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Teaching ‘Character’ To Kids And Why It Matters

(Aidan Jones/Flickr)

(Aidan Jones/Flickr)

The effort to improve public education over the past decade and a half has been about standardized testing. Ever since No Child Left Behind became law, students and schools have been under significant pressure to meet academic benchmarks.

Once upon a time, character education was one of the guiding principals of American education. From Thomas Jefferson to Horace Mann, the country’s earliest intellectual leaders saw public education as a means to foster values like civic engagement, self-discipline, perseverance and compassion.

Today, as schools try to do a better job teaching the basics, character education has been pushed aside.

Along with reading, writing and math, should schools also teach character? One Harvard professor of education guest says the answer is yes — and that at least three schools in Boston are leading the way in the effort.

Scott Seider is an assistant professor of education at Boston University where his research focuses on the civic and character development of adolescents and emerging adults. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)

Scott Seider is an assistant professor of education at Boston University where his research focuses on the civic and character development of adolescents and emerging adults. (Aayesha Siddiqui/WBUR)



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  • J__o__h__n

    An educator just said “incent.” 

  • Beeswing

    Civic and Character development sounds like a great first baby step in inculcating some baseline norms and mores for students today….however I think it has to go much further in that we seem to have lost the homegenous cultural touchstones we once may have possessed and need to instill, even basic communication skills…with emphasis on interpersonal skills….which however vaunted THE PARENTS are supposed to be teaching; they themselves lack. 

  • Ggyurko

    I think this is great and the missing link for many students. As a teenager I studied the Bible and became a Christian and it helped me tremendously with character issues Integrity etc… which in turn helped me to do better in school. I remember wishing that there was some type of morality/philosophy/ethics taught in the school. I understood that the Bible or any other moral texts couldn’t be taught as truth, but wondered why the weren’t taught at all. Just knowing what different religions and ethical philosophies taught would have helped me to think through decisions and choices I was making regardless of what I believed or chose to believe. It felt like it was a lapse in my education. I really believe it is a need and could make a huge difference in kid’s lives. It is not a school’s Job to tell you what to believe, but it is to educate you about the varied beliefs that are out there. I particular liked the modeled discussed today of reading the great philosophers and talking through these ideas how they relate to today. There is something about grappling with moral ideas that helps us to become more moral.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1297671516 Patriotism ForAll

    Sorry, there is no evidence that character education is needed. How would you measure that? Even then there is even less evidence that any school program can improve it.

    However, there was a conclusive study about it 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’s character education.


    • Jcurtisjones

      You said you were sorry, there is no evidence that character education is needed. Don’t apologies, because we are still in the worse economic situation since the Great Depression started by some very smart and powerful bankers and Wall Street operatives who could have used a little character lesson from school or at home.  There lack of character killed way more people than nine eleven and all the terrorist actions since that tragic day, and since the crash the numbers are still rising.

      would you measure character? Its easy Patriotism For All, by cataloging changes in behavior over time.  You said that there is even less evidence that any
      school program can improve it.  Well let us look at how high stakes testing in our schools has changed character.  Everyone involved with education finds themselves pushing to do better on a test at the expense of  doing better in the real world.  The character of teachers is twisted to teach to the test while pretending that they are not.  The character of parents is twisted by the heighten value of their homes, pushed there by their town school’s MCAS scores being in top five percent.  The character of our children is twisted by watching adults in school model the adage that getting in position to get the goodies is what it’s all about, so getting the test scores is better than getting knowledge, since the goodies are based on test scores use every possible edge and advantage to win the goodies, watch the teachers feed you the answers (cheat), so they can save their jobs, and focus on yourself, family, and those who you like and the hell with everyone else.  And when they grow up they may find a loop hole in some regulation and up the global temperature by one degree, be the slum lord who so squeeze tenants that he sparked riots that burned down a major city, or took out the last blue fin tuna.  See how we can measure character.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1297671516 Patriotism ForAll

        My point exactly, character is situational, not individual. It is configured by social context, not personal qualities. Create an uneven enough playing field and you get riots in the street. Create a desperate enough situation and every single person’s character will violently lapse.

        Consider: “More unequal countries have three times the rates of violence, of infant mortality and of mental illness. Their teenage birth rates are six times as high, and rates of imprisonment are eight times higher.” 

        “Inequality causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives; it increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction; it destroys relationships between individuals born in the same society but into different classes; and its function as a driver of consumption depletes the planet’s resources.”
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/mar/13/the-spirit-levelReligion is part of the problem. health.http://globalhealth.washington.edu/docs/Bezruchka%202.pdf

        See situational character. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Character_education

  • blackandmoore

    I am sorry too.  Because children today have been short changed by their parents.  Problem solving, character building, manners, etc….must be taught by the schools because for the most part, they are no longer being taught at home.  Why I don’t know, are parents younger, are they too preoccupied, or there is just an attitude of apathy?
    So if they are lacking this instruction at home, they the next logical spot is school, where they spend so much of their day!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1297671516 Patriotism ForAll

      There is no evidence whatsoever that character is not being taught at home compared with the past. What on earth do you imagine character “instruction” would be?

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