- Character education promotes core ethical values as the
basis of good character.
Character education holds, as a starting philosophical principle, that
there are widely shared, pivotally important core ethical values – such as
caring, honesty, fairness, responsibility and respect for self and others –
that form the basis of good character. A school committed to character
education explicitly names and publicly stands for these values; promulgates
them to all members of the school community; defines them in terms of
behaviors that can be observed in the life of the school; models these
values; studies and discusses them; uses them as the basis of human
relationships in the school; celebrates their manifestations in the school
and community; and upholds them by making all school members accountable to
standards of conduct consistent with the core values.
In a school committed to developing character, these core values are
treated as a matter of obligation, as having a claim on the conscience of
the individual and community. Character education asserts that the validity
of these values, and our obligation to uphold them, derive from the fact
that such values affirm our human dignity; they promote the development and
welfare of the individual person; they serve the common good; they meet the
classical tests of reversibility (Would you want to be treated this way?)
and universality (Would you want all persons to act this way in a similar
situation?); and they define our rights and responsibilities in a democratic
society. The school makes clear that these basic human values transcend
religious and cultural differences and express our common humanity.
- "Character" must be comprehensively defined to include
thinking, feeling and behavior.
In an effective character education program, character is broadly
conceived to encompass the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of
the moral life. Good character consists of understanding, caring about, and
acting upon core ethical values. The task of character education therefore
is to help students and all other members of the learning community know
"the good," value it, and act upon it. As people grow in their character,
they will develop an increasingly refined understanding of the core values,
a deeper commitment to living according to those values, and a stronger
tendency to behave in accordance with those values.
- Effective character education requires an intentional
proactive and comprehensive approach that promotes the core values in all
phases of school life.
- The school must be a caring community.
The school itself must embody good character. It must progress toward
becoming a microcosm of the civil, caring, and just society we seek to
create as a nation. The school can do this by becoming a moral community
that helps students form caring attachments to adults and to each other.
These caring relationships will foster both the desire to learn and the
desire to be a good person. All children and adolescents have a need to
belong, and they are more likely to internalize the values and expectations
of groups that meet this need. The daily life of classrooms, as well as all
other parts of the school environment (e.g. the corridors, cafeteria,
playground, and school bus), must be imbued with core values such as concern
and respect for others, responsibility, kindness, and fairness.
- To develop character students need opportunities for
In the ethical as in the intellectual domain, students are constructive
learners; they learn best by doing. To develop good character, they need
many and varied opportunities to apply values such as responsibility and
fairness in everyday interactions and discussions. By grappling with
real-life challenges – how to divide the labor in a cooperative learning
group, how to reach consensus in a class meeting, how to carry out a service
learning project, how to reduce fights on the play ground – students develop
practical understanding of the requirements of fairness, cooperation, and
respect. Through repeated moral skills and behavioral habits that make up
the action side of character.
- Effective character education includes a meaningful and
challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners and helps them
Character education and academic learning must not be conceived as
separate spheres; rather there must be a strong, mutually supportive
relationship. In a caring classroom and school where students feel liked and
respected by their teachers and fellow students, students are more likely to
work hard and achieve. Reciprocally, when students are enabled to succeed at
the work of school, they are more likely to feel valued and cared about as
Because students come to school with diverse skills, interests and needs,
a curriculum that helps all students succeed will be one whose content and
pedagogy are sophisticated enough to engage all learners. That means moving
beyond a skill-and-drill, paper and pencil curriculum to one that is
inherently interesting and meaningful for students. A character education
school makes effective use of active teaching and learning methods such as
cooperative learning, problem-solving approaches, experience-based projects,
and the like. One of the most authentic ways to respect children is to
respect the way they learn.
- Character education should strive to develop students’
As students develop good character, they develop a stronger inner
commitment to doing what their moral judgment tells them is right. Schools,
especially in their approach to discipline, should strive to develop this
intrinsic commitment to core values. They should minimize reliance on
extrinsic rewards and punishments that distract students’ attention from the
real reasons to behave responsibly: the rights and needs of self and others.
Responses to rule breaking should give students opportunities for
restitution and foster the students’ understanding of the rules and
willingness to abide by then in the future.
Similarly, within the academic curriculum, intrinsic motivation should be
fostered in every way possible. This can be done by helping students
experience the challenge and interest of subject matter, the desire to work
collaboratively with other students, and the fulfillment of making a
positive difference in another person’s life or in their school or
- The school staff must become a learning and moral
community in which all share responsibility for character education and
attempt to adhere to the same core values that guide the education of
Three things need attention here. First, all school staff – teachers,
administrators, counselors, coaches, secretaries, cafeteria workers,
playground aides, bus drivers – must be involved in learning about,
discussion and taking ownership of the character education effort. All of
these adults must model the core values in their own behavior and take
advantage of the other opportunities they have to influence the character of
the students with whom they come in contact.
Second, the same values and norms that govern the life of students must
govern the collective life of the adult members of the school community. If
students are to be treated as constructive learners, so must adults. They
must have extended staff development and many opportunities to observe and
then try out ways of integrating character education practices into their
work with students. If students are given opportunities to work
collaboratively and participate in decision-making that improves classrooms
and school, so must adults. If a school’s staff members do not experience
mutual respect, fairness and cooperation in their adult relationships, they
are less likely to be committed to teaching those values to students.
Third, the school must find and protect time for staff reflection on
moral matters. School staff, through faculty meetings and smaller support
groups, should be regularly asking: What positive, character building
experiences is the school already providing for its students? What negative
moral experiences (e.g., peer cruelty, student cheating, adult disrespect of
students, littering of the grounds) is the school currently failing to
address? And what important moral experiences (e.g., cooperative learning,
school and community service, opportunities to learn about and interact with
people from different racial ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds) is the
school now omitting? What school practices are at odds with its professed
core values and desire to develop a caring school community? Reflection of
this nature is an indispensable condition for developing the moral life of a
- Character education requires moral leadership from both
staff and students.
For character education to meet the criteria outlined thus far, there
must be leaders (a principal, another administrator, a lead teachers) who
champion the effort and, at least initially, a character education committee
(or several such support groups, each focused on a particular aspect of the
character effort) with responsibility for long-range planning and program
implementation. Over time, the functions of this committee may be taken on
by the school’s regular governing bodies. Students should also be brought
into roles of moral leadership through student government, peer conflict
mediation programs, cross-age tutoring, and the like.
- The school must recruit parents and community members
as full partners in the character-building effort.
A school’s character education mission statement should state explicitly
what is true: Parents are the first and most important moral educators of
their children. Next, the school should take pains at every www to
communicate with parents about the school’s goals and activities regarding
character development – and how families can help. To build trust between
home and school, parents should be represented on the character leadership
committee that does the planning, the school should actively reach out to
"disconnected" subgroups of parents, and all parents need to be informed
about – and have a chance to react and consent to – the school’s proposed
core values and how the school proposes to try to teach them. Finally,
schools and families will enhance the effectiveness of their partnership if
they recruit the help of the wider community – businesses, religious
institutions, youth organizations, the government, and the media – in
promoting the core ethical values.
- Evaluation of character education should assess the
character of the school, the school staff’s functioning as character
educators, and the extent to which students manifest good character.