[Paleopsych] Education Week: Character Education

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Character Education - 
Updated: July 16, 2004

    In a large and growing number of schools around the country, students
    are learning more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. They are
    learning what character education advocates call the fourth and fifth
    Rs: respect and responsibility.

    The formal teaching of morals and values is not a new phenomenon;
    rather, it has been part of democratic thought throughout history.
    Plato and Aristotle in the Greece of the 4th century B.C.E. believed
    the role of education was to train good and virtuous citizens. John
    Locke, the 17th-century democratic philosopher, believed that learning
    was secondary to virtue. "Reading and writing and learning I allow to
    be necessary, but yet not the chief business [of education]. I imagine
    you would think him a very foolish fellow, that should not value a
    virtuous or a wise man infinitely before a great scholar."

    As public schools proliferated in the early United States, McGuffey's
    Eclectic Readers, which consisted of collections of stories used to
    educate and transmit moral lessons, were "the most widely read books
    in 19th-century America" outside of the King James Bible (Gorn, 1998).
    The readers were used as school textbooks and were designed to instill
    both biblical values and train good workers by preaching sobriety,
    thrift, responsibility, and self-restraint. But the influence of
    McGuffey's Readers waned in the early 20th century because of their
    reliance on religious precepts and because of changes in the way
    society viewed morality.

    However, by the 1960s, the idea of teaching character and values in
    school was regaining prominence. But rather than prescribe a set of
    common values to be taught, popular programs of the time would
    "contribute to the development of the student in six areas of human
    interaction: communicating, empathizing, problem-solving, assenting
    and dissenting, decisionmaking, and personal consistency" (Casteel and
    Stahl, 1975). In such a program, the teacher would serve simply as the
    facilitator, with a mandate not to impose his or her own values on

    A program developed by the late Harvard psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg
    also became prominent during that time. Although based on democratic
    ideals derived from citing the U.S. Constitution as the moral document
    of American society, Kohlberg's program held that students must be
    allowed a certain degree of moral reasoning and that values must not
    be imposed by the teacher (Power, Higgins, & Kohlberg, 1989). Under
    Kohlberg's program, students would be told short stories that
    presented moral dilemmas, placing values like loyalty and honesty in
    conflict. While the stories were sure to incite lively conversation,
    critics argued that Kohlberg's dilemmas assumed that students already
    had strong feelings about the values in question or promoted moral
    relativism, rather than helping children to define values (Kilpatrick,

    Character education, as it is known today, began to appear in the
    early 1990s. A 1991 book by Thomas Lickona, Educating for Character,
    reintroduced the idea that there is a set of common beliefs and values
    upon which all people can agree. A year later, a group of educators,
    ethicists, and scholars met in Aspen, Colo., for a gathering that
    resulted in the Aspen Declaration and the beginning of the Character
    Counts Coalition.

    Since the early 1990s, the federal government has embraced the idea of
    offering character education in public schools and has made grants
    available to states interested in piloting new character education
    programs in their schools. In response, for-profit and nonprofit
    organizations have developed character programs for schools,
    districts, and states. Most recently, first lady and former teacher
    Laura Bush has promoted the use of character education in schools,
    saying that "reading and writing are not all we need to teach our

    "Respect and responsibility are just as important," Mrs. Bush
    continued. "And we need to make sure we're teaching our children to be
    responsible citizens who have good values and ethics."

    Implementation of a character education program can be contentious.
    One of the first questions people ask when learning that their school
    plans to implement a character education program is "Whose values are
    you going to teach?" (Brooks and Goble, 1997). Most character
    education programs in use today are based on the traits developed from
    the civic virtues found in the U.S. Constitution and the United
    Nations charteras well as common civil and moral values such as
    honesty, courage, and respect for others. Advocating that honesty is
    better than dishonesty, or that free speech is better than censorship,
    rarely invites controversy.

    What has developed from this basis varies by program. For example, the
    Character Counts program is based on the "six pillars of character":
    trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and
    citizenship. Character Works, used throughout Georgia, emphasizes 38
    character traits, one for each week of a typical school year,
    including courtesy, integrity, creativity, fairness, and

    The Character Education Partnership has drawn up 11 principles of
    effective character education that schools can use to guide their
    efforts. The principles include the advice that the term "character"
    must be well-defined, that the program must be integrated into the
    curriculum, and that parents and community members must be involved
    (Lickona, T., Schaps, E., and Lewis, C., no date). The final principle
    is the need to assess the progress of the school involved in the
    program. But while there has been much anecdotal evidence about the
    effects of character education, not much in the way of scientifically
    based research exists.

    Of the few studies that have been conducted so far, a few suggest that
    "as you facilitate social development, you are concurrently, for many
    kids, advancing their academic function," according to Stephen N.
    Elliott, a professor of educational psychology at the University of
    Wisconsin-Madison. Citing one specific example, an Italian study in
    2000 that found children's positive social skills to be powerful
    predictors of academic achievement, Elliott suggests that social
    skills that are part of character education programs may be "academic
    enablers" (Viadero, 2003). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and
    Emotional Learning recently examined 242 health, prevention, and
    positive-youth-development programs. Its examination resulted in the
    report "Safe and Sound: An Educational Leader's Guide to
    Evidence-Based Social and Emotional Learning Programs," which reviews
    80 nationally available, multiyear, sequenced programs for general
    education classrooms (2003). The report identifies 22 programs that
    are especially effective in preventing substance abuse, improving
    academic performance, promoting general health, or supporting other
    social behaviors.

