11/10/2010 07:52 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Do We Need a Little Character Education Today?

"Did you have fun with your partner?" she whispered with a sneer to the girl in the seat next to her. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, because the comment wasn't meant for me to hear.

Shala just looked at her and shrugged her shoulders. She really didn't know what to say. It never occurred to her to be upset about her partner, or make fun of him. And that is exactly why I put her with that student. I knew that she would treat him with kindness and respect. She would help him stay on track and both of them would successfully complete the assignment.

The students in Reading Workshop had been working on a letter writing project. I wanted them to take a couple of minutes with a peer to discuss their letter -- how they organized it, what was going well, and what parts of the project needed help. I chose a partner for each student, forming teams that would succeed. This is something we do frequently, and students are used to working with many different peers throughout the year.

This comment has banged around in my head ever since I heard it. I keep thinking about the connotation behind, did you have fun with your partner. This sneaky form of bullying, trying to get a classmate to join in ridiculing a student is what makes school so difficult for so many students.

I'm not really sure which student I feel most sorry for -- the boy being laughed at, or the girl that felt the need to be so mean. The boy is a bit of a social outcast. Unfortunately, he irritates peers and causes them to loose patience with him. He also tries to gain attention too often by acting out and saying things to set himself apart. He isn't mean, but he does act that way sometimes when he gets picked on.

I am not sure why girl feels the need to be so mean. She is no stranger to trouble, and I am sure teachers have talked to her about her behavior before. Regardless of what is causing this behavior, she must stop bullying. Yet she continues to be hurtful, even enlisting a student like Shala who would not act this way under any circumstance. Will she ever figure out that actions like this, and the negative attitude behind it will create problems until she finds the strength to be a stronger, kinder person?

This situation also brings to question an even bigger issue, should schools teach values? Should spending a few minutes discussing this situation be allowed? Many parents don't want the teachers' values to be the standard for their children. They believe as parents, they have the right and responsibility to teach values to their children. And, who could argue that point?

Many school administrators would not want this issue addressed. Test scores are far too important to "waste" time on issues like this. Also, this is not part of the curriculum. Teaching material that is not in the course of study is not tolerated. In the opinion of school leaders, good teachers understand the scope and sequence of the curriculum and instruction is tailored to meet it.

In a recent post, I looked at what makes a successful school. Ultimately though, little situations like this and how they are handled are what determine success. Students must be taught that treating peers with disrespect will limit their success. If students are to grow, learn, and become productive adults, they must be taught how specific behaviors control their destiny.