SOME PEOPLE have a quaint notion that testing isn't everything schools are about.
One of a school's primary missions, this thinking goes, is to build character in students. Virtue, character and their first cousin, patriotism, aren't widely discussed in education these days except during the weeks after a Littleton shooting or a run of arsons in Anne Arundel County.
So it's comforting to know that there's a Maryland Center for Character Education and that tomorrow the center will honor this year's "character education schools of the year." Five of the nine winners are public schools, and one of those is in Baltimore.
"It's perfectly appropriate to focus on the development of good behavior," says Maurice Howard, the center's president-elect, "when it seems almost all of our focus these days is on test scores and academic achievement."
Howard, who used to be in charge of curriculum in Baltimore schools, is spending much of his retirement in the promotion of character education. He says schools are so intent on improving test scores, particularly in reading and math, that behavior takes a back seat along with such subjects as social studies and science.
Good behavior can be taught, Howard insists, just as good teachers can model it.
Aristotle believed the same thing, and educators have been discussing the teaching of virtue for centuries. Marylanders have seen two statewide reports on character education and a dozen local initiatives -- most notably in Baltimore County and the city -- over a quarter-century.
But interest in virtue wanes, Howard says, between national school crises. "The two main impediments are focus and time. We can't seem to focus on character education for a sustained period, and educators claim they don't have the time to do it along with all the other things they have to do."
All nine of the schools honored for character education have a strong community service emphasis, Howard says.
They are Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, Baltimore City College, Beth Tfiloh Community School in Baltimore, Buck Lodge Middle School in Prince George's County, Gov. Thomas Johnson Middle School in Frederick, Milbrook Elementary in Baltimore County, the Montessori School in Lutherville, St. Leonard Elementary in Calvert County and Yeshivat Rambam Academy in Baltimore.
College students everywhere are finding it's cheaper to buy textbooks online than from the campus bookstore. I discovered that last week while registering for a class at Towson University.
I purchased one of my textbooks, a 223-page paperback published by a nonprofit education association, for $30.90 in the Towson bookstore, which is operated by the university.
Back home at my computer, I looked for the book in three new online textbook stores, one of which is advertised in the Towson student newspaper, the Towerlight. Towson had added $1.95 to the suggested retail price of the book, while all three online services discount it by as much as 25 percent.
The result: I could have saved $5 to $7 buying the book online, even allowing for the cost of shipping.
Reading, writing and ads
Ten years ago, schools began receiving free television sets from the media company Channel One. All they had to do in return was air daily current-affairs programs that included commercials for soft drinks, running shoes and other products.
That opened the door to commercialism in schools. This year, it's open wider: Ad-filled student handbooks, planners and "agenda books" greeted students this fall in dozens of Maryland middle and high schools.
The student planner at Towson High School is 16 pages of school rules, regulations and schedules, then 168 pages of calendars, facts and figures (multiplication tables, grammar rules, a map of the solar system) interspersed with advertising. There's a car ad on the front cover and a clothing ad on the back.
Last year, said Principal Gwendolyn R. Grant, the school paid $5,000 for a "tailor-made" handbook. This year it was free. "But we have to put up with the ads."
Grant said the school would be "keeping a close eye all year to see how students like it."
Sister Mary Davyd, O.P., has been named headmistress of Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville. A graduate of Thomas More College in Kentucky, she comes to the Catholic all-girls high school from Nashville, Tenn., after a teaching assignment in Denver.
Pub Date: 9/15/99