Character Education. ERIC Digest.
by Otten, Evelyn Holt
Imagine the following school scenario. All participants are treated
with respect and valued as human beings. The school is a warm, welcoming
environment with student work displayed prominently throughout. Smiling
staff greet newcomers and call students by their first names. The usual
hubbub of learning is present but it is conversational and polite. Students
are responsible for their behavior, and teachers model expectations for
behavior to reinforce positive social attitudes. Community members are
valued for more than just monetary support and offer learning laboratories
for the students. Parents are active partners in more than just "back to
school" activities; they participate in their children's lives and learning.
Does this description sound "Pollyannaish"? Is this scenario unachievable?
Such a scenario is reality in many schools with a character education program.
This ERIC Digest explores (1) the various definitions of and approaches
to character education; (2) divergent points of view on character education
in the schools; and (3) sample character education programs.
DEFINITIONS AND APPROACHES.
"Character education" is an umbrella term used to describe many aspects
of teaching and learning for personal development. Some areas under this
umbrella are "moral reasoning/cognitive development"; "social and emotional
learning"; "moral education/virtue"; "life skills education"; "caring community";
"health education"; "violence prevention"; "conflict resolution/peer mediation"
and "ethic/moral philosophy" (Character Education Partnership 1999, 3).
As indicated by the variety of terms associated with it, character education
is broad in scope and difficult to define precisely.
Character education treats various aspects of moral education, civic
education, and character development. Its multi-faceted composition makes
character education a difficult concept to address in schools. Each component
provides a slightly different slant on what is important, and what should
Moral education addresses ethical dimensions of the individual and society
and examines how standards of right and wrong are developed. Ancient philosophies
and religions provide the foundations for moral discussions and ethical
considerations about restoration of virtues to the schools (McClellan 1992).
Civic education provides opportunities for active involvement in the
democratic processes of the school and community. A knowledge base includes
principles and values of democracy from which students examine their civil
rights and responsibilities and participate in the local community for
the public good. Civic dispositions, characteristics of the good citizen
in a democracy, are examined and emphasized in both classroom-based lessons
and extra-curricular activities.
Character development is a holistic approach that connects the moral
dimension of education to the social and civic realms of students' lives.
Basic attitudes and values of the society are identified and reinforced
in the school and community. Those who say schools do not reinforce social
values have failed to examine the underpinnings of the educational system
and its expectations. Education is alue-laden, as the society determines
what will or will not be modeled. Morals are "caught, not taught," and
"classroom life is saturated with moral meaning that shapes students' character
and moral development" (Ryan 1996, 75).
In character education, the school community identifies the core values
of the school and works to teach and reinforce those shared values within
the students' lives. Consensus must be reached to develop the shared vision
of what character traits should be fostered (Haynes 1994). Those character
traits should permeate the child's learning environment, whether in the
classroom, hallway, gymnasium, cafeteria, sports arena, or local restaurant.
The character traits are part of the fabric of the whole community, and
all stakeholders model the desired behaviors.
Character education is often introduced into the classroom through the
study of heroes and heroines. Students examine the character traits personified
in the heroes and heroines. Yet such study is only one part of the whole
of character education when it is infused into the school community's ethos.
"To become grounded in basic values, students must see good examples in
all aspects of school life and be taken seriously" (Black 1996, 29).
DIVERGENT POINTS OF VIEW.
The inclusion of character education is often a thorny issue for schools.
Critics raise questions about "whose values" are to be taught. Some critics
consider character education to be indoctrination in values contrary to
those taught at home. If the selected values, however, are outcomes of
decisions involving all stakeholders in the school community, then they
should not conflict with those taught at home.
Another criticism is that character education has no "substantive"
quality and does little to improve scores on standardized tests. How do
we know if it is working? What about performance on those high-stakes tests?
Many schools with successful character education programs have observed
fewer disciplinary referrals for misbehavior, improved school attendance,
fewer student drop-outs, and higher performance scores on standardized
achievement tests (Wynne and Ryan, 1997). If schools become welcoming,
supportive places for students, students are more likely to attend and
stay on task. Student achievement is likely to improve.
Numerous programs exist for character education. These models offer
a variety of approaches that may be modified for the local school community.
