Character Education: the Moral Life of Schools

Topics: Virtue Ethics

The Moral Life of Schools1 Character Education: the Moral Life of Schools Ruth Patterson University of West Georgia Dr. Hema Ramanathan MGED 7271 Issues in Middle Grades Education The Moral Life of Schools2 This paper will examine what role educators and schools play in forming the moral character of the middle school child. It will focus on the importance of character education and the effectiveness of strategies, techniques and methods used to teach children values and morals.

The impact of moral education on school improvement and success and student success and achievement will also be discussed.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “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” ( www. pbs. org/newshour/character/quotes). As evident from the above quote, the moral education of children is a matter of deep concern to everyone from parents to civic and religious leaders.

It has been a continuous subject of controversy throughout the history of American schools.

According to the online Education Encyclopedia, character education’s focus is to assist children in learning the morals and virtues (such as honesty, responsibility, compassion and respect for others) that will allow them to live good lives and become productive, contributing members of society. In this view, moral education should contribute not only to the students as individuals, but also to the social cohesion of a community (http://education. tateuniversity. com/pages/2246/Moral-Education. html#ixzz167tOTe90). All experienced educators have firsthand knowledge of why character education should be an important part of the middle school curriculum.

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I agree with Sanford McDonnell when he stated in his article Character is Destiny (2010) that “today in America there are far too many 12-year-olds pushing drugs, 14-year-olds having babies, 16-year-olds killing each other, nd young people of all ages admitting to lying, cheating and stealing at epidemic numbers. Crime The Moral Life of Schools3 and violence is everywhere, as well as unethical behavior in business, the professions, and in government. ” He strongly believes that “we have a crisis of character all across America that is threatening to destroy the goodness, which is the very foundation of our greatness. ” He thinks the answer to this crisis is getting back to the virtues of good character in every part of our nation.

Most supporters of character education agree that it is the primary responsibility of the family to teach their children values and morals; however there are some students who live in homes with parents who are not good role models. In the April, 2000 issue of Early Childhood Today, Thomas Lickona states that “historically, character formation of the young was shared by three institutions: home, religion, and school. These worked together to pass on a legacy of values to shape the character of the next generation. The family lays the foundation, which gets built upon by the other institutions. He further explains that, “adults have to come together to maximize the chance that we’ll have a generation of young people who are mature enough and good enough to build a collective future in the next century and that it is not the job of schools, families, or religious institutions alone. ” According to Wiles, Bondi and Wiles (2006), “Character Education in some form has been mandated in all fifty states, and the federal government (both Congress and the president) proposed funding in 1999 for specific character education programs.

The typical middle or secondary school now teaches students how to schedule a balanced day, drive a car, balance a checkbook, have sex (sex education), not have sex (abstinence programs), identify sexual The Moral Life of Schools4 abuse, and avoid HIV. ” So in some form or other, schools today teach values regardless of the controversy that it is the responsibility of the parent. Moral education is not just a modern day trend, it dates back to the time that the puritans came over to the new world and thought everyone should be reading the bible.

The article Moral Education – A Brief History of Moral Education provides a brief history of the beginnings of moral education in the school system: When the first common schools were founded, moral education was the prime concern. New England Puritans believed the moral code resided in the Bible. Therefore, it was imperative that children be taught to read, thus having access to its grounding wisdom. As early as 1642 the colony of Massachusetts passed a law requiring parents to educate their children. In 1647 the famous Old Deluder Satan Act strengthened the law.

Without the ability to read the Scriptures, children would be prey to the snares of Satan. In the nineteenth century, teachers were hired and trained with the clear expectation that they would advance the moral mission of the school and attend to character formation. Literature, biography, and history were taught with the explicit intention of infusing children with high moral standards and good examples to guide their lives. Students’ copybook headings offered morally uplifting thoughts: “Quarrelsome persons are always dangerous companions” and “Praise follows exertion. The most successful textbooks during the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s were the famed McGuffey readers, which were filled with moral stories, urgings, and lessons. During this period of our evolution as a nation, moral education was deep in the very fabric of our schools. (http://education. stateuniversity. com/pages/2246/Moral-Education. html#ixzz167tOTe90) As American school children became more diverse, the religious tone of moral education presented a rising controversy because most of our core beliefs and values are rooted in our own religious practices.

