Marie Cincotta

ED 598 Strategies for Curriculum Change and Development

Dr. Joanne Jasmine

November 28, 2001

Character Education

"…In the end, the welfare and the very existence of our society does not so much depend on the IQ’s of its inhabitants, as on their character." (Wynne, 1986)

Character education in schools can be used to address something critical that is happening in our country. We have an increase in crime and violence, a decline in ethics, morals and family values and a growing drug problem. The United States needs strong citizens as much as we need gifted children that are successful academically-children that are filled with a sense of humanity toward one another so that we ultimately have children grow-up to be responsible, active members of society where they can not only read but feel the importance of their participation in their community. The future of our country depends on the values and character of its youth. Character education provides opportunities for students to learn how to be responsible citizens in schools and their communities by developing moral and virtuous traits.

Today’s youth are faced with a challenging social environment. The recent events in many of our nation’s schools indicate a call for all people to bring about a more peaceful, tolerant and accepting society where the dignity of each person is honored and respected.

The blame for school violence, disrespect and moral decline among young people can be placed on working parents, media, exposure to violence in the community or any number of reasons. Blame does not eliminate the problem. Schools can address this dilemma and work to correct it. Character education in classroom management can be integrated into the school curriculum. It may seem like an impossible task for educators to think they can change the world all at once. However, we can work to change or help one child at a time. Teachers can implement and model ways to change the climate in their classrooms. We want student behavior to be intrinsically motivated, not children who behave because of beans in jars, stickers, warning, or detention. Tangible behavior rewards may work, but it is more meaningful if students are behaving appropriately because it is part of their intrinsic nature.



What is Character Education?


Character education is not a new responsibility schools are being asked to address. "The founders of education in almost every state recognized that, like academic development, moral and social development was essential to a child’s education, and required deliberate action devoted to creating environments where adults and children learn to assume responsibility for themselves and each other, build trust and understanding, and act honestly." (Shaeffer, p.1)

During the first three or four decades of the twentieth century, character education was considered an important mission of public schools. (McClellan, 1992; Leming, 1993) After the 1930’s, character education saw a decline because of increasing pluralism, an emphasis on individualism, and United States Supreme Court decisions that found schools in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (Eastland, 1993) and the confused reaction of educators to these decisions. (Haynes, 1994; Piediscalzi, 1981) Formal character education curriculum was avoided because schools were unsure of how to provide it in a way that was constitutionally acceptable, educationally sound and agreeable to all cultural and religious groups. The revival of character education in the 1980’s and 1990’s came about because parents, educators, and concerned citizens in the nations have seen a need for programs that could counter the moral decay in America. Studies show that more than ninety percent of the population thinks schools should teach character traits, such as honesty, respect, democracy, persistence, fairness, compassion, and civility to students.

Support for character education is so strong that it has led to greater support for character education activities from federal, state, and local governments. Education associations are also promoting character education.

Character education is defined as providing children with what is needed to help them become ethical, responsible and caring young people.

What is included under the umbrella of character education?


· Moral Reasoning/Cognitive Development – Discussion of moral dilemmas to facilitate student development of moral reasoning capacities

· Social and Emotional Learning – A process where children learn to understand their own and others feelings, solve problems peacefully and acquire key behavioral skills

· Moral Education / Virtue – Culturally sensitive literature as well as history can be used to teach about moral traditions in order to facilitate moral habits and internal moral qualities (virtues)

· Life Skills Education – Practical skills such as communication and positive self-esteem stressed. Developing and having self-esteem is key to respect. If a student lacks self-respect, it will be reflected in his/her behavior toward others.

· Citizenship Training / Civics Education – To prepare students for future citizenship

Young people must get involved in action that makes a difference to others. Students can become involved with community service projects. Giving students responsibility will develop a greater sense of responsibility in them.




· Caring Community – To establish caring relationships in a classroom and school

· Health Education / Drug, Pregnancy and Violence Prevention – Programs aimed at preventing unhealthy and anti-social behaviors

· Conflict Resolution / Peer Mediation – Students are taught how to handle conflicts without force is a very important part of character education for two reasons

1. Conflicts not settled fairly will prevent or destroy a moral community in the classroom

2. Without conflict resolution skills students will not develop good interpersonal relationships how and later in life

· Ethics / Moral Philosophy – Ethics or moral philosophy explicitly taught


Eleven Principles of Effective Character Education

(The Character Education Partnership)


· Promotes core ethical values

Schools stress the values of caring, honesty, fairness, responsibility and respect for self and others. All members of the school community are involved in implementing and modeling behavior that reflects these values.

