What Not To Do in Character Education
Character education is indeed important in basic education. The big problem is not doing it right. Back in 2001, a group of character education advocates wrote an article in Education Week entitled "What's Right and Wrong in Character Education". The article starts with the following:
We are advocates for character education. We believe that it is essential to students' future success and also to a healthy, humane society. And so we are heartened that character education is now getting its due, after decades of being slighted. But we are concerned about, and critical of, what many are doing in the name of character education. Well-intentioned as these efforts may be, we believe that they will make little difference for students, and thus may soon discredit the entire field. Moreover, they can easily distract us from what really matters in helping students become caring, principled, and responsible adults.It is indeed important to be aware of the wrong ways to teach character education and here is their list of what not to do in character education:
- Cheerleading: Putting up posters or banners, speeches in student assemblies, with the hope that by seeing a steady stream of messages, students would actually embrace these values.
- Praise and Reward: I could actually relate to this. Receiving grades on a subject on "Character Education" is grossly misleading as it puts emphasis on grades as reward or punishment and totally misses the real significance of our actions, words and thoughts.
- Define and Drill: One does not learn honesty like one learns the mulitplication table. Values require much deeper cognitive processes, not just memory.
- Forced-Formality: Being good in life can not be simply distilled into wearing a uniform, following rules, saying "Good morning", and other behavior that is often equated with respect or order. Life is much more complex than this simple set of rules.
Using a large representative sample from Belgium, this study demonstrated that levels of prejudice are family dependent: children with prejudiced parents were more likely to be prejudiced themselves. This is particularly true with respect to parents’ and children’s general dislike of out-groups, which were associated with parent–child similarity in ideological attitudes. Finally, discussing politics at home signiﬁcantly facilitated the correspondence between parents and children, suggesting that children have actively learned parental predispositions instead of blindly copying their attitudes and behaviours.
So what does "work"? Most fundamentally, schools must engage and inspire students' hearts as well as their minds, and this requires that schools get better at meeting students' basic, legitimate needs—their needs for safety, belonging, competence, and autonomy. A solid body of research shows that human beings are disposed to affiliate with those who meet these basic needs, and students will bond to a school in the same way, and for the same reasons, that infants bond to mothers who capably provide for them. In other words, students will care about a school's goals and values when that school effectively cares for them. Moreover, when they feel connected to a school and the people in it, they learn better.Schools to be effective must copy the relationship between parents and their children. It must imitate the environment found in homes that are found to be conducive in inculcating either prejudices or values in children. Specific activities are provided for fostering good character:
· Class meetings in which students, with the teacher's help, get opportunities to set class goals and ground rules, plan activities, assess their progress, and solve common problems.
· Ethics-rich academic classes in which students go beyond facts and skills to consider the moral and social implications of what they are learning, most obviously in social studies and literature, but also in the sciences and the arts.
· Cooperative learning groups in which students collaborate on academic tasks and have regular opportunities to plan and reflect on the ways they work together.Good manners and right conduct can be superficial. Character is so much deeper that it requires su much more than lip service.
· "Buddies" programs that regularly bring together whole classes of younger and older students to work one-on-one on academic, service, and recreational activities.
· Inclusive, whole-school events involving students and their families at school in ways that capitalize on their diverse backgrounds and personal experiences, such as "family heritage week" or a "family hobbies fair."
· Service-learning opportunities inside and outside the school that enable students to contribute to the welfare of others and to reflect on their experiences doing so.