is perhaps the most primary value that we encourage and promote at The Meeting House. We believe in the value of being kind, inclusive and respectful, despite our differences. Our students learn that compassion and kindness is always the best choice. Like First Lady Michelle Obama reminded us in her recent speech, “when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level.” We encourage our students, to take this one step further, standing up for others, and being a friend to all, building the kind of community in which everyone feels welcome.
To again quote Linda Gardner, character education helps students “understand, care about and act on core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue and citizenship, and responsibility for self and others.” The importance of these values has certainly been brought to light over the past few months of presidential campaigning, as division and animosity have become ever more prominent in the media, on the national political stage, and in local communities around the country. The kids in our programs are tomorrow’s leaders, voters, and citizens, and it’s our hope that they will carry the Meeting House values with them, creating a kinder more inclusive country and world.
Only when students develop their social and emotional selves, and then become confident in those parts of themselves, can they form a strong sense of character. Every day at the Meeting House, our students are becoming -- each in their own individual ways and at their own pace -- the responsible citizens, good friends, and kind and honest individuals this country needs for the future.