By Emily Stewart And Marc Steven
n the face of what has been summed up as a moral crisis among youth today, some Los Angeles kids are taking matters into their own hands. With a goal of reversing the trend of morals in the nation’s schools, the ambitious students have taken the helm of a national campaign to improve morality by getting kids to set a good example for others.
The campaign, known as “The Children’s Set a Good Example Campaign and School Contest,” was first implemented in U.S. schools in 1983.
The campaign centers on The Way to Happiness, a pocket-sized booklet containing 21 precepts comprising all of the basic, time-honored and common-sense morals of a sound society such as “take care of yourself,” “honor and help your parents,” “seek to live with the truth,” “don’t do anything illegal” and “fulfill your obligations.” Each precept is explained with brief text. (See “About The Way to Happiness,”)
Ten-year-old Los Angeles resident Ted Demos accepted the position of National Youth Chairman and International Spokesperson for the campaign in early 1999.
“When I was asked to be the chairman for this program, I thought to myself, ‘I’m just a kid ... what can I do?’ Then I thought about it and said to myself, ‘I’m not just a kid, I’m a person and I can do something,” says Ted. “But I still need help,” he quickly adds.
Ted and friends, with the help of campaign organizers, launched a newsletter at the end of 1999 called “Excalibur.” He and regional youth spokespersons from the Eastern, Midwestern and Western United States call on other students to help set a good example. The kids also bestow an award of “Moral Patriot Status” on kids and adults who set good examples. The first newsletter features a Memphis dentist who has set a good example in her community using The Way to Happiness.
To encourage that children involved in the campaign communicate with other children involved in Set A Good Example projects, organizers started a Set A Good Example Club in which each member receives an e-mail account which enables them to e-mail to other members.
Making a Difference
The children’s campaign and newsletter are one way in which young voices are being heard amid the clamor to do something about the moral miasma which is showing up in poor scholastic aptitude, substance abuse, criminality, violence, sexual promiscuity and a general careless attitude about others.
Children and teenagers involved in the Set a Good Example campaign and contest in schools throughout the country also make themselves heard via a variety of community activities and projects in which individual precepts of The Way to Happiness are put to work.
In schools that have adopted the successful program, teachers, counselors or administrators normally take students through each precept of the booklet in depth, providing many examples that give them a good understanding of how it applies in their own lives. For many of the precepts, students also work out an assignment or school project in which they actively demonstrate the precept and see for themselves how it can bring increased happiness and well-being to themselves and others, as well as help to reverse bad conditions.
In many schools, older children will work with younger students using the precept “Set a good example,” for which the national campaign and contest are named. But all children, including younger ones, are encouraged to set a good example—not just for their juniors but for peers and older kids as well as adults.
On a national level, says Ted Demos, “This is a big job—setting good examples for people everywhere.”
One of Demo’s first actions on taking leadership of the Set a Good Example campaign was to send copies of The Way to Happiness to government leaders throughout the country. More than 100 replied, thanking and encouraging the Set a Good Example volunteers for their work; and most state governors also made June 1999 “Set a Good Example Month” as a result of the kids’ efforts.
Students participating in the national campaign have contributed to a variety of projects such as collecting food for refugees, doing toy drives for children who lost theirs in floods, making handmade gifts and visits to the elderly, tutoring younger students, cleaning up school grounds and neighboring communities, organizing anti-drug rallies and anti-crime marches against violence. They have honored parents, assisted teachers and earned learning improvement awards for their schools.
This is a big job—setting good examples for people everywhere.
– Ted Demos, National Youth Chairman of the
“Children’s Set a Good Example Campaign”
Students’ projects have earned recognition and commendations year after year from both federal and state leaders. In 1999, more than 150 government leaders commended the Children’s Set A Good Example program.
Program Widely Recognized
Over the past few decades, the teaching of morals in schools has been on a rapid decline, replaced by more “modern” psychological and psychiatric-based teachings which stress that kids figure out their morals and values on their own.
The teaching of morals in schools has been frowned upon by some educators because of religious implications—because morals have traditionally been linked to religion—even if the morals being taught in schools are not religious in content.
With The Way to Happiness, says one school counselor who has been using the booklet successfully for several years, the students are “making choices and decisions about values. Knowing how to do so is basically a human right, not a religious issue.”
The Way to Happiness Set a Good Example Contest is conducted by the Concerned Businessmen’s Association of America (CBAA), a national organization based in Rancho Dominguez, California. CBAA encourages private sector business owners and individuals to take action if they are unhappy about the estimated $200 billion cost to the economy each year because of declining moral values of youth—a decline that shows up in lack of ambition, pride and professionalism, unlawful activities, drug abuse and other factors.
