"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

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Danger of Teaching Character Education in Schools

A school district in Hawaii is implementing character training for three year old children to improve the quality of  education.  From Psych Central:

“Improved social and character skills leave more time for teachers to teach, and students to learn and be more motivated,” said Brian Flay, an OSU professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences. “What we’re finding now is that we can really address some of the concerns in our schools by focusing more on character in the classroom.

“These are not new concepts — they’re the kind of things that have always been discussed in families, church and social groups,” he continued. “A third-grade lesson, for instance, might be helping kids to understand how other people feel, to learn about empathy. That may seem simple, but in terms of educational performance, it’s important.”

Past policies to curtail substance abuse, violent behavior and other problems have shown only limited results, researchers said in the study, in part because they don’t address underlying issues such as a student’s sense of self and social attachment.
On its face it sounds fabulous.  Students who practice social skills fare better on testing and in life.  That's  common sense.  Parents, social groups and schools (noted above) are primarily responsible to instill social skills into their children, not the schools.  The rights and responsibilities of parents are to train their child in their values without interference from the state.

Let's look at character education training gone wild when those basic rights and responsibilities of parents are superseded by schools.  From Althouse:

The schoolgirls have "meltdowns" when mom packs the lunch in ziploc bags.

Because the girls "don't want to be shamed" at school.

Because enviromentalism is the religion taught in public schools, and it's the kind of religion done with shaming young people.

But also:

1. Some people wash and reuse ziploc bags. So don't presume you know that the ziploc-user is an enviro-sinner.

2. Kiddies, if you are old enough to understand environmentalism and to pressure your mother with it, you are old enough to pack your own lunch. And if you're so hot on being saintly, start helping your mother, not making her life any harder.

I'm thinking Ann Althouse has more common sense than the character educators in these politically correct schools.

HEY!  TEACHERS!  LEAVE THESE KIDS ALONE!  It's the parent's job to impart character education.  You have a problem with the kid?  Start with the parent.  The best advice to schools (paraphrased from above) and its role in character education for students:

...if you're so hot on being saintly, start helping (the) mother, not making her life any harder.



  1. In my school Character Education is much different. Recently, when a teacher was taken to the hospital at lunch time, after lunch, during a Science class, students stood in a circle and prayed for her silently, then aloud together. The teacher, showed/modeled respect for the students' religion and their desire to pray for their other teacher. Not all Character Education is bad in schools and it does lower behavior problems and bring up grades. My school has 7-10 years of data to show that.

  2. Annette,

    I am glad character education is working in some instances. I hope the post portrayed that character education can bring up grades and create good behavior in the classroom.

    What I am concerned about are politically correct agendas masquerading as character education. Althouse had it correct in her blog about the environmentalist teachings creating "shame" in those girls if they used ziploc bags. It's bad character to go against what your teacher has taught you. Environmental zeal may not be in the character building booklet, but you can see how it can become a barometer on which to base one's character.

    Basic traits such as compassion, kindness, respect are fine. This should be taught primarily in the home. Where it becomes dicey is when schools use the educational pulpit and teach character traits not in line with or in opposition to family values.

    By the way, were the students you reference in a public school or private? Is your Character Education curriculum written locally or is it designed by a third party? Do you expect it to be changed or adapted due to Common Core standards?

  3. How can a district, school or parent to know, then, if Character Education programs offer value? What if there was a conclusive study about it which proved that it does absolutely nothing except waste time and money (just what we need more of in public schools!)

    That's right. October 2010, a federal study*, the largest and most thorough ever conducted, found that schoolwide Character Education programs produce exactly ZERO improvements in student behavior or academic performance.

    It's no surprise. Just take a look at the lists of values and goals of the dozens of competing CE offerings. The lack of agreement between the lists is one of the most damning aspects of character education! It also becomes obvious that the majority of the values are concerned with conformity, submitting to authority, not making a fuss... a blatantly conservative program.

    One thing all these programs do agree on is what values are NOT included on their lists of core values. Not found, even though they are fundamental to the history and success of our nation are such noted virtues as individualism, innovation, curiosity, critical thinking, skepticism, and even moderation. "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!" the famous saying by Ms. Frizzle on the much celebrated TV show, The Magic School Bus, embodies values that would be antithetical to those found in today’s character education.

    *"Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children" The Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. October 2010.


  4. It never ceases to amaze me how the public views curriculum and what teachers and administrators try to do in the classroom. Now what? Character Ed is being ripped apart and thought of as a waste of time and taxpayer money! Remember the preganancy pact? That happened after years of health/sex education being cut from the budget.
    The public thinks that parents should be responsible for teaching students about sex, health, how to be compassionate, responsible, honest, etc. But the truth of the matter is that many parents do not take the time to do these things. They are working, managing crises in their own lives, dealing with financial stress from a poor economy, raising children as a single parent, etc.
    Character Education cannont be assessed in a manner that shows whether it really works or not, but it is one of those things that is important to teach in the classroom. Teaching children to be honest, responsible, compassionate provide a foundation for how they live their daily lives. It provides boundaries and give students an idea of what is "good" in society. Is it better that we ignore all those elements and have a generation that is irresponsible, dishonest, selfish? We cannot simply ignore the fact that many students come from families where the parents do not care about their children...they are neglected emotionally and physically. AND this happens in well to do families as well as low income families because the parents are absent in the house.
    Teachers are required to do many more things other than teach reading and mathematics. We teach good character traits, hygeine, healthy eating habits, good study habits, etc. I think it's time for a reality show that stars teachers in the classroom...it might not be "sexy" but it certainly may give the public a different view of what actually takes place in the classroom.

  5. Anonymous,

    If you had read the post carefully, you would have (hopefully) understood the problem with character education goes beyond teaching how to be honest, responsible,and compassionate in many school districts. It has now been morphed into feeling guilty about the environment, feeling guilty about how much how many calories you consume in a day, and now America has a proposed national sex ed curriculum in which children as young as 5 or 6 are taught sexual terms. This is all couched in character education and I believe many of these classes in "character" cross the line into value statements.

    If you trust the public school to teach your child about the environment, sexual gender equality, that the Occupy Movement is a reasonable movement (even though it creates violence and taxpayer money to clean up after the occupiers), then that is your right and your child can believe that too. If you trust the public school to preach creationism and to insist children pledge allegiance to the flag, that is your right as well. However, you should not be impinging your idea of what is right onto a parent or taxpayer who thinks differently than you do. See the problem?

    When AGENDAS get pushed on school children in the guise of character education, in my opinion, that's when it ceases to be education and begins to smack of propaganda.

    It goes both ways. The left doesn't like the "character" churned out by the right and the right doesn't like the "character" churned out by the left. My child should not be made to feel "shame" by using a plastic bag for lunch. THAT'S an agenda. And I will not back down from criticizing THAT type of "character education".

    What exactly are good character traits these days? To teach children about sexual terms before they are emotionally ready to learn about that subject? What are healthy eating habits? For my family, it's that moderation is the key. Should my child feel guilty if he/she has occasional junk food? The interpretation between what the government schools are teaching and what the parents are teaching may be vastly different these days. I believe the parents have the PRIMARY responsibility to set those parameters, not the government.

    We can agree to disagree, but parents who are paying for the schools and providing the human capital in those schools should have a voice in the "character" education taught in those schools.


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