The following examples are a sampling of worthy programs.
* Character Counts! www.charactercounts.org is a voluntary partnership
which supports character education nationally. The six pillars of character
identified by the coalition include respect, responsibility, trustworthiness,
caring, fairness, and citizenship. A variety of resource materials are
available, along with training sessions and awards recognition.
* The Giraffe Project www.giraffe.org challenges participants to "stick
their necks out" for good character. The program offers examples of heroes
who "stuck their necks out" for the care and concern of others. Students
explore the difference between "hero" and "celebrity" and work toward developing
a caring local community. Resource materials are available for students
* The Character Education Partnership www.character.org was founded
in 1993 as a national nonpartisan coalition for character education. The
CEP recognizes National Schools of Character which serve as models of exemplary
character education practice in the country.
Over 30 states in the United States have received U.S. Department of
Education character education state grants. Sixteen states have legislation
regarding character education. In 1995 the Indiana General Assembly passed
a mandate for good citizenship education and delineated 13 character qualities
necessary for Indiana Citizens, described at ideanet.doe.state.in.us/charactered/instruction.html.
This legislation was a restatement of similar passages of statutes enacted
in 1937 and 1975 (Indiana Department of Education, 1999, xvii). To accomplish
the objectives of the legislation, the Indiana Department of Education
created "Partners for Good Citizenship: Parents, Schools, Communities."
The guide is intended as a resource for all stakeholders working on effective
Service learning is a vehicle for character education that actively
involves students in addressing real community needs while allowing them
to experience direct academic ties with the classroom. Service learning
is mandated in some states for high school graduation and is optional in
others. Several states have service-learning projects funded by the Corporation
for National Service www.cns.gov, which was created under the National
Community Service Trust Act in 1993.
Character education has long been a part of the educational scene, but
interest in it is reemerging in light of apparent increases in disaffected
students in school, school violence, voter apathy, declining test scores,
and disinterest in community involvement. Character education integrated
into the school community is a strategy to help re-engage our students,
deal with conflict, keep students on task in the learning environment,
and reinvest the community with active participation by citizens in political
and civic life.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES.
The following list of resources includes references used to prepare
this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are available in microfiche
and/or paper copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS).
For information about prices, contact EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite
110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852; telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400
and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number, annotated monthly
in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE), are not available from
EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal section of most larger
libraries by using the bibliographic information provided, requested through
Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial reprint services.
Black, Susan. "The Character Conundrum." AMERICAN SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL
183 (December 1996): 29-31. EJ 540 773.
Character Education Partnership. CHARACTER EDUCATION: A NATIONAL MOVEMENT
CREATING SCHOOLS THAT FOSTER ETHICAL, RESPONSIBLE, AND CARING YOUNG PEOPLE
(QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS). Washington, DC: Character Education Partnership,
Haynes, Charles C. "Character Education in the Public Schools." In FINDING
COMMON GROUND: A FIRST AMENDMENT GUIDE TO RELIGION AND PUBLIC EDUCATION,
edited by Charles C. Haynes. Nashville, TN: Freedom Forum First Amendment
Center, 1994. ED 379 743.
Indiana Department of Education. PARTNERS FOR GOOD CITIZENSHIP: PARENTS,
SCHOOLS, COMMUNITIES. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Department of Education,
Lickona, Thomas. EDUCATING FOR CHARACTER: HOW OUR SCHOOLS CAN TEACH
RESPECT AND RESPONSIBILITY. New York: Bantam Books, 1991. ED 337 451.
McClellan, B. Edward. SCHOOLS AND THE SHAPING OF CHARACTER: MORAL EDUCATION
IN AMERICA. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social
Science Education, 1992. ED 352 310.
Ryan, Kevin. "Character Education in the United States." JOURNAL FOR
A JUST AND CARING EDUCATION 2 (January 1996): 75-84. EJ 521 443.
Schaeffer, Esther F. "It's Time for Schools to Implement Character Education."
NASSP BULLETIN 83 (October 1999): 1-8. EJ 594 838.
Wynne, Edward, and Kevin Ryan. RECLAIMING OUR SCHOOLS: TEACHING CHARACTER,
ACADEMICS, AND DISCIPLINE. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.