CHARACTER And CIVIC EDUCATION: You Cannot Have One Without the Other

By Edward F. DeRoche, Ph.D.

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

“You are a citizen, and citizenship carries responsibilities.” – Paul Collier

We know that the primary responsibility for the cultivation of ethical behavior and the development of private and moral character lies with families, religious institutions, schools, work settings, and the communities in which we live.

We also know that social studies teachers have a responsibility and a duty to teach all students character and civic virtues.

The question is, given the current political climate, how can civic education strengthen and complement the development of character and civic virtues?

Let talk about teaching civics in today’s classrooms.

Several years ago, two Wisconsin Social Studies educators wrote that a multicultural society needs “roots.”  These roots, they said, “are described in our founding documents, in our symbols and slogans, and in our personal and public civic virtues.  Our schools, therefore, are called to educate the young to uphold (and sometimes challenge) core virtues, such as, trustworthiness, fairness, patriotism, justice, courage, responsibility, respect, and honesty.”

Today—a warning from Jeremy Knoll, a 20+ high school teacher.

I am telling you civics education is gasping for breath.  Too often, people mistake teaching civics as teaching politics.  Civics is the study of rights and duties of citizenship.  It is a close examination of the privileges and obligations of our citizens.”

A report from neaToday (2017) notes that “It’s not an exaggeration to say that civics education is in crisis.”  The proof:

“Only 25 percent of U.S. students reach the ‘proficient’ standard on the NAEP Civics Assessment.  White, wealthy students are four to six times as likely as Black and Hispanic students from low-income households to exceed that level.

Students in wealthier public school districts are far more likely to receive high-quality civics education than students in low-income and majority-minority schools.”

As an educator in California you should know about The California Survey of Civic Education (

“Polls show that the vast majority of young people distrust political institutions and processes.  Studies find that most students lack a proficient understanding of civics, U.S. history, or our Constitution.

Civic education is no longer a priority in California’s overburdened public schools.  History and civics have all but disappeared in many elementary grades as educators concentrateon teaching reading and math.  In high school, few students even have social studies in the ninth grade.

In 2001, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) published a report titled, The Civic Mission of Schools, which identified six promising approaches that research shows can improve civic education.

“Every school should:  

  • Provide high-quality, formal instruction in government, history, law, and democracy.
  • Incorporate discussion of current local, national, and international issues and events into the classroom.
  • Have students apply what they learn through community service linked to the curriculum and classroom instruction.
  • Offer extracurricular activities that involve students in their schools and communities.
  • Encourage student participation in school governance.
  • Encourage student participation in simulations of democratic processes and procedures.”

I suggest that you read and share with your colleagues and parents in your school the Brooking’s report:

The Need for Civic Education in 21st Century Schools by Rebecca Winthrop.

“The 2018 Brown Center Report on American Education examined the status of civic education and found that while reading and math scores have improved in recent years, there has not been the commensurate increase in eighth grade civics knowledge.   

The study also found that high school social studies teachers are some of the least supported teachers in schools, and report teaching larger numbers of students and taking on more non-teaching responsibilities, like coaching school sports, than other teachers.

Student experience reinforces this view that civic learning is not a central concern of schools.  Seventy percent of 12th graders say they have never written a letter to give an opinion or solve a problem, and 30 percent say they have never taken part in a debate—all important parts of a quality civic learning.”

Character and civility are about relationships – emotional and social.

Character and civility are about teaching your students skills such as sharing, participating, following directions, and listening.

It is about helping them to recognize their own emotions and be respectful of one another’s opinions and viewpoints (self-control).

It is teaching them how to recognize the emotions in others (listening and questioning).

It is about motivating oneself (grit and perseverance), learning how to be a friend, knowing how to care for and appreciating others.

