Speaker says ‘moral intelligence’ vital to youth

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Michelle Borba said she tells parents, teachers and community leaders she doesn’t care what they stand for as long as they stand for something.

The internationally recognized educational consultant pounded that and other concepts home to teachers and community members Friday in what she calls building moral intelligence in children.

Borba was called in to assist school officials in Jefferson County, Colo., following the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. She said a group of parents thought one way to protect their children and make them feel safe as they returned to school was to have parents and community members join hands in a circle around the school.
Borba said that concept is wrong.

“We’ve got to stop thinking we can keep kids safe from the outside in,” Borba said. “Our best hope is from the inside out. If we all get onboard together, we can make a great difference.”

Borba is a highly sought-out speaker who appears regularly on TV and radio talk shows. She’s also the author of numerous books on education, child behavior and parenting, including “Building Moral Intelligence: The Seven Essential Virtues that Teach Kids to Do the Right Thing,” on which her talks in Portales were based.

“She was incredible,” Jane Combs, a teacher at James Elementary, said. “It was very inspirational.”

During her talk in Portales, Borba noted the work of her former professor from the University of California, Emmy Werner, who studied children with four success risk factors or more. Borba said Werner tracked those individuals for 30 years, documenting that about one-third “made it” in life. She noted out of that one-third, nearly all named someone in their life — a parent, teacher or community member — who had made the difference.

Borba said to her those results indicate how important teachers and community can be in the success of children. She also pointed out the positive results that can be achieved in child behavior when children are taught how to make right choices.

“When you mobilize the community, you can make a difference,” Borba said.

Borba listed troubling youth trends, including aggression, peer cruelty, anxiety and stress, and self-hate. She also noted that children today are sexually aware at a much younger age. She said she recently was featured on the Today Show to help parents address sex questions from children as young as 3 or 4.

“Parents aren’t parenting,” Borba said. “What I think kids are missing is moral intelligence.”

What she calls the “moral core” of her seven essential virtues are empathy, conscience and self-control.

She said empathy, or identifying with another’s feelings and concerns, is probably most important. But she said it’s the one that’s being detonated the fastest today.

Borba said one of the most important aspects in teaching the “moral code” is stressing how the child is good. She said teachers should pass along the positives to other teachers.

She illustrated her point by recalling a student she had as a special education teacher who had been abused by his father and was shy, removed and couldn’t be touched. After failing in several attempts with the child she began to emphasize his talent for art. Years later she said she went to her mailbox one day and found a large poster mailing tube from the student

Inside was a “Beauty and the Beast” movie poster and a note from the former student saying he was working for Disney and had been involved with the animation of the hit movie.

Combs said the main thing she took from Borba’s address was that it didn’t really matter what a school’s test scores were if students weren’t instilled with the moral intelligence skills that Borba talked about. She said she felt the values Borba outlined in building moral character were key to making a difference in schools

“It’s something we need to model in ourselves,” Combs said. “It’s something they’ll (students) replicate hopefully.”