· Teaches students to understand, care and act upon these core values

· Encompasses all aspects of the school culture

Character education should be integrated into all aspects of schooling including modeling by staff, the discipline policy, the academic curriculum and parental involvement.

· Fosters a caring school community

Schools should work to develop caring relationships among staff and students, which will foster the desire to learn and be a moral person.

· Offers opportunities for moral action

Students must be active learners and have numerous opportunities to apply core values in their classrooms through interactions and discussion.

· Supports academic achievement

If students feel liked and respected, they will work hard to achieve and when students feel a sense of accomplishment, they are more likely to feel valued as a person. Curriculum needs to be interesting and meaningful for children and use active teaching and learning methods such as cooperative learning and problem-solving approaches.

· Develop intrinsic motivation

We want children to behave because it is part of their nature, not because of extrinsic rewards and punishments.

· Includes whole staff involvement

All school staff must be involved with the character education effort. There also needs to be a sense of mutual respect, fairness, and cooperation among the adults in a school. Staff needs to be provided with time to reflect and to evaluate both positive and negative aspects of character-building experiences at the school.

· Requires positive leadership of staff and students

Character education committee can plan and be responsible for the implementation of the program. Students can be involved through student government, peer conflict mediation, or tutoring.

· Involves parents and community members

Schools cannot accomplish character-building alone. It must involve a partnership among students, parents, teachers, and other social agencies.

· Assesses results and strives to improve

Evaluation can include surveys and questionnaires as well as looking at data on character-related behaviors such as attendance, suspensions, vandalism, etc.


What Results are Character Educators Seeing?


The revival of character education is relatively new and the assessment tools to evaluate its impact are still being developed and refined. Research that has been done indicates that character education improves academic achievement, behavior, and school culture, peer interaction, and parental involvement.

Character education in schools in certainly not a magic formula and there are no guarantees. However, our society needs individual who are responsible and who respect the environment and all humanity. Ensuring a future in which we can live productive lives, teachers and parents must establish caring environments and provide opportunities for moral decision-making. All educators share the responsibility of building good character in students through modeling and providing an appropriate environment and experiences for children. Schools can make a difference.

"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically… Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education."-Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Prize-winning 20th-century American civil rights leader




A nationwide poll of more than 20,000 middle school and high school students turned up a distressing disconnect between what kids say and what they do. Consider: 97 percent of the students say, "It’s important for me to be a person with good character." But…


92 percent of high school students admit having lied to their parents in the last 12 months…

70 percent admit having cheated on an exam…

47 percent admit having stolen something from a store

45 percent say they believe a person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed…

36 percent say they would be willing to lie if it would help them get a good job…

25 percent say they have stolen something from a friend.


Source: "1998 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth,"

Josephson Institute of Ethics,





Berreth, D. and Berman, S. (1997) The moral dimensions of schools. Educational Leadership, p.p. 24-27

Character Education partnership. Eleven principles of effective character education. [On-line] schools/index.cgi?detail:quality_intro.

Children’s books that illustrate the six pillars. [On-line] booklist1.htm.

DeRoche, E. (2000) Creating a framework for character education. Principal, p.p. 32-34

Don’t Laugh AT Me. [On-line] music/22-11.htm.

Jones, R. (1998) Looking for goodness. The American School Board Journal, p.p. 14-19

Lickona, T. (1996) Teaching respect and responsibility. Reclaiming Children and Youth, p.p. 143-151

1998 Report card on the ethics of American youth. [On-line] .

Schaeffer, E. (1998) Character and crisis and the classroom. Thrust for Educational Leadership, p.p. 14-17

Schaeffer, E. (1999) It’s time for schools to implement character education. NASSP Bulletin, p.p. 1-8

Schaeffer, E. (2001) Character education makes a difference. [On-line] comm/p1198b.htm.

Vessels, G and Boyd, M. (1996) Public and constitutional support for character education. Bulletin, p.p. 55-62

Vollmer, M. L., Drook, E. B. and Harned, P. J. (1999) Partnering character education and conflict resolution. Kappa Delta Pi Record, p.p. 122-125

Wynne, E. (1986) Character development: renewing an old commitment. Principal, p.p. 28-31

Return to Educational Research