As a result, educators and others became apprehensive The Moral Life of Schools5 about teaching morals and values at school and moral education was slowly moving back towards the domain of family and church. This mode of thinking led to, “Some educators became proponents of value-free schooling, ignoring the fact that it is impossible to create a school devoid of ethical issues, lessons, and controversies. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, as many schools attempted to ignore the moral dimension of schooling, three things happened: Achievement scores began to decline, iscipline and behavior problems increased, and voices were raised accusing the schools of teaching secular humanism. ” (http://education. stateuniversity. com/pages/2246/Moral-Education. html#ixzz167tOTe90) In the early 1980’s a growing concern for poor academic achievement and inappropriate, disruptive behavior brought back the need for a moral education curriculum in public schools. This time however it was labeled character education because moral education, with its religious overtones, was a source of dis-ease.

The online Education Encyclopedia’s article on The Return of Character Education outlines for us what prompted this rebirth: The impetus and energy behind the return of character education to American schools did not come from within the educational community. It has been fueled, first, by parental desire for orderly schools where standards of behavior and good habits are stressed, and, second, by state and national politicians who responded to these anxious concerns of parents.

During his presidency, William Clinton hosted five conferences on character education. President George W. Bush expanded on the programs of the previous administration and made character education a major focus of his educational reform agenda. One of the politically appealing aspects of character education is that character education speaks more to the formation of a good citizen. A widely repeated definition (i. e. , character education is helping a child to know the good, to desire the good, and to do the good) straddles this issue.

For some people the internal focus of character education comfortably can be both religious and civic and for others the focus can be The Moral Life of Schools6 strictly civic, dealing exclusively on the formation of the good citizen. (http://education. stateuniversity. com/pages/2246/Moral-Education. html#ixzz167tOTe90) As America entered the new millennium, government support of character education programs persisted. In a May 2000 press release, former U. S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley announced that nine states received a total of $2. million in grants to form partnerships with local school districts and communities to help youth incorporate good citizenship into their education. In addition to this announcement he had these words to say: Good citizenship, compassion and respect for others are qualities just as important as learning to high standards in math, science and reading, and school is where most young people spend most of their time outside the home. With these grants, schools and communities can reinforce parents in helping students learn to make good choices and be positive members of society throughout their lives. www2. ed. gov/PressReleases) In addition to government backing of character education programs, several other organizations have appeared on the scene to champion the cause; one such organization is the Character Education Partnership (CEP). CEP is a national advocate and leader for the character education movement. According to Sanford McDonnell (2010), “CEP is dedicated to promoting character education and to helping communities and cities throughout the country set up character education programs K-12 in their public schools.

This organization sets the standards of excellent character education and challenges schools across the country to meet those standards and compete for recognition by CEP as National Schools of Character. ” The Moral Life of Schools7 Given the historical, educational, parental, political and societal view of moral education, the question now becomes, how do we build character education programs in our schools and what do they look like? According to McDonnell (2010) at the core of every effective character education program is the teacher as a role model.

They must be caregivers and moral people. He realizes that most college of education programs do not adequately train candidates to be character educators so they need to be given in-service and professional development. He further suggests that when building character education programs: The teachers, administrators and the parents in each school or district must come to consensus on what values they want the students in the school to learn and what those values mean. The school’s values are taught through the curriculum and in all extra curriculum activities.

For example, sports can be a powerful character-building experience if the coaches emphasize respect, teamwork, hard work, and avoid the win-at-all-costs approach so often used in professional athletics. The arts can be very effective as character-builders if the values of the school are emphasized; i. e. , respect, being on time and helping one another. Students should be involved in deciding the rules and their enforcement that they feel will make their school a good place in which to be and in which to learn. In other words, a micro, civil and democratic society is created.

When students help establish the rules they have ownership, and they use peer pressure to help keep order and discipline in their school. Cooperative learning should be used to teach kids how to help each other learn and how to work together. Students should be taught how to resolve conflict in fair and nonviolent ways (Student mediators). McDonnell (2010) goes on to say that: The Moral Life of Schools8 Beyond the classroom, the principal and staff should use the total school environment to support and reinforce the values taught in the classroom.

For example, service projects in the school and the community help students learn to care by giving care. I want to emphasize that a quality character education program in schools is a total school reform approach, because it not only addresses the moral character values needed for ethical behavior (such as honesty, respect, caring) but also the performance character values needed for best work in school, career, and life beyond (such as hard work, perseverance, and a positive attitude). Effective character education takes more than a few stand-alone programs.

