Early action is important. With an erosion of traditional family relationships, research indicates that children of all backgrounds and cultures are increasingly learning their character values through environmental influences that include peer pressure, pop trends, celebrity figures, and messages conveyed through music, television, movies, social media and video games. This is not to say that children do not still learn character lessons from what they see at home; they certainly do, it's just that many of those lessons are not always positive. A child's character matrix (internal guidance system) is programmed by the time they are about 12 or 13 years old. At around that age, most teens somehow evolve into "enlightened beings" who believe they know more about everything in life than their parents or elders, and become much harder to influence going forward. Proactive character education, therefore, is best administered earlier, rather than later. EAFK seeks to reach and teach kids the right stuff before they reach adolescence.
State legislatures are becoming serious about character education. Since 1999, an increasing number of lawmakers have responded to the need for character education in public schools. 36 states have found character education imporant enough to enact legislation that either mandates or strongly encourages its instruction in the classroom. 7 additional states are on record as supporting character education, but have yet to create any official legislation.
Tradition. What business does Rotary have in character building? HerbTaylor, past Rotary International President and author of the Four Way Test once said, "I believe that the great opportunity and the great responsibility of Rotary rests in the field of building character, in the building of men." The character attribute of "Service" is not intrinsic; it must be engrained early in life to be realized. If service organizations do not become involved with developing selfless, service-oriented children today, then there will be few people finding the time to join their ranks tomorrow. Built around the Four Way Test, EAFK effectively instills the habit of "service above self" during a child's most formative years.
Character education is no longer an option. Being highly educated does not make one a good person. Ethical impairment is stealthy, but reveals itself through symptoms such as dishonesty, irresponsibility, disresect, hatred, jealousy, greed, and indifference to others. These attributes can destroy a society, leading to anti-social behaviors like cheating, lying, violence, deception, intolerance, and immorality. EAFK deals with the causes of ethical impairment instead of trying to mitigate the symptoms. EAFK changes the way children think and relate to the world around them. Think of it as preventing future catastrophies before they occur.
Rotary International President K.R. Ravindran and Space Center Rotarians after an EAFK knighting ceremony at Whitcomb Elementary School in Houston, Texas.
EAFK is required for all students on campus, just like core subjects. EAFK is not merely a voluntary program for a few good kids to sign up for. Using Rotary's Four Way Test as a modern code of chivalry, participation in EAFK is mandatory for each student at every grade level, from Kindergarten through 8th grade. EAFK is prioritized at every participating campus, which eventually influences the culture of the entire school.
EAFK works. Many character education programs are shallow, ineffective exercises in futility. Platitudes and posters don't modify thought and behavior very much. Busy teachers don't have the time or experience to develop their own character lessons. Schools that use EAFK as directed report real results, including significantly fewer disciplinary referrals and incidents of campus bullying (50%-75% on average); better relationship skills; classroom teaching time recovery for other subjects (45 minutes per day, on average), culminating in overall academic improvement; enthusiastic parental involvement and support; and significantly greater student participation in school-wide charitable activities.