October 2018 Blog
By Edward F. DeRoche, Ph.D.
Politicians, the press, the public, and most educators are excited about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM), and, of course, the ever present thrust for more testing.
Most of us know that knowledge keeps no better than fish—use it or lose it. But the one thing that we carry with us for a lifetime is our “character.”
Recent polls of public attitudes toward schools show that Americans want schools to prepare the young to be academically competent, and career ready. But they want more.
The public is urging educators and others to help children and youth develop character strengths such as kindness, gratitude, self-control, social skills, teamwork, diligence, perseverance, strong work ethic, positive attitudes, ingenuity, integrity, justice, caring, respect, and responsibility—all of which are learned.
What do we know about character? We know that:
• Character is learned—taught to the young by the entertainment industry, the media, the Internet, the environment they live in, their peers and role models, and hopefully by parents, teachers, schools, youth agencies, and religious institutions.
• Character is about strengths and virtues that guide an individual “to act in an ethical, pro-social manner.”
• Character is about choices—the ones we make daily (good or bad, ethical or unethical). It is about decision-making—the circumstances, the risks, the chances, the consequences, and the rewards.
• Character is about relationships and social skills—skills such as sharing, participating, following directions, and listening. It is learning how to be a friend, how to care for others, how to appreciate others, how to be polite, respectful, courteous, and how to resolve conflicts peacefully.
- Character is about “emotional” self-discipline.
- Character is who you are when no one is looking, or when everyone is looking.
What, then, is character education? Let’s use the U.S Department of Education’s definition:
Character education is a learning process that enables students and adults in a school community to understand, care about and act on core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue and citizenship, and responsibility for self and others.
In schools, character education must be approached comprehensively to include the emotional, intellectual and moral qualities of a person or group. It must offer multiple opportunities for students to learn about, discuss and enact positive social behaviors. Student leadership and involvement are essential for character education to become a part of a student’s beliefs and actions.
The most frequently asked question—the one I get most from educators and parents—what’s the payoff?
One, a commitment to making character education an integral part of the education process will increase students’ academic achievement. For example, among middle-school students, the character strengths of perseverance, love, gratitude, hope, and perspective, predict academic achievement.
Two, character education in schools has a broad impact on students’ pro-social and moral behaviors by developing their problem-solving skills, building positive peer relationships, enhancing their self- esteem, improving their interpersonal skills, and strengthening their ability at self-regulation (control).
A third “pay-off”—an effective character education program shows that the school will become a more caring community, that discipline referrals will drop, that quality of peer and adult relationships will improve, and that students’ will make a greater commitment to schooling and academic achievement.
Professors Tom Hierck and Kent Peterson (University of Wisconsin- Madison) found that there are 19 student and staff behaviors that contribute to a positive school climate.
Showing pride in school Collaboration
Taking pride in one’s work Leadership
Using time wisely
Love of learning
Making good choices
Active listening Cooperation
Using appropriate communication
Making an insightful comment Organization
Going above and beyond
Take note of how many of these behaviors are character-related.