As I said earlier, character and excellence must be embedded in everything that goes on in the classroom, in the arts, in the lunch room, and in the sports programs. Other advocates and educators for character education speak out on what they have incorporated into their organizations to build an effective program. In her article, Using Film Clips to Spark Advisory Discussions on Character Education (2008), Kathleen McCaffrey shares how her middle school decided to assist students in addressing character formation.

These are the considerations her team took into account in designing their character education program: In designing our program, our group was guided by the belief that education is not just about reading, writing, and arithmetic; it is also about life, citizenship, and the values associated with being a good person. When a school assists youth in these areas, not only do the individuals’ worlds begin to change, but also the world around them.

Quality lessons should be represented less by the “talk” of the teacher, and more by the “walk” of the teacher. McCaffrey’s view on the teacher’s role in a quality character education program is consistent with McDonnell’s (2010) when he shares that “first and foremost, the teachers must be role models; they must be caregivers and they must be moral people in order to create an The Moral Life of Schools9 environment where students learn to become winners in all aspects of life, to be good citizens, and good employees. McCaffrey (2008) believes that “a well-designed character education program allows for the transmission of culture, which is at the core of schooling in America. This culture includes academic, personal, social, and moral expectations that the school seeks to reinforce in the rising generation of young adolescents. ” McCaffrey along with other character education promoters believe that if we are to get the quality interactions and responses desired from students, we must build lessons and use strategies that engage students in moral and ethical decision making.

Here is a brief synopsis of the how her Advisory Character Education program was shaped: Some of the characteristics McCaffrey and her team believed that were essential to their program were that it be student-centered, experiential, reflective, authentic, holistic, social, collaborative, democratic, cognitive, developmental, constructivist, and challenging. They also wanted students to have choice, responsibility, expression, and a sense of community. This line of thinking led the teachers to Film Clips for Character Education, which proved to exactly what they were looking for.

Created by Emmy-award-winning producer Michael Rhodes, the program consists of a series of 3-4-minute episodes from more than 50 popular films (including Shrek, Chariots of Fire, Pay It Forward, Bridge to Terabithia, Antwone Fisher, and Charlotte’s Web) that serve as discussion-starters around character education (for example, honesty in a clip from Liar, Liar, respect from Remember the Titans, and kindness from Forest Gump). (as cited in www. newcanaan. k12. ct. us/education/components/scrapbook) Another aspect of concern when designing a character education program that Ms.

McCaffrey (2008) knew needed to be addressed was teacher buy in and how the program would fit into the instructional schedule. They invited teachers to a voluntary meeting to share The Moral Life of Schools10 the advisory idea. Thirty teachers attended, expressed their interest and by the next school year began to implement. It was decided that these advisory sessions would take place twice weekly during the 25 minute Drop Everything and Read time slot. I believe that the success of the advisory character education program at Ms.

McCaffrey’s school was due to the original team’s desire to genuinely connect with students and to make it a school wide collaboration. Surveying teachers and asking for input contributed to ownership and buy in. Putting up posters publicizing the program with the slogan, WATT’S UP (Webster’s Are Talking Together) and incorporating the school’s mascot, a jaguar – contributed to the student’s buy in and acceptance (Appealing to the adolescent’s natural sense of curiosity ).

The next question to ask when discussing the importance of character education in the middle school is – what is the content of good character? In his 2003 article, The Content of Our Character: Ten essential virtues, Thomas Lickona shares ten virtues which he states are recognized and taught by nearly all philosophical, religious, and cultural traditions: 1. Wisdom- tells us how to put the other virtues into practice—when to act, how to act, and how to balance different virtues when they conflict. 2. Justice- means respecting the rights of all persons.

The Golden Rule, which directs us to treat other persons as we wish to be treated, is a principle of justice that can be found in cultures and religions around the world. 3. Fortitude- enables us to do what is right in the face of difficulty. 4. Self-control- is the ability to govern ourselves. It’s the power to resist temptation, to wait, and to delay gratification in the pursuit of higher and distant goals. 5. Love- goes beyond justice; it gives more than fairness requires. Love is the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of another. 6.

