- What is character education?
Character education is an educational movement that supports the social, emotional and ethical development of students. It is the proactive effort by schools, districts, communities and states to help students develop important core ethical (recognizing what’s right) and performance (doing what’s right) values such as caring, honesty, diligence, fairness, fortitude, responsibility, grit, creativity, critical thinking, and respect for self and others. Character education provides long-term solutions to moral, ethical, and academic issues that are of growing concern in our society and our schools. Through character education, students learn how to be their best selves and how to do their best work while making school a place where students and educators feel comfortable and able to work. Character education has always been an essential part of our schools’ mission. In fact, since the founding of our nation’s public schools, character development was always an integral part of schooling along with academics. Today’s character education movement is a re-emergence of that important mission.
- Why do we need character education?
As Dr. Thomas Lickona, author of Educating for Character, stated, “Moral education is not a new idea. It is, in fact, as old as education itself. Down through history, in countries all over the world, education has had two great goals: to help young people become smart and to help them become good.”
Since children spend about 900 hours per year in school, schools must be proactive in helping develop supportive environments where students develop into healthy, caring, hard-working men and women. To create the caring and respectful schools and communities we all want, we must be intentional and comprehensive in educating for character.
- Isn't doing well academically what school's all about?The social, emotional and ethical development of young people is just as important as their academic development. It is, in fact, the precursor to academic achievement, as this principal of a National Blue Ribbon AND National School of Character knows.
As Theodore Roosevelt stated, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” After all, we know that good workers, citizens, parents, and neighbors all have their roots in good character.
- How do we know character education works?
Schools that infuse character education into their curricula and cultures, such as CEP’s National Schools of Character, find improved academic achievement, behavior, school culture, peer interaction, and parental involvement. They see dramatic transformations: pro-social behaviors such as cooperation, respect, and compassion are replacing negative behaviors such as violence, disrespect, apathy, and underachievement. And when these positive attitudes and behaviors are present, students are better able to commit themselves to their work, which paves the way for perseverance, diligence, and ultimately, increased academic achievement. Then, when students succeed academically, they are more likely to succeed in their out-of-school ventures, including employment and community involvement.
Some specific examples of research conducted on character-based programs include:
- A study by Oregon State University researchers found that Positive Action, a program that teaches social and emotional skills and character development to elementary school children, can improve academic test scores as much as 10% on national standardized math and reading tests. Other key findings included: 21% improvement on state reading tests; 51% improvement on state math tests; 70% fewer suspensions; and 15% less absenteeism.
- In a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, risk-related behaviors were substantially reduced for students participating in the character education intervention. Negative behaviors, which included substance abuse, low self-confidence, violence and sexual activity, were significantly reduced for students who took part in the Positive Action (character education) intervention program for at least three years.
- The Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning has conducted numerous studies about the impact intentional character development in school has on students, with several studies published in 2011.
- In 2010, a report found that character education had little to no effect on academic achievement or behavior. While this is the report’s findings, several key factors must be considered regarding the study. First, the character education programs were thrust randomly on schools that possibly had no drive to implement the programs in a culture that valued character development. Additionally, the study concluded after two years and it’s possible that if the programs had been implemented for longer, a change could be seen. Effective character education is not a flash-in-the-pan process. It takes time and intentionality to get it right.
- With everything else I need to focus on as an educator, how can I fit character education in, too?
When students are taught to accept responsibility for their actions and that their actions matter, they spend more time-on-task instead of disrupting the classroom, giving teachers more time to teach. Character education is not an “add-on.” It is, instead, a powerful and necessary method of school reform. Character education helps educators fulfill their fundamental responsibility, preparing young children for their future, by fostering caring, respectful, achievement-minded school environments.
- How much time each day/week is needed for character education?
Character education should not be relegated to a “character education class” that is conducted periodically, but should be infused throughout the structures and processes of the entire school curriculum and culture.
- Can character education work at all grade levels?
Although it is important to set a strong foundation during earlier grades and to reinforce that foundation during the later grades, character education can be initiated at any grade level.
- I've always thought of parents as a child's primary character educators. Shouldn't they be?
Developing character is first and foremost a parental responsibility. The task, however, must be shared with schools and the broader community. After all, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Young and old alike regularly voice concern about the challenge of raising ethical, responsible children. As such, parents and communities are increasingly looking to schools for assistance.
- Who decides which character traits are emphasized in school?
Each school community should reach consensus on which values are taught. To be effective, school-based character education programs need broad support from all stakeholders in the community – educators, parents, community leaders, youth service groups, businesses, and faith and charitable groups.
Effective character education initiatives nationwide have shown that, despite differences, schools and communities can join together around a commitment to ethical and performance values. We know that there are some things that we all value – for ourselves and for our children. We want our children to be honest and hard-working. We want them to respect those different from themselves. We want them to make responsible decisions in their lives. We want them to care about their families, communities, and themselves.
- Who is responsible for character education in a school?
Every adult in a school is a character educator by virtue of interaction with students. Regardless of whether a school has formalized character education, all adults serve as role models. Students constantly watch as adults in the school – teachers, administrators, counselors, coaches, cafeteria aides, bus drivers – serve as models for character – whether good or bad.
- How can I begin teaching character?
Comprehensive, effective character education begins when members of a school, along with the local community, come together to determine the core values that they share. These values then become the foundation for all that the school does – curriculum, teaching strategies, school culture, and extra-curricular activities. Character education is then infused into the broader community.
Frequently Asked Questions