"Can you make someone good?"
To give this powerful question the treatment it deserves, one would require something much more than a blog post. Yet I hope that even some initial thoughts about this topic may help educators do their job a little better. In order to maintain some degree of philosophical clarity, I will establish two assumptions at the onset. For this article, I will be assuming that when we say "good", we mean a moral quality that incorporates not only the outward behavior, but also a person's will. We don't want robotic students who simply seem to be good, we want them to choose to be good. Also, I'll assume that we think our students becoming good in this sense is central to the purpose of a liberal arts education. Now, to the question at hand.
The obvious answer to this question is No. Personal experience and human history exhibit the immovable fact that each man, woman, and child thinks and behaves as a free person, and in spite of a multitude of "good influences", some people simply choose to be wicked. One cannot will another person to moral health.
While this is not controversial, we are left as educators to wonder what our role can be in the moral development of a student. The inclination is to simply tell a student "Trust me, living a godly life will be better for you in the long run." But I don't think teenage students need to be told that sin isn't "good for them" anymore; they know that the authorities in their lives would have them avoid certain things and pursue others. It is not an issue of knowledge, but rather a matter of fortifying that knowledge with experience and hearty desire for goodness.
Here are my recommendations for not making, but wooing students toward the good.
Make sure you're teaching good stuff.
If your students aren't bearing the kind of spiritual fruit you'd like, make sure that the course material they are being fed is good. Take a good look at your reading list and curriculum, and consider if these are the best choices. Commit to teaching material that is well-written, utilizes the best literature in that subject that students can handle, and aim high with the content. If the curriculum you're using isn't as strong as you want it to be, write a new one. Collaborate with other schools to see what they're using in your subject. Utilize Wheatstone Academy's team of education experts to counsel you on polishing the course to be the best stuff you are capable of teaching.
Make the good look good.
Most teachers I talk to readily admit that salesmanship is part of the art of teaching. You've got to captivate students' attention, in a time when attention spans are dwindling, and pull them along with carrots and sticks (mostly carrots) through the course. We must remember to do what we can to draw students to the material, whether it be taking them outside for class once in a while to sit on the grass, to give them interactive and creative projects that engage their imaginations, to develop your skills as a story-teller, to give them as much room for initiative and independence as they can handle, and to simply bring enthusiasm to the class. We can't make students love anything, but we can do everything we can to make the text or material lovable.
Model the good.
If you want students to heartily believe that godly living fulfills us and bears all kinds of internal and external fruit, ask God to help you model godly living in your own life. The teachers I remember from high school struck me as individuals who believed what they taught and lived it. And most of all, they were happy people. Don't underestimate the power of modeling the kind of life that these students will look at and want when they are your age. This doesn't mean having a life without mistakes or pain; in fact, show how virtues like hope, contentment, and charity can redeem the dark seasons of life.
Look at the good in lots of places.
Make sure that goodness isn't something that students only talk about in classrooms. If you're teaching a unit on heroes in literature, look at paintings of great heroes and let the painting be a commentary on heroism. Ask students to find examples of heroism in the latest news headlines. It must be clear that morality is something central to the human experience and evidence of a culture's moral compass can be found anywhere. Also, consider having the students study the lives of the Church's great saints throughout history and how their goodness was a testimony to Jesus.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to do His work.
The authoring of your students' souls is the work of God through his Holy Spirit, and we as educators are privileged to be used by Him in the process. So many teachers I've had the joy of meeting through my time at Wheatstone knew so well that prayer is an essential part of their task as teachers. We must pray not only that they might be good teachers, but that God would cultivate in their students a love for Himself and an unyielding commitment to holiness.