Positive Attitude- if you have a positive attitude, you’re an asset to yourself and others. It includes character strengths of hope, enthusiasm, flexibility, and a sense of humor. 7. Hard work- includes the virtues of initiative, diligence, goal-setting, and resourcefulness. 8. Integrity- is adhering to moral principle, being faithful to moral conscience, keeping our word, and standing up for what we believe. 9. Gratitude- is often described as the secret of a happy life. It moves us to count our everyday blessings. 10. Humility- can be considered the foundation of the whole oral life. Humility is necessary for the acquisition of the other virtues because it makes us aware of our imperfections and leads us to try to become a better person. Lickona (2003) also list ten strategies for promoting the virtues: 1. A virtue a month 2. A virtue a week, related to a monthly theme 3. A 3- or 4-year cycle of virtues (six one year, six others the next, etc. ) The Core Essentials Curriculum 4. A yearly theme, e. g. , “The Year of Courage” 5. Assigning a developmentally appropriate virtue to each grade level for study over the entire school 6.

A common set of character expectations that all grade levels work on year round, with individual teachers choosing which virtues to emphasize at any given time through a book, activity, or unit. 7. A character education curriculum framework, such as the K-6 Core Virtues (www. linkinstitute. org), that uses grade-appropriate virtues and corresponding curricular resources from literature, history, and the fine arts. 8. A published character education curriculum with sequenced lesson plans. Examples: The Moral Life of Schools12

Second Step (www. cfchildren. org), Positive Action (www. posaction. com) 9. A character education process model, such as the Caring School Community (elementary; www. devstu. org) 10. A school culture approach that emphasizes creating an ethos of moral and intellectual excellence and stresses character in all curricular and co-curricular programs but doesn’t necessarily name a target set of virtues to which the school formally commits. Education World school administrator’s article, Is Character Education the Answer? Starr, 1999), reports success in some schools committed to teaching values and morals through curriculum: At Newsome Park Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, all students participate in a service learning program, which integrates community service into every aspect of the curriculum. The youngest students exchange visits with senior citizens. Second and third graders provide food and clothing to needy families — and exchange letters with the families as part of their study of the postal system.

Fourth and fifth graders adopt a ward at the local VA hospital — and learn about the technology used to treat patients there. At Benjamin Franklin Classical Charter School in Franklin, Massachusetts, each month’s curriculum focuses on one of the cardinal virtues of fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence, while the school fosters a sense of personal and social responsibility through a variety of voluntary community service projects. Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland, features a “Virtue of the Week” program, a peer mediation program, and a rigorous community service graduation requirement.

The article, Is Character Education the Answer? , also has this to add about the 3 schools listed above: The Moral Life of Schools13 Although the individual programs vary, each school has made a commitment to providing students with character education along with the more traditional disciplines. Each school was also a recipient of The Business Week Award for Instructional Innovation in 1998, sponsored by Business Week magazine, McGraw-Hill’s Educational and Professional Publishing Group, and The Character Education Partnership. (www. educationworld. om/a_admin/admin/admin097. shtml) How does character education impact school improvement and success? When students are taught morals and values through curriculum it has a positive effect on school culture. In CEP’s position paper, A New Level of Accountability for Schools (www. character. org
• May 2010), they take the position that, A positive school culture or school climate is the cornerstone of all good schools and the foundation for school improvement. Successful schools—ones that foster both academic excellence and ethics—have positive, effective school cultures.

We define a positive school culture broadly to include the school wide ethos and the culture of individual classrooms, high expectations for learning and achievement, a safe and caring environment, shared values and relational trust, a powerful pedagogy and curriculum, high student motivation and engagement, a professional faculty culture, and partnerships with families and the community. This We Believe (2010) is also in support of character education programs in public schools, especially in middle level education programs.

They believe that because adolescents are socially vulnerable in their beliefs, attitudes and values – character education programs are a necessary component of a successful school because they encompass the essential attribute of being developmentally responsive. The Moral Life of Schools14 It has become clear that character education programs are one of the necessary tools the middle school can use to assist adolescents during this critical developmental period amid our changing society; however, how do these programs impact student academic success and achievement?

