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“Character education is the foundation of all education (Galluzzo & Pankrata, 1990).” It is the means for individual and collective advancement. Human development and progress are based upon the spiritual capacities of knowing and loving. All schools, not just institutions of in-depth learning (high schools), must provide the moral training and character education necessary for well being. Religion plays an indispensable role in the development of character. Moral and character training should be realized through service to humanity.
Character education involves excellence in all things, including intellectual and physical development.
Schools must develop the means for character education to advance and consultative bodies should be formed to develop a consensus of common and important moral values. Educators have the responsibility of giving students the capacity to independently investigate truth and develop their moral and spiritual natures. The earlier character education is begun the more effective is it. “The foundational principle of schooling is character education (Galluzzo & Pankrata, 1990).” All other education is related to and depends on this foundation.
For instance, if a child is well trained in knowledge, but lacks character, that knowledge will prove only harmful, not only to the person, but also to society. “Character education involves moral training and discipline (Galluzzo & Pankrata, 1990).” Students must be taught correct conduct and behavior. Each expert of human development I researched concluded that character education is vitally important and should, at all costs, be taught while the human mind still develops – in the classroom. In order to understand the logic for teaching moral behavior in public education institutions, one must first look at the need for character education, the teaching of character education itself (Dr.
Dettrick), the fears of character education (Hanley, 1994), the role of the teacher, and the role of religion.
By understanding each of these five categories, it can easily be understood why moral behavior should be taught openly in school and, generally speaking, the methods suggested to help answer the question, “How can such an undertaking become an actuality in order to improve the ever-lacking ethics in this country?”
A number of leading thinkers and social commentators, including Dr. Dettrick, Galluzzo and Pankrata, Goodlad with Sirotnik and Soder, Hanley, The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, and Tom, have become increasingly concerned about character development during the last