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Psychology, Philosophy & Real Life

Dr George Simon, PhD

Character Education: Learning to Be a Better Person

More and more schools have character development programs, that teach children core ethical values and standards of behavior. The Character Education Partnership (CEP) network defines 11 Principles of Effective Character Education.

Photo by Character Education Partnership - //bit.ly/5fNWUs
Photo by Character Education Partnership - http://bit.ly/5fNWUs

As most readers of my articles already know, I wrote the book Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK] because I believe the book’s title describes the defining issue of our age. And as some of my prior articles attest (e.g., “Disturbances of Character, Part 2: Socialization is a Process”), I am also an ardent believer that, in order to adequately address many of our most important social concerns, we can and must do a better job of providing our young persons the guidance necessary to develop solid character. That’s why it is extremely heartening for me to witness the degree to which so many educational institutions and organizations over the past several years have recognized the need for character education, and have also integrated character development programs into their curricula.

Not only has there been an increase in recent years in the number of character education programs in schools, but there has also been rapid growth in networks designed to foster the kinds of institutional climates that are most conducive to helping students develop sound character. One non-profit support organization in the United States at the forefront of building such networks is the Character Education Partnership (CEP). CEP’s mission is to help ensure that schools create a social and academic climate in which bullying is not tolerated, integrity is promoted, and leadership is provided to children as they learn the basics of empathy, respect, tolerance, and responsibility. The CEP website provides information on what they promote as the 11 essential principles of effective character education, and urges all schools to join the ranks of academic institutions that provide such programming. Briefly stated, the 11 principles they promote as hallmarks of a character-promoting institution are:

  • The institution defines core ethical values and behavior standards, and promotes them as the foundation of sound character development.
  • The institution views and defines “character” as a critical aspect of personal functioning, and views sound character as a comprehensive set of qualities that includes a person’s ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
  • The institution adopts a comprehensive, intentional, and proactive approach to character development. Sound character is not innate, but it can — and must — be taught.
  • The institution creates and maintains a caring social milieu.
  • The institution provides its students not only with opportunities to take appropriate moral action, but also with support for so doing.
  • The institution provides a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, and addresses not only their knowledge needs, but also helps them develop their character, both of which will help them to succeed.
  • The institution provides the structure and support necessary to foster self-motivation in their students’ character development efforts.
  • The institution’s staff adheres to the same core values that guide the students, and recognizes its shared responsibility for character education and development.
  • The institution has an unshakable commitment to character education and its shared leadership, and provides long-range support of its character education initiative.
  • The institution engages families and community members as partners in the character-building effort.
  • The institution regularly assesses its culture and climate, the functioning of its staff as character educators, and the extent to which its students are progressing in the development of sound character.

There are many character education programs available for use in schools today, most of which have accumulated data attesting to their effectiveness. CEP is not primarily in the business of promoting one program over another. Rather, it attempts to bring all the relevant stakeholders into a mutually supportive partnership, so that proven programs, resources, policies, and teaching methods can be shared among the concerned parties. By talking to one another, asking questions, sharing what appears to work and not work, etc., educators are better able to create the environments necessary for their students to learn the life skills they need to be successful, not only in their intended occupations but also in their life and relationships.

Teachers have known for some time that some of the biggest obstacles to achieving academic success arise out of some students’ inadequate personal and social development. They have also learned that the inherently arduous job of education becomes truly impossible in an institutional climate where bullying, social ostracizing, cheating, truancy, and other forms of character dysfunction go unabated. And they’re among the growing chorus of folks who have come to appreciate just how much character matters, and how inadequately we as a society have attended to this issue in the recent past (see also “Sheen, Madoff and Celebrity Psychology: Character Does Matter”). Even large business organizations and government agencies have crafted their own character education and development programs. But educators continue to be on the forefront of providing what their students need even more than a textbook education in the arts and sciences: a pathway to genuine success in life based on integrity of character.

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