Civics instruction needs to be underscored by students learning how to be polite, respectful, courteous, civil, and how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

Edward DeRoche, Ph.D., Director
Character Education Resource Center
Department of Learning & Teaching // University of San Diego
Website:  http:/

The Rule of Three

By Edward DeRoche

In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.  Tom Bodett

Have you heard or read about The Rule of 3?  I didn’t until last month when I was reading Bill Murphy, Jr.’s article about The Rule of 3 (

The Rule of 3 has to do with the way we process information and that three is the smallest number of elements we can use to create a pattern.  It seems “that any ideas, thoughts, events, characters or sentences that are presented in threes are more effective and memorable.”

Murphy noted that it works for at least three reasons:   

First, because people respond to patterns, and three is the minimum number of things required to create a pattern.

Second, if you articulate three things, you create an imbalance.  Either all three things go together, or two go together, while the third represents an exception.

Finally, because three is the maximum number of things people can remember quickly without effort. 

The Rule of 3 influences how we think, what we hear, what we remember, and how we process information on a daily basis.  Here are a few examples.

  • US Declaration of Independence:  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
  • From President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” 
  • Faith, Hope, and Charity
  • Stop, Look, and Listen
  • Blood, Sweat, and Tears  
  • See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
  • Location, location, location
  • The Three Wise Men 
  • The Three Musketeers
  • The Three Little Pigs 
  • Three Blind Mice
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears

I found information describing how The Rule of 3 fits the classic joke structure of set-up, anticipation, and punchline. 

Several writers noted that the Rule of 3 is a “powerful guide when one is writing or speaking.”

In his blog,  “How to Use the Rule of Three to Create Engaging Content,” Brian Clark asks: “What’s so magical about the number three?”  His answer:  

“It all comes down to the way we humans process information.  We have become proficient at pattern recognition by necessity. The number three is pervasive throughout some of our greatest stories, fairy tales, and myths. Information presented in groups of three sticks in our heads better than other clusters of items. I truly do believe writing bullet points as a set of three is the most effective use of the format.” 

A journalist suggested that The Rule of 3 for “character education is the golden rule, basic manners, and the difference between right and wrong.” 

I wondered—is there any information about using The Rule of 3 in school?  There is! 

In an article titled, “The Only 3 Classroom Rules You’ll Ever Need,” the authors suggest three rules that must be taught and practiced by students. 

  • Respect people is the #1 rule.
  • Respect property: Personal property, school supplies, wastefulness, and cleaning up after oneself. 
  • Respect learning: Students need to first understand that all people learn differently and express their learning differently and that they must be actively involved in their own learning. 

In his article, “Using the Rule of Three for Learning,” Ben Johnson writes:

“The Rule of Three for learning basically establishes the requirement that students be given the opportunity to learn something at least three times before they are expected to know it and apply it.  

The Rule of Three for learning helps us as teachers to design our lessons with not only multiple opportunities for the students to acquire the skills and knowledge, but it helps us to deliberately increase the level of complexity and difficulty with each iteration, which, as it turns out, helps the students to remember more because they are experiencing the learning rather than just observing it.”

The VIA Institute on Character offers this take on The Rule of 3 under the title “Three Good Things”:

  1. REFLECT: Think back on today and reflect on the good moments that occurred. 
  2. RECORD: Write three things that went well and why they went well.
  3. REVIEW: Use THE VIA Classification to look for the strengths that you and others used.  (Note – there are 24.)

Here is an idea–The Rule of 3 Character Education Framework for Schools.

The Rule of 3 for Purpose

  1. Attitude
  2. Aspiration (Ambition)
  3. Assessment

The Rule of 3 for Oneself

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self -Discipline
  3. Self-Management  

The Rule of 3 for Motivation

  1. Inspire
  2. Involve
  3. Invest

The Rule of 3 for Service

  1. Empathy
  2. Gratitude
  3. Kindness

The Rule of 3 for Communication 

  1. Collaboration
  2. Courage
  3. Civility

The Rule of 3 for Teaching a Character Trait

  1. Highlight the trait and discuss its value and meaning
  2. Provide opportunities for students to practice the trait
  3. Offer effective and constant feedback

The Rule of 3 for each of the Above

  1. Repeat-Repeat-Repeat
  2. Practice-Practice-Practice
  3. Apply-Apply-Apply

What Rules of 3 would you add to this Framework?

