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Character Education

Seminar in New Delhi on Characer Education and HIV/AIDS Prevention

Under the chairmanship of Dr. L.M. Singhvi, the Universal Peace Federation of India held a half-day seminar under the theme, “Character Education Based HIV/AIDS Prevention.” Seventy distinguished participants from a cross section of India’s rich religious and academic heritage held lively discussions at the India International Centre on Sunday, July 2nd. At the conclusion of the event, nine new Ambassador for Peace certificates were given.

Amb. K.V. Rajan chaired the first session. He noted with sadness the recent debate in India whether there are 5.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS or, as the United Nations claims, the figure is 5.7 million. The difference is not just numeric; the higher figure places India at the top of the charts, above South Africa, in terms of the absolute numbers of HIV/AIDS victims.

(L to R) Dr. Robert Kittel, Amb. and Mrs. K.V. Rajan

Dr. L.M. Singhvi (R) and Dr. Kittel

To begin the first part, Dr. Robert S. Kittel, the Director of UPF-India and International Education Advisor, acknowledged the sincere desire on the part of everyone to help our children. But indicated that good intentions must be accompanied with sound, effective programs. He then pointed out two concerns: 1) the incorrect identification of the root of the problem, and 2) a pedagogical contradiction in curricula design.

The Bicchu Maathu School AIDS Education Programme (BMSAEP) believed, “The main reason for [the spread of HIV / AIDS] is the lack of knowledge on sex, sexuality, reproductive health, HIV / AIDS / STI prevention.” (p. v) Based on their hypothesis, the authors assumed, “Adolescents and youth need information in order to make such responsible choices in terms of sexual behavior.” (p. 3)

However, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, one of the leading experts on marriage and family in the United States working with The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, sees the root cause of the problem very differently:

Research does not support the idea that early sex education or franker communication or instruction about feelings and decision-making seem to have any measurable impact on sexual conduct. (Whitehead, Barbara Dafoe. [1994]. The Failure of Sex Education. American Educator: Vol. 18, No. 4, Winter; p. 46)

Rather than a lack of knowledge, Dr. Whitehead says it is “family structure [which] strongly influences early sexual activity.” (p. 46)

Secondly, Dr. Kittel pointed out what he saw as a pedagogical contradiction in the BMSAEP statement that “Education of human sexuality in schools and colleges will [not] lead to excessive sexual experimentation.” As a father of two girls, he asked, “What is excessive sexual experimentation, especially when we are talking about a deadly, incurable disease?”

Of course the very purpose of education is to give students knowledge, skills and values so they can perform better. Assuming otherwise is liberty without responsibility, bordering on educational malpractice. Thus began a vigorous exchange; people were serious, personally engaged, enthusiastic and respectful.

Dr. Shankar Chowdhury, UNESCO Program Officer, HIV/AIDS & Education

Dr. Shankar Chowdhury, one of the main architects of “Learning for Life” (another program cited by Dr. Kittel), responded passionately. Explicit sexual images were not to be found in this curriculum, he clarified. Designed in the 1990s it was one of the first books on AIDS prevention and it took a family-life, skills-based approach. He had persistently resisted the inclusion of sexual images. Through thousands of surveys of parents, teachers, administrators and students, they were repeatedly told not to include such vivid graphics.

Following tea, Dr. Singhvi himself chaired the second session, which offered UPF’s character education proposal. This began by explaining “why” human beings, contrary the unlearned instinctual behavior of animals, fully participate in developing their own character. We were given the gift of participating in our own creation in order to have genuine ownership and self-governance, i.e., true freedom. Then Dr. Kittel illustrated precisely “how” we partake in developing our own character. His powerpoint presentation drew from the basic concepts of science, supported with scriptural references from the world’s religions.

There are two areas of our lives where each of us is totally responsible. The first is the correct alignment of our own mind and body. It seems simple, but it is critical for developing good character. The mind, with its higher facilities, can transcend time and space. On the other hand, the body is rooted in the here and now and serves primarily for self-maintenance. Both are good and necessary. However, only when the mind directs the body is a healthy relationship established. In this case we are able to live for the greater good, thinking more of others than just ourselves. Conversely, selfishness is created when the desires of the body dominate those of our public mindfulness.

The second area of human responsibility is the relationship between men and women. Conjugal love is the pillar of the family, and the family is the center and most essential educational institution of society. In the family we learn love; it’s not instinctual. Parents live for the sake of their children; children for the sake of their parents; a husband for the sake his wife; a wife for the sake of her husbands, and brothers and sisters share and help each other too. It is in the family where we learn joy of living for others and the pleasure that comes from sacrificing to make others happy.

Dr. Kittel concluded by explaining the interconnection between individual mind-body character development and husband-wife relationships:

The purpose of building good character is not just for yourself—though it will benefit you. Good character is the basis on which good marriages and true love are built. The purpose of developing good character is to create ideal families of true love.

In summary, the most effective HIV/AIDS prevention will be when individuals develop good character and we build families of true love.

Nine new Ambassador for Peace Awards were presented.

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