Wow! The last several weeks have driven home to me a singular truth. Character matters. And what is character? Someone quipped, “Character is who you are when you are by yourself.”
Watching the news recently has been painful as one after another public figure – men in positions of power – have been accused of seriously inappropriate and even criminal actions in regard to women. The stories are unavoidable. While this might not be what you expect in the pages of the Quid Novi, I can’t think of anything that calls for our attention in school more than this.
Character formation starts now. Children need to know from the start what is good and right. They need you, their parents, to actively teach into their lives the moral absolutes of God’s law. Moreover, they need the broader community, which includes our school, to reinforce and uphold these standards. As the founder of my alma mater said, “Behind every tragedy in human character there is a long process of wicked thinking.” In other words, the stories that break the headlines on our news feeds didn’t just pop up. The recent discovery should not lead us to think that the incidents are new. They are the result of a settled disposition, a habit of behavior over a long period of time.
Think about that. All of the news about so and so (fill in the blank here), didn’t just appear this fall. Every story has been incubating for years, even decades, one action at a time. All of them are the result of a long process of thinking about others in the wrong way. I don’t pretend to understand the forces in the culture that are aligning in such a way as to bring all of them to light just now. Some are politically motivated to be sure. Others are coming to our attention because social media and the #metoo currents are making it possible. It doesn’t really matter. Whatever the reason, it’s now coming to light.
What does matter is that our children understand the Scriptures that say, “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right,” (Pro 20:11). You don’t wait to grow up to start living right. It starts now, in your home. Here are a few things we both should do:
Read the Ten Commandments to you children. Pick up your Bible, turn to Exodus 20, and read the Ten Commandments to your children regularly. Talk about them and tell them this: “This is God’s law, and it applies to all men at all times and in all places. No one is exempt; that’s everybody, everywhere.” They are not commandments just for Christians. They are God’s standards for everyone, and they are the measure by which God judges.
Don’t wince when you get to the Seventh Commandment. C.S. Lewis remarked that the world would likely leave us alone if we simply omitted any reference to the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Rightly understood, this commandment regulates all sexual sin, not simply marriage. Everyone knows it’s wrong to lie, steal, or kill. Few in our culture, however, admit that that there is any restriction in regard to what we do with our bodies. Teach your children that that chastity is a virtue. There are a hundred applications that are appropriate for young children that can be taught before they reach adolescence.
Make your children memorize the commandments by number. Since I conduct chapel for all middle school students, I am assisting you here. We spend weeks in the fall and winter talking about the commandments and I catechize your children in every commandment and make them recite them by number – in order and out of order. Don’t leave it all to me, however; please know that I am teaching this, and you should feel free to offer pop quizzes at the dinner table.
Will this guarantee virtue in your children? Of course not, but a child cannot begin to do right unless he hears all adults in his life affirming the thing that is right. I cannot overstate the power of a unified community in establishing and affirming clear boundaries of right and wrong.
Finally, parents, set an example. Live rightly before your children. You won’t be perfect, but you can live a life of integrity. Again, the Scriptures promise, “The just man walks in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.” (Pro 20:7). Be that man.