"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

Search This Blog

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What is Character Education?

First a little background. The word for character comes from the Greek word charakter which literally means “to engrave.” Moral (from the Latin root moralis) character is the engraving of the code or customs of a people which is the social glue that allows them to live together. The family is the first wave of character development or engraving of virtuous principles onto the child. Society is expected to support this process by modeling behavior of good character. The schools also influence character by reinforcing high moral standards and redirecting behavior that deviates from those standards and strains social cohesion.

Character education seems like a relatively modern catch phrase, but it has a long history. If you want to know more about its history in America, a good place to start is the StateUniversity.com website. Highlights from this article are this:

  • character education has always been a part of our public schools;

  • early schools used the Bible as the primary tool for teaching character, but other moral texts were also used;

  • the religious diversification of society, as waves of immigrants populated the country, sensitized the public to the use of specific religious texts for teaching character, so a more secularized approach was developed;

  • this secularization of character education led to moral relativism and “value-free” teaching and the almost complete breakdown of character by the 1960’s;

  • by the 1980’s a lack of discipline and academic achievement in public schools was believed to be the motivation for parents who loudly petitioned the government to recommit to character education in the public schools for their children’s sake.
Today after more than a dozen years of Presidential emphasis, from Clinton to Obama, character education is once again firmly ensconced in our schools.

To the extent that such education achieves the goals of maintaining discipline and providing children with the moral code of conduct necessary for living in society, most people support character education in public school. Moral virtues, such as honesty, responsibility, and respect for others, are shared values that would meet little resistance by parents if taught or upheld by the school. One need only turn to the Boy Scouts for a realistic list of character traits to be promoted in schools: [from the boy Scout Law] “A Boy Scout is; trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

There was, however, a derailing of the definition of morality that took place in the twentieth century. German intellectuals and writers like Karl Marx and Frederick Nietzsche, Austrian Sigmund Freud and English scientist Charles Darwin introduced concepts like humanism and moral relativism and were instrumental in the founding of the Progressive Movement. Their influence was felt in the education reform movement as well. As a result, among parents today, there is less confidence about which morals would be taught, and an overriding skepticism about public school character education.

In addition, there are many teachers who feel very uncomfortable with the tools they are required to use or the message they are required to teach in their school’s character education program. When voiced, their concerns have been routinely belittled or rebuffed. One teacher even confided to us that she is now embarrassed to tell anyone she is a teacher because of what she is required to do in the classroom. Many are afraid to speak up because they fear losing their job as a result.

For administrators, who are pressing for character education, to be disrespectful or patronizing of the educated professionals in their employ who wish to question a rationale or offer an alternative, is reason enough for everyone else to question their credentialed ability to teach character or values to others. Children learn best by example and this certainly does not seem like an example of good character.

For Missouri teachers who share this sense of disenfranchisement from the process of teaching, we recommend you submit your experiences with local school administrations or school boards who rebuffed your complaints about character education to the 24th State Blog at pm@24thstate.com (you may request anonymity in your e-mail).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting, this is really what we all need to know, character education is the basic part of every culture, thanks for your consideration, this is really what we all need to know, i am also looking forward for more updates.


Keep it clean and constructive. We reserve the right to delete comments that are profane, off topic, or spam.

Site Meter