Based on countless results in elementary, middle and high schools, as well as in special education settings, CBAA’s focus for the two decades of its existence has been the program to implement The Way to Happiness booklet in diverse settings in society, including schools.
After 15 years of running the The Children’s Set a Good Example Campaign and School Contest, more than 12 million schoolchildren in 11,000 American schools have been reached with precepts from The Way to Happiness.
The program has received hundreds of awards and recognitions from mayors, governors, congressmen and senators. In a survey conducted in schools using The Way to Happiness materials, 85% of the teachers noticed positive changes in their pupils and 88% of the students felt they had gained from the booklet; 97% of the teachers wanted to continue with the program and 77% of the students said they used the precepts in their everyday lives.
With almost 51 million grade-school children and 108,520 schools in America, there is still some way to go, but consider the effect on society of the millions of students who are now graduating with a solid grounding in common-sense morals.
Wanted: Moral Teaching
It may seem remarkable to some that a small booklet with a common-sense moral code could create such positive effects. But the power of an idea whose time has come cannot be disputed. The desire for an effective moral education is on the minds of teachers, parents, and politicians throughout the country. A poll of parents showed that 79% were in favor of public schools teaching morals, which they rated second in importance only to writing and speaking skills.
With 53 million copies distributed in 57 countries and in 22 languages since it was first released 20 years ago by author and humanitarian L. Ron Hubbard, The Way to Happiness is proving to be an easy and effective answer to the enormously complex problems that result when a society parts company with its moral code.
Los Angeles based The Way to Happiness Foundation, which oversees the distribution of the booklet around the world, also runs programs in U.S. schools. More than 2,000 schools have participated to date. One such program is the annual Creating a Better World essay contest, asking children to write about how they feel particular precepts should be implemented to improve society. Not surprisingly, children have had much to say about where our society is going.
One 15-year-old boy wrote: “There is a place where violence is commonplace and expected much as unpleasant weather. Where nothing is thought of armed robbery. Where narcotics and hallucinogens are sold like newspapers. Where the only safe haven can be found in alliance with a group of armed and hardened people who are forever defending and conspiring against other affiliations. Where brutal crimes are punished by temporary confinement measured in hours, or black marks on one’s record, or not at all. This fence-and-metal-detector-encircled institution is the high school. In this environment, the individual student is liable to fall back to very primitive philosophies to survive, in place of the morals that were never taught. The government’s solution is to build vandal-proof drinking fountains. We must bring students the morals in The Way to Happiness. We must bring them today. For without them, the future is dark.”
The Concerned Businessmen’s Association of America and The Way to Happiness Foundation also direct additional projects using The Way to Happiness to address the subject of drugs, crime, violence and gang life, most of which are run in coordination with family service agencies, police departments and delinquency prevention groups.
While it is best to start moral education early on in life, it is not too late for the 1.8 million Americans in jail—a figure expected to rise to 3.5 million over the next five years—who grew up without the benefit of workable education in morals.
The Way to Happiness booklet has also been finding its way into prisons and judges’ chambers. Where 80 percent of released offenders are behind bars again within a year, between 80 and 98.5 percent of those who have completed The Way to Happiness program designed for inmates stay honest and straight after release. The prison program using The Way to Happiness is run by Criminon, an international criminal rehabilitation group. Currently, 2,250 prisons in the U.S. are participating in the program, including several in California.
As L. Ron Hubbard wrote in Precept Four of The Way to Happiness, “Bringing a child into the world today is a little bit like dropping one into a tiger’s cage.” A short while later, he also stated, “If people...could give each other a way to happiness, yes, the world would change. Think what would occur if people became decent to one another again!”
With a simple booklet like The Way to Happiness, and programs to implement it such as the Concerned Businessmen’s Association of America “Set A Good Example” Contest and The Way to Happiness Foundation’s “Creating a Better World” Essay Contest, the distinct possibility exists that educators and parents can rapidly alter the direction schools and society have taken over the last few decades, and create the kind of world we would all rather live in.
For more information on The Way to Happiness and a complimentary copy of the booklet write to:
The Way to Happiness Foundation International
P.O. Box 2930
Los Angeles, CA 90028
or call: (800) 255-7906
For more information on The Children’s Set a Good Example Campaign and School Contest, contact:
Concerned Businessmen’s Association of America (CBAA)
13428 Maxella Ave. No. 248
Marina del Rey, CA 90292