Ahedo, J., Caro, C., & Fuentes, J. L. (Coords.) (2021). Cultivar el carácter en la familia: una tarea ineludible [Cultivating character in the family: An Unavoidable Task]. (Natália De Araújo Santos)

Ahedo, J., Caro, C., & Fuentes, J. L. (Coords.) (2021).
Cultivar el carácter en la familia: una tarea ineludible [Cultivating character in the family: An Unavoidable Task].
Dykinson. 176 pp.

This book has been written by eighteen university teachers, three of whom have also acted as coordinators and the foreword was written by Óscar González, teacher and director of a school for parents. This work is the result of a research project at the Universidad Internacional de la Rioja (UNIR) entitled Character education as the basis for all-round training of students in secondary school and at baccalaureate level.

 The first thing to note, and the reason why this publication is of such importance, is that the matter of character education, and that of virtues, which is very closely connected to it, has scarcely been studied in our country, possibly because these matters, particularly the question of virtues, were monopolised by the teaching of religion. This is not the case in English-speaking countries, particularly in the USA, where character education has been part of educational programmes, albeit with fluctuations, as noted by Concepción Naval, one of the first Spanish teachers to study it, and Aurora Bernal, one of the co-authors of this book. For this reason, the fact that a group of teachers, and university teachers at that, have dedicated their research efforts to studying something of such magnitude as character building, is to be welcomed.

As this is a book written by numerous authors, various issues have been addressed, although almost all of them are related to the learning of character building in the family. This is borne out by the titles of the different chapters: 1. “Families with character and happy lives”, by Aurora Bernal Martínez de Soria; 2. “The family as a virtuous community”, undertaken by Tania Alonso-Sainz and Francisco Esteban Bara; 3. “Friends, the family that you choose and put together yourself: crucial for education”, written by Ana Romero-Iribas; 4. “Sexuality and human training. A critical analysis of a controversial issue”, a work by David Reyero; 5. “Educating for freedom”, in co-authorship between Josu Ahedo and Blanca Arteaga-Martínez, 6. “Rethinking the role of authority in education and social media”, produced by David González Ginocchio and Elda Millan Ghisleri; 7. “Forgiveness education” by María del Rosario González Martín, 8. “Gratitude: a virtue to teach in the family”, composed by Mª Carmen Caro Samada and Juan Luis Fuentes; 9. “Life ecology: how to ed- ucate for cheerful simplicity in the family”, written by Zaida Espinosa Zárate; 10. “The acquisition of sustainable habits in the family”, a work by Arantxa Azqueta and Yaiza Sánchez-Pérez; 11. “The return to basics: the reconstruction of the emotional bond in minors and families in difficult social situations”, by Juan Luis Fuentes and Tania García-Bermejo; and “Educating character inclusively: educational opportunities and challenges of functional diversity in the family”, by Elena Álvarez-Álvarez and Carmen María Martínez Conde.

To a certain extent, together these titles form a useful map of the contents of the book. This is a publication in which theory is combined, as is to be expected in a research project, with practical suggestions, which no doubt will be of help to parents, to whom the book is mainly addressed, and to teachers. Thus, starting with the foreword, it is brought to our attention that character development begins in early childhood, that is to say, in the family, when the child has not yet started school.

Many authors have defined character in the strictest sense of an inner nature, which would imply a touch of determinism, thereby contradicting any educational intervention. The authors of this book do not do so; in order to avoid the restrictive biological constraint that claims “some people are born with good character and others with bad”, they insist that character can be taught and that this is true from the first moment of existence. This happens over time until the goal of living fully is achieved. To some extent, they mostly follow Aristotle, whom several of them quote, who claims that happiness, the ultimate and universal aim of human beings, will depend on what each of them does with their lives, regardless of the temperament with which each of them was born.

It is in the family, the home of unconditional love, of acceptance regardless of what offspring may do, where a virtuous community can evolve, as a habit that is acquired, like all habits, through repetition and action. This offers parents a broad range of possibilities for action, in their difficult but fascinating job of raising their children.