Edward DeRoche, Ph.D.
Director, Character Education Resource Center
Department of Learning and Teaching
School of Leadership and Education Sciences
University of San Diego
February 2022 Blog

Please share the University of San Diego’s Character Education Resource Center with your colleagues.  If you are interested in USD’s Character Education Development Certificate program – 4 courses for a total of 8 graduate level extension unit– click here for more information.

What Is Peace Education

January 2022 Blog
By Ed Deroche

Like you, I received a few “Peace on Earth” holiday cards and they reminded me of the blog I wrote in January 2015 on peace education.

Another reminder was the fact that I just co-authored, Lessons for Creating a Culture of Character and Peace in Your Classroom: A Playbook for Teachers, (Information Age Publishing) with two peace-loving veteran teachers, CJ Moloney and Patricia McGinty. 

I decided that a good way to start this New Year was to answer the question: What is Peace Education?  “Peace” has been defined as a “state of being that encompasses harmony and balance of mind, heart, and action.”  

The objectives for character and peace education are to help students learn and practice such traits/skills as caring, empathy, compassion, responsibility, commitment, respect, courage, perseverance, trust, honesty, cooperation, integrity, kindness, tolerance, gratitude, diligence, justice, wisdom, self-discipline, and love.  

Most Peace Education Programs encompass the virtues that underscore good character and citizenship. The program objectives are offered with the hope that they will help: 

  • students learn alternatives to violence, and adults and students learn to create a school and home environment that is peaceful and conducive to nonviolent attitudes and behaviors;
  • students learn skills including identifying bias, problem-solving, sharing and cooperation, shared decision-making, analysis and critical thinking;
  • enhance students’ self-esteem enabling them to imagine life beyond the present;
  • students to recognize and express their feelings in ways that are not aggressive or destructive by using conflict resolution strategies, being empathic, and engaging in nonviolent action in relation to problems both personal and societal; 
  • students understand the nature of violence, examine the causes of conflict, stress the benefits of non-violence, and how to handle conflict. 

Rhonda Jeffries and Ian Harris note that Peace Education Programs properly implemented in schools “improve school climate, help students learn alternatives to violence, address the acts of violence in a student’s school and community, nurture the seeds of compassion rather than hatred, competition, and revenge, and helps create a school and home atmosphere that is peaceful and conducive to nonviolent attitudes and behaviors.”

“Cooling the Climate Using Peace Education in an Urban Middle School,” Middle School Journal, November 1998

Many Peace Education strategies, “woven into the day-to-day fabric of school life,” are planned primarily through instructional methods such as:

  • cooperative learning,  
  • reflection circles,  
  • student leadership programs,
  • case studies,
  • storytelling,
  • role-playing,
  • peer mediation programs,
  • journaling,
  • using posters and bulletin board messages,
  • using special teachable moments, and,
  • creating ways of teaching character and peace in subject matter areas with units and lessons that incorporate peace themes. 

To help you and others to implement a peace education program at your school, these questions should be discussed by all personnel (including parents and students):

  • What is a peaceable school?  (Examples are out there for review and for ideas.) 
  • What are the concerns, if any, at the school?
  • What does the group want to do and how will they do it?
  • What resources will be needed; i.e., professional development?
  • What strategies will be used to start the program?
  • What happened after the plan was implemented?
  • What changes need to be made after the first six months; at the end of the first year?

You should also know that The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) support the idea that “teachers play an essential role in helping young people obtain the knowledge, skills, and perspectives to envision their role in creating a more peaceful world.”  

The Institute has a teacher award program that selects “six outstanding American middle and high school teachers each year to receive education, resources, and support to strengthen their teaching of international conflict and the possibilities of peace.  The Peace Teachers Program expands to new states each year, ultimately working towards a network of 50 alumni educators across the U.S.

Edward DeRoche, Ph.D.
Director, Character Education Resource Center Department of Learning and Teaching
School of Leadership and Education Sciences
University of San Diego
January 2022-Blog