When Jessica Lahey started teaching English at a “core virtues” school she thought it would only require talking about empathy and courage when discussing To Kill a Mockingbird. She soon learned what it really meant — and what it meant for her students:

I mean come on. Character education? Core virtues? I teach English, not Sunday school, and besides, I teach middle school. If I were to walk into my eighth grade English class and wax rhapsodic about prudence and temperance, those kids would eat me alive. It’s hard enough to keep the attention of a classroom full of middle school students without coming on like an 18th-century schoolmarm.

Somewhere along the way, someone must have started dosing me with the character education Kool-Aid, because five years in, I have come to understand what real character education looks like and what it can do for children. I can’t imagine teaching in a school that does not have a hard-core commitment to character education, because I’ve seen what that education can mean to a child’s emotional, moral, and intellectual development. Schools that teach character education report higher academic performance, improved attendance, reduced violence, fewer disciplinary issues, reduction in substance abuse, and less vandalism. At a time when parents and teachers are concerned about school violence, it is worth noting that students who attend character education schools report feeling safer because they know their fellow students value respect, responsibility, compassion and hard work. From a practical perspective, it’s simply easier to teach children who can exercise patience, self-control, and diligence, even when they would rather be playing outside – especially when they would rather be playing outside.

Read more . . .


  • JohnE

    Several years ago I was involved in a failed attempt to start a public charter grade school which had a focus on character development and the virtues. During the district school board hearing one of the school board members asked a principal from a similar school how the kids would be able to cope once they got to high school — implying that education in virtue would make them all nice, soft, and easily manipulated and taken advantage of by the worldly kids without such an education in virtue, and that with a school-wide focus on virtues they would be in a sheltered environment with little opportunity to practice them in difficult situations.

    I couldn’t believe what I was hearing: Education in virtue as a disadvantage; Virtue as weakness.

    Unfortunately, the prospective principal somewhat bought into the board member’s line of reasoning by stating that the kids would not always be in a protective bubble — such as at sporting events with other schools.

  • Hifi1

    Uncontrolled self-reporting does not constitute any kind of evidence.

    Except, there was a conclusive study about character education… which proves that it does absolutely nothing except waste time and money (just what we need more of in public schools what with teachers’ heads now on the chopping block!)

    October 2010, a federal study*, the largest and most thorough ever conducted, found that school-wide Character Education programs produce exactly ZERO improvements in student behavior or academic performance.

    It’s no surprise. Besides the fact that there is no theoretical basis for character education, just take a look at the lists of values and goals of the dozens of competing CE offerings. The lack of agreement between the lists is one of the most damning aspects of character education! It also becomes obvious that the majority of the values follow a conservative agenda, concerned with conformity, submitting to authority, not making a fuss…

    One thing all these programs do agree on is what values are NOT included on their lists of core values. Not found, even though they are fundamental to the history and success of our nation are such noted values as independence, calculated risk, ingenuity, curiosity, critical thinking, skepticism, and even moderation. “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” the famous saying by Ms. Frizzle on the much celebrated TV show, The Magic School Bus, embodies values that would be antithetical to those found in today‚Äôs character education.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Character_education#Issues_and_controversies

    *”Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children” The Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. October 2010.