--Ron Skinner


    Brooks, D.B., & Goble, F.G., The Case for Character Education:
    The Role of the School in Teaching Values and Virtue, Northridge,
    Calif.: Studio 4 Productions, 1997.

    Casteel, J., & Stahl, R.J., Values Clarification in the Classroom: A
    Primer, Pacific Palisades, Calif.: Goodyear Publishing Company, 1975.

    [30]Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, "Safe
    and Sound: An Educational Leader's Guide to Evidence-Based Social and
    Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs,"

    Gorn, E.J., The McGuffey Readers: Selections From the 1879 Edition,
    Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1998.

    Kilpatrick, W.K., Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong, New York:
    Simon & Schuster, 1992.

    Lickona, T., Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach
    Respect and Responsibility, New York: Bantam Books, 1991.

    Lickona, T., Schaps, E., & Lewis, C., [31]"Eleven Principles of
    Effective Character Education," [32]The Character Education
    Partnership, no date.

    Viadero, D., [33]"Nice Work," Education Week, 22 (33), pp. 38-41,

On the Web

    [34]GoodCharacter.com offers free resources, materials, and lesson
    plans for character education. The site also contains links to major
    character education organizations and teaching guides.

    [35]Character Counts! is a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of
    schools, communities, and nonprofit organizations working to advance
    character education by teaching the "six pillars of character":
    trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and
    citizenship. The group posts [36]lesson plans for teaching good

    [37]The Character Education Partnership, a nonpartisan coalition of
    organizations and individuals, identifies [38]11 principles of
    effective character education.

    [39]The National Character Education Center offers a free newsletter
    and discussion board for educators and parents who want to learn more
    about character education.

    The mission of the [40]Collaborative to Advance Social and Emotional
    Learning is to establish social and emotional learning as an essential
    part of education from preschool through high school.

    As of FY 2002, the [41]U.S. Department of Education program to support
    character education, called [42]Partnerships in Character Education,
    has awarded grants to [43]46 states and the District of Columbia to
    start and support character education programs.

    The [44]Character Education & Civic Engagement Technical Assistance
    Center provides support and information for and about schools involved
    in character education and civic engagement across the country.

    [45]The Office for Studies in Moral Development and Education at the
    College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago provides
    an [46]overview of moral education and maintains an [47]archive of
    articles regarding character education.

    The [48]Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (respect and responsibility)
    promotes a [49]12-point comprehensive approach to character education
    that uses all aspects of school life as deliberate opportunities for
    character development.

Related Organizations

      [17]Character Counts!

      [18]Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning

      [19]Partnerships in Character Education

      [20]The Character Education Partnership

From the Archives

    [23]"New Web Site Offered on Character Education," News in Brief, Feb.
    25, 2004.

    [24]"Civics Should Be a Higher Priority, State Education Group
    Concludes," Nov. 19, 2003.

    [25]"Is Punishment Passé?," Commentary, Nov. 5, 2003.

    [26]"Teaching Social Awareness Through Reading," Commentary, Sept. 17,

    [27]"High-Tech Tools Help Students Put Veterans in Limelight," Sept.
    10, 2003.

    [28]"Nice Work," April 30, 2003.

    [29]"Character Education: Our High Schools' Missing Link," Jan. 29,


   16. mailto:edissues at epe.org
   17. http://www.edweek.org/context/orgs/orgitem.cfm?orgid=437
   18. http://www.edweek.org/context/orgs/orgitem.cfm?orgid=438
   19. http://www.edweek.org/context/orgs/orgitem.cfm?orgid=439
   20. http://www.edweek.org/context/orgs/orgitem.cfm?orgid=441
   21. http://www.edweek.org/context/topics/issuespage.cfm?id=112#otw
   22. http://www.edweek.org/context/topics/issuespage.cfm?id=112#fta
   23. http://www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=24Fed.h23#ched
   24. http://www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=12Civics.h23
   25. http://www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=10goodman.h23
   26. http://www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=03selman.h23
   27. http://www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=02Techpage.h23
   28. http://www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=33character.h22
   29. http://www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=20ryan.h22
   30. http://www.casel.org/
   31. http://www.character.org/principles/files/ElevenPrinciples.pdf
   32. http://www.character.org/
   33. http://www.edweek.org/ew/ewstory.cfm?slug=33character.h22
   34. http://www.goodcharacter.com/
   35. http://www.charactercounts.org/
   36. http://www.charactercounts.org/ideas/ideatoc.htm
   37. http://www.character.org/
   38. http://www.character.org/principles
   39. http://www.ethicsusa.com/
   40. http://www.casel.org/
   41. http://www.ed.gov/
   42. http://www.ed.gov/programs/charactered/index.html
   43. http://www.ed.gov/programs/charactered/awards.html
   44. http://www.cetac.org/
   45. http://tigger.uic.edu/~lnucci/MoralEd/index.html
   46. http://tigger.uic.edu/~lnucci/MoralEd/overview.html
   47. http://tigger.uic.edu/~lnucci/MoralEd/articles.html
   48. http://www.cortland.edu/c4n5rs/
   49. http://www.cortland.edu/c4n5rs/12pnt_iv.asp

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