Character Education of Professor Thomas Licona and Professor James Arthur

Topics: Virtue Ethics

The following sample essay on Character Education of Professor Thomas Licona and Professor James Arthur.

Has been a popular pedagogy over the past decades. However, it is not a newly coined term. It is widely used and legislated across parts of the United States and the United Kingdom. Character education has hundreds of years of research and development behind it. Professors Thomas Lickona and James Arthur have become experts in this field of moral development. This essay will aim to compare and contrast the contributions to character education of Professor Thomas Lickona and Professor James Arthur. Emphasis will be placed on their writings and key principles as well as the impact on education of both centres which they have developed. “Good character consists of knowing the good, desiring the good, and doing the good habits of the mind, habits of the heart, and habits of action”.

American born in 1943, Thomas Lickona is a world-renowned developmental psychologist and author of eight books.

His passion and focus is on educating children on moral values. Similarly to James Arthur, Thomas Lickona has wisdom through centuries of Aristotelian research backing him up in this field, which is what makes both their work highly influential and practical. This notion of character education, though has been in existence for centuries has become more pertinent in the 21st century, where parents and teachers are seeking assistance in ways to raise their children. This stress has been caused as a result of societies low expectations on adults, as seen in our world leaders, and the many un-virtuous acts that have played out.

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So what contributions have Lickona and Arthur made to character education, and how can educators and parents learn from this?

Amongst many of Lickona’s accolades, he has been the driving force behind the set up of what is now called the “Centre for the 4th and 5th Rs”. This centre, embedded within the highly accomplished Suny Cortland was founded in 1944 and has trained more than 25,000 educators and parents from 40 states and 26 countries in the development of moral character, excellence and ethics in schools, families, and communities.” The centre has established a 12 point approach to the formation of moral character. These will be discussed in brief as a basis for explaining many of Lickona’s beliefs and strategies. These have been taken from Lickona’s book “Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility”.

The 12 points approach by Lickona is not dissimilar to what has been offered at the Jubilee Centre for character and virtues. This centre was set up and is currently directed by Professor James Arthur. Likewise, he is considered an expert in his field and has authored a number of books and papers. His work is considered to be highly influential and has been placed into 7000 schools all around the UK; contrary to in America, where one would find works by Thomas Lickona. There is a distinct difference between the two frameworks for character development. In contrast to Lickona’s circular and holistic approach, James Arthur uses a more rigid linear approach. One that has a beginning and an end. This approach has embedded within, very clearly the virtues of knowledge, understanding, reasoning and practice. More visible than in Lickona’s approach.

As much of James Arthur’s work sites Thomas Lickona; In this essay, Lickona’s 12 points will be discussed in light of James Arthur’s approach and a focus on the virtues. The first point to be discussed is the teacher as a caregiver, model and mentor. Having said this, Lickona’s approach is holistic and circular in the sense that there is no real beginning or end. All elements work interchangeably with each other. It is in this area where Lickona highlights the sheer necessity of loving and respecting all students, by reinforcing the right behaviour and correcting wrong decisions. Lickona says that beyond the four Greek virtues, there is the virtue of love. In his book With Love and Prayers, Jarvis writes: “Selfless love that expects nothing back is the most powerful force in the universe. Its impact on both the giver and the receiver is incalculable.”. It is even demanded of us in the Gospels. “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

The second of the 12 point approach is establishing an ethical learning community. It is in an environment where children feel supported that they will accomplish their goals. The third, and in some aspects, some may see as the most important in the 21st century, is the development of character based discipline. This embeds high expectations on rules and logical consequences which develop moral reasoning. Lickona places emphasis on intrinsic motivation and conditioning younger children to act within moral virtues of courtesy, respect and caring. The development of these virtues of justice bring about an eudaimonic benefit. Once again, backed up by age old wisdom Plutarch has been quoted to say: “For intelligent people the passage from childhood to adulthood is not an abandonment of rules, but a change of ruler”

Arthur would agree with all of the above principles in the points that he makes “Character is largely caught through role modelling and emotional contagion: school culture and ethos are therefore central”. Athur delves into this notion more deeply and says that the education of teachers in building character is significantly necessary as without good character role models, there will be no children of good character. Moving through the classroom strategies, Lickona suggests that a democratic classroom environment allows the students to share responsibility and decision making. Adapted from William Glasser and Rudolf Dreikurs, Lickona proposes the idea of class meetings as a form of problem solving. Of course, like any other procedure within the school, these meetings come with very clear rules and expectations. These meetings build up fortitude within the children as they are gaining necessary skills of resilience.

