Is There a Place for Character Education in Our Schools?

As an educator, you have an inherent impact on your students’ academic and personal development. But should teachers provide character education in addition to content knowledge?

While many people think of the classroom as a place to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, it’s so much more than that. Students spend about eight hours a day, 180 days a year in schools, meaning that some kids spend more time with teachers than they do with their own parents. Teachers play a huge role in students’ lives, and often directly impact how their students view and interact with the world. As racism, economic inequality, and religious tensions seem to be rising in our country, some believe that teachers need to incorporate character education into their classrooms.

What is character education?

character educationDr. Thomas Lickona defines character education as the “deliberate effort to cultivate virtue in its cognitive, emotional, and behavioral dimensions. It does so intentionally through every phase of school life, from the teacher’s example to the handling of rules and discipline to the content of the curriculum to the conduct of sports.”

Simply put, it’s everything educators do that influences their students and attempts to promote a strong character.

How is it taught in schools?

There are four general approaches to character education, according to the authors of What’s Right and Wrong In Character Education Today: “cheerleading,” “praise and reward,” “define and drill,” and “forced formality.”

1. Cheerleading

This method encourages students through colorful posters with motivational values and quotes or even fundraising for good causes.

2. Praise-and-reward

This approach to teaching character education uses positive reinforcement, usually in the form of a prize or expressed approval, but is often criticized because the perception is that students are doing good deeds simply for the attention and rewards they receive for performing them.

3. Define-and-drill

Define-and-drill requires students to memorize values, with the hopes of making students capable of recognizing good decisions.

4. Forced-formality

This approach uses strict rules to encourage respect of adults.

Why is it controversial?

character educationWhile most people can agree that students need good role models and a foundation for a strong moral character, some argue that character education brings religion into schools. Others argue that different schools will have varied standards imparted by the educators or create frustration in students because they feel as though it’s being forced on them.

Those in favor of character education argue that the practice teaches and reinforces positive habits. Some also say it helps the students learn because they are able to practice life skills, such as self-control and honesty, that contribute to a good learning environment.

Does it work?

According to a teacher who incorporated character education into her classroom and wrote about the results in The Advocate, “schools that teach character education report higher academic performance, improved attendance, reduced violence, fewer disciplinary issues, reduction in substance abuse, and less vandalism.”

However, TIME reports that most evidence that character education works is anecdotal, without hard facts or numbers to back it up.

Teaching values such as respect, responsibility, and caring is no easy task. The most important thing educators can do is realize that not all children have a role model in their lives, and school can be a great place to learn and build positive traits.

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