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Making Good Habits Second Nature

Making Good Habits Second Nature
Sandy Stoltzfus—Principal, Plato Campus
When asked whether there is bullying at Liberty Common School, I typically respond with something like, “Well, we have over 1,400 human beings on our campuses [pause].”  I follow this response by emphasizing a few things:
  • There are over 600 students at the Plato Campus, over 300 at Aristotle, and currently 523 junior- and high-school students at LCHS – each of whom is developing and growing in moral character.
  • Foolish behaviors such as teasing and meanness, in addition to unsafe behaviors, such as fighting, bullying, alcohol, and drug use do not characterize the culture of Liberty Common School.
  • When foolish and unsafe behaviors occur (and they do), we respond in accordance to the offense.
Serious offenses are handled in a serious manner. We take our responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the students entrusted to our care very seriously. In addition, we collaborate with parents to use these situations as opportunities to help children develop good character.
As stated in one of the Liberty Common School's founding philosophical books, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong by William Kilpatrick (1993), “Character Education wants to stack the deck in favor of good conduct, on the assumption that good conduct is not our natural first choice. From the character education perspective, goodness is not an easy project.”
Kilpatrick goes on to say, “From a traditional point of view, the chief way to counter our lack of will and determination is through the development of good habits. An effective moral education would be devoted to encouraging habits of honesty, helpfulness, and self-control until such behaviors become second nature.”
Good conduct is not always our natural first choice.  If you’ve spent time around a toddler, a teenager, or with me when I-25 is backed up and I’m running late, then you know this is true.  It’s even more difficult for children who have not had much time to practice making virtuous choices.
Without knowing the Golden Rule, for example – practicing it, failing at it, and learning from their mistakes – children will not be habitually respectful or become respectful adults. The goal of character education is to develop self-awareness and restraint, resulting in ever-increasing habits of virtue in adulthood.
One of the school’s founding principles states, “To thrive in work, citizenship, and personal growth, children must be taught the values of a democratic society. These values include among others: Respect for others—their property and rights; Responsibility for actions, honesty, and social justice; Resourcefulness—being ready to learn, to serve, and to share.”
Children must be taught. Making the wrong choice (we at Liberty Common believe there are right and wrong choices), being held accountable, taking responsibility, accepting the natural consequences, and making amends lead to the growth and development of good moral habits.
When administering discipline at the elementary school, I guide students through a reflection sheet and a four-step apology process – please CLICK HERE to view a sample. On the other side of folly, significant growth usually occurs. Good character is a choice.  Good character becomes a habit.
A note on bullying:  As a school community, we need to distinguish the difference between typical peer conflict (a natural part of relationships, necessary to develop social skills), and bullying (habitual cruelty that has the potential of being detrimental to the health and well-being of the person being bullied).
In the Liberty Common Handbook, we define bullying as “the use of coercion to obtain control over another person or to be habitually cruel to another person. Bullying can occur through written, verbal or electronically transmitted expression or by means of a physical act or gesture.”  When bullying occurs, it is handled in a serious manner.  Please CLICK HERE to review the school’s Bullying Policy (Section 3.8 of the Student/Parent Handbook).