Joseph LeDoux who has completed comprehensive research on emotion, discusses the plasticity of the brain, particularly in infants. He says that teachers can build compassion and other virtuous qualities into its plasticity. Jesus, our ultimate teacher, models the strong impact that others can have on the human being. “He was moved with compassion, because they were harassed and helpless.” Martin Jane in his book “What should we do with a hidden curriculum when we find one?” suggests that the hidden curriculum includes virtues and values that are not explicitly taught. Lickona’s views contrast this in the way that these virtues and values of character education should be explicitly embedded into the “hidden curriculum”. That is, using the curriculum as a mode for teaching character education. Arthur states this in a more detailed manner.

In his sixth principle he states that “Character should also be taught: direct teaching of character provides the rationale, language and tools to use in developing character elsewhere in and out of school.” Here Arthur provides no ambiguity for teachers and the impact that it has. Decades of research on play-based learning reinforce Lickona’s sixth strategy of cooperative learning; which assists with communication, turn taking, teamwork and appreciation of others. Difficult skills, but through constant practise and reinforcement, the children become experts, and in turn build temperance and fortitude. While James Arthur highlights the importance of reinforcement of virtues at any given moment, and in interactions, interestingly there is no explicit mention of cooperative or play based learning.

It is important to note at this stage that these 12 strategies are mirrored in Thomas Lickonas’s 11 principles of effective character education. Principle 6 insists that the school “offers a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, develops their character, and helps them to succeed.” Similarly, strategy number 7 dictates that one must develop a conscience of craft. That is doing something well and taking academic responsibility. This element is particularly pertinent in today’s society with many Universities across Australia calling for an action against contract cheating, with an event being held at the University of Notre Dame on the 16th of October 2019. This taps into one’s development of prudence in the act of truth seeking and forming a good conscience.

Following on from this is a teacher’s responsibility to encourage ethical reflection. In Thomas Lickona’s book “Raising good children” he puts into context a series of moral thinking stages that children and adolescents pass through. Here, Lickona places emphasis on role playing moral dilemmas to stimulate this development, again a focus on play. While it is believed that James Arthur focus more explicitly on virtues, Lickona makes them explicit in this particular strategy. He talks about the virtues of prudence and humility; seeking knowledge, critiquing one’s self and making thoughtful and moral decisions based on that knowledge.

In this section on moral dilemmas and the development of conscience, one can not go past without contemplating on the importance of the sacraments and, in particular, confession. No where in either writings as Lickona or Arthur placed an emphasis on prayer and confession. St Josemaria says “Unless you raise your children to become souls of prayer, you have wasted your time”. This is backed up by Pope Benedict, “Prayer is not something accessory or optional”. Henceforth, it doesn’t matter how many principles of moral education there are, if prayer is not at the top, or the centre, then how can all the rest produce fruits?

The final classroom strategy suggested by Licona through his institution for the 4th and 5th Rs at SUNY Cortland is the teaching of conflict resolution. This has a two fold virtue benefit. Of course, a functional as well as a hedonic benefit. Teaching conflict resolution at a young age saves the teacher consistently intervening and gives the child a sense of achievement and control over their lives. He very vividly uses the term children will be “moral handicapped” without these necessary skills. Once again, he highlights the importance of class meetings in addressing conflicts. James Arthur has placed this into his principles where he mentions that “Good character promotes democratic citizenship and autonomous decision making.” Autonomous is the main word here. As educators, both Lickonia and James want children to develop virtuous habits. Again, one can reference Plutarch; “Character is established habit”.

The last three strategies in the circular framework are focused around what can be done in the school wide context, and these are essentially a replica of the classroom strategies so little detail will be presented. Firstly the creation of an ethical culture of excellence insists that teachers model what they expect from the students. A culture that is positive naturally pulls everyone up and again has a hedonic effect. Secondly, the fostering of care beyond the classroom is as important as caring inside the classroom. Lickona highlights school jobs as a waypoint into bringing morality into the community. In the development of a child, in light of James Arthur’s approach, this would be seen in the passing through of the virtue knowledge to the virtue emotion stages. This is where the individual, after having received the correct knowledge, would apply and then act on that virtue in the particular situation in the right way.

Lastly, and as many should argue, one of the most important is the involvement of parents and the wider community. Lickona places emphasis on the notion that the parents are the first educators of their children. This is backed up in Deuteronomy chapter 6 and preached by St Josemaria. “…a stress on the all-round formation of young people, parents as primary educators of their children, and freedom.” Lickona highlights that schools should do everything that they can to involve parents as much as they can in their child’s education. In Lickona’s 11 principles, parents are mentioned over 90 times and appear in almost every principle. This no doubt highlights the enormous impact that parents have on the moral development of their child. This is contrary to the traditional expectations of teachers where minimal contact is given in some schools. To no surprise, James Arthur states the parents as the first educators, however clearly articulates that the development of the child is something “we all share”. So as a team, parents, teachers and with the wider community, it can be concluded that we all need to work together consistently to develop good character virtues in our children.

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Character Education of Professor Thomas Licona and Professor James Arthur. (2019, Nov 16). Retrieved from

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