In his works on researching England’s attempt to legislate the development of spiritual, moral, social, and cultural growth of students through a comprehensive national curriculum, Ron Best (as cited in McCaffrey, 2008) concluded that “to improve performance across the academic curriculum, we need to protect and extend opportunities for children to engage the world emotionally, aesthetically, and morally, in the hope that they come to understand much better themselves, their fellow human beings, and that greater whole of which we are all part. Best’s conclusion supports the position that there is a positive impact on student academic performance and a moral education curriculum. In her research on advisory programs, McCaffrey (2008) had this to say about the positive effects of character education programs, “The contemporary observations of Anfara (2006) point toward the realization that when especially designed programs are combined with other components of the middle school concept, student self-concept improves, dropout rates decrease, and school climate becomes more positive. Benninga, Berkowitz, Kuehn, & Smith’s (2003) study (as cited in McCaffrey, 2008) had this to say about character education and academic achievement “Those schools addressing the character education of their students in a serious, well-planned manner tended also to have The Moral Life of Schools15 higher academic achievement scores no matter what particular program they adapted for their use. The news paper article, Study Shows Character Education Aids Student Achievement, posted on West VA Department of Education website (August 28, 2007) gives additional evidence of the positive impact of effective character education programs (only excerpts taken from the complete article for purposes of this paper): CHARLESTON, W. Va. _ Early results from a pilot project funded with a $1. 87 million grant from the U. S. Department of Education is showing that character education can have a positive effect on student performance, the project’s researcher says.

The West Virginia Department of Education, together with Michael Corrigan, director of the June Harless Center for Rural Education Research and Development at Marshall University, have been studying character education in two high schools, two middle schools and four elementary schools in Boone, Clay, Summers and Tyler counties. Half of the schools have adopted experimental programs, while the others are part of the control group. The control schools were asked not to introduce any new character education programs, while the experimental schools were challenged to fully integrate a new character education process.

We didn’t expect to find anything the first year but we already are seeing gains in academic progress,” Corrigan said. “They’re small but still apparent. That didn’t happen by chance. ” “Our WESTEST scores were the highest in the county,” Toney said. “I can’t say they were a direct result of character education but I know it did have an effect. When you start talking about respect and responsibility, that’s what it takes to not only be successful in school but in life. At Tyler Consolidated Middle School in Sistersville, Principal Ed Stombock said character education has helped kids develop an awareness of how to treat their peers as well as adults. It also has helped adults look at kids with more respect, he said. “Kids in our school have relationships with adults,” Stombock said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case in many schools across this country. Kids are learning fairness, honesty and good values. These are virtues employers want. ” “Character education is an integral part of education in the 21st century,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine. Responsibility, respect and ethical behavior are as important in today’s global economy as math and science skills. ” West Virginia is one of about 30 states to receive the Partnerships in Character Education Program grant. The awards, which are for up to four years, allow states to design and implement character education programs that teach students core ethical concepts, including civics, justice, responsibility and respect. Grant recipients must show how they have integrated character education into classroom instruction and teacher training. They also must involve parents, students and the community in the process. A good education can’t be measured by test scores alone,” Corrigan said. “Most teachers got into teaching to help prepare kids to be good citizens and good adults. Character education helps remind The Moral Life of Schools16 teachers why they got into this business to begin with, it’s a wake-up call for parents and offers students a glimmer of hope that they can do something wonderful with their lives even in a world of poverty. ” Character Education programs continue to be an integral part of what is needed in order for middle schools to respond to the challenging issues adolescents face on a daily basis.

Pick up a newspaper or magazine, view television and entertainment programs or simply surf the internet and you will discover numerous reasons why moral education is vital to the building of excellent schools, communities and ultimately nations. As teachers, we have the honor, privilege and opportunity to instill values and virtues into the minds of our youth. When we do this we exhibit the qualities of a good teacher as described by Parker Palmer (2007), “Good teachers weave a life-giving web between themselves, their subjects, and their students, helping their students learn how to weave a world for themselves. ”

The Moral Life of Schools17 References A New Level of Accountability for Schools (May 2010). Character Education Partnership. Retrieved November 27, 2010 from http://www. character. org/culture-climate Lickona, T. (2003). The Content of Our Character: Ten essential virtues. The Fourth and Fifth Rs, Vol. 10, #1, p. 1-3. Retrieved December 1, 2010 from http://www. characterfortcollins. org/TenEssentialVirtues. pdf Lickona, T. (2010). ECT interview: Thomas Lickona, PhD talks about character education. Early Childhood Today. Retrieved on November 22, 2010, from http://www2. scholastic. com/browse/article. jsp? id=3745783&FullBreadCrum

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Character Education: the Moral Life of Schools
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