From freedom, a fundamental faculty — and a right — the book extracts other issues, which are less often studied in education, but are rather provocative and contemporary, as contributing to character education, and which act together to attain many of the goals in education, such as friendship, sexuality, simplicity, care for the environment, gratitude, overcoming social difficulties and functional diversity.

Human beings are not born free, children are totally dependent beings and gradually become free if their environment allows them to do so. Children need to learn how to exercise their freedom, which should not be seen as an absence of restrictions. To teach about freedom is to understand it in the same way as Albert Camus, say the authors, as “the chance to be better” or, from a social point of view, as Mandela, who said that “to be free is to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”. To teach about freedom is to teach about commitment and responsibility, towards oneself and towards others. A task that is not always easy for parents, due to fear or out of over-protectiveness.

However, friendship, as the ‘chosen family’, helps to develop freedom, as well as many other values, such as generosity, gratitude,  sharing,  trust,  solidarity and mutual growth, since character building occurs in coexistence and relationships with others. The authors deal with these topics in the different chapters and specifically go into detail on some highly topical issues of major concern to parents, such as the dangers of only interacting on social media, due to the constant exposure and how easy manipulation is, whilst hiding behind anonymity. In this sense, one way for the family to contribute to the healthy establishment of children’s friendships is to get to know their friends and show an interest in them, maybe by making the family home a meeting place and building their confidence.

Within freedom, there is also sexual freedom, which only a mature person can have, since it is not a question of ‘doing whatever I like and with whomever I like’. Likewise, in the family, although it is predominantly here that sexuality can be taught, it should go beyond, as it almost always has done, providing dry information or instilling fear of undesired consequences. Special care should be taken with the sexual education of children in a hypersexualised society in which minors start accessing pornography, as their only source of knowledge, at the early age of eight years old, which can deeply damage them.

The crisis of authority, both in the family and at school, has been a subject of discussion since the mid-twentieth century. The authors explain what authority is and what it is not, and they focus on social media, as it is a matter of widespread concern for parents. These media, according to the authors, enable the spread of certain problems relating to authority and are a clear guide to the life and role models of schoolage children. In this respect, the proposal is made that if authority and rules start at home, the regulation of social media should not just be left to the government but should also be one of the family’s tasks.

Another important point discussed in the book is that of healthy forgiveness, not forgiving and forgetting which ends up creating abusive relationships but knowing how to consciously forgive the harm that has been done and its consequences. It also deals with the study of gratitude as a virtue which encompasses intellectual and emotional aspects, and at the same time there may be a major opportunity to develop it in the setting of the family and school, to overcome behaviourist view-points based on exchange.

In chapters 9 and 10, the authors deal with questions regarding an ‘ecological life’, simplicity and the acquisition of sustainable habits. They highlight the importance of being conscious with regard to consumption, with a reference to the film The Platform (El Hoyo in Spanish), as an example of the lack of restraint in society and which leads us to think about the environment and how to raise children by nurturing this virtue and encouraging responsible and sustainable consumption. Teaching about the environment is the key to discovering the world around us and at the same time make children and young people aware of environmental problems or even just the problems that affect their community and get them to think of creative solutions to resolve them.

Finally, they deal with the need to rebuild emotional bonds in vulnerable families, the importance of emotional and psychological closeness, and the difficulties in achieving these goals in certain contexts and building character inclusively. Inclusively understood as referring to a form of participation in which the child has a sense of belonging to the family and society.

In conclusion, this book is a reference guide for parents and teachers which will enable them to find out a little more about how to cultivate character in children and young people in our society. A society which is increasingly more connected and individualistic, which has forgotten about values which are essential for moral and cognitive development. Without a shadow of a doubt, this is an interesting book and it deals with contemporary issues which invite us to reflect on the society around us and on where we want to go.

Natália De Araújo Santos ■