Monday, February 28, 2005

Character Education

Yesterday's front page story in the News & Record covers local character education programs. The article also serves as a prelude to Tuesday night's community forum on the same topic. On balance, Bruce Buchanan's article is informative and accurately describes what is happening with character education locally today. However, Buchanan's article has important factual errors about the early history of local character education programs and the programs' coordinator, Charlie Abourjilie.

Buchanan writes that after the state legislature required all public schools to teach character education in 2001, "Abourjilie then left Guilford County Schools to become the character education coordinator for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction...Guilford Superintendent Terry Grier eliminated the county's coordinator position to cut costs." This is simply not true.

Charlie Abourjilie confirmed to me yesterday that Dr. Grier cut the character education position from the schools in 2000, returning Charlie to the classroom at High Point Central. In 2002, Charlie left Central to become the state's first Character Education Coordinator. Dr. Grier did not eliminate an open position to save costs as the N&R article says. Grier torpedoed the existing local character education coordinator position and all meaningful support of the program.

Buchanan's article also claims that "In 1996, Guilford County Schools received a federal grant to begin a character education program." That statement is also untrue. Charlie Abourjilie confirms that initial funding and support for the character education programs in the late 1990's came from the Greensboro College and the ten Rotary clubs in Guilford County. Dr. Craven Williams, the president of Greensboro College and a Rotarian, was particularly instrumental in supporting character education programs. You can imagine the outrage among the local Rotary clubs when Grier cut an important school program with significant private funding and minimal public funding.

Soon after cutting Charlie's position, Dr. Grier was questioned about his actions at a local Rotary club meeting. He denied some of his actions and cited inaccurate cost savings generated by the actions he admitted. Later, a local Rotary club president called Grier to address his inaccurate statements. Grier acknowledged he had misspoken. I was willing to give Grier the benefit of the doubt until a month later he "misspoke" again, citing the same inaccurate information. Needless to say, when Grier requested to pitch his pet school bond issue at another local Rotary club soon after his "misstatements," the president told Grier that the club would make time for him when his values came into line with Rotary's values.

I noted that Grier is barely mentioned in the article, but he did manage to say that character education is "one of the most important things we teach." If he truly valued character education as that important, he would support it more fully and model behavior consistent with the character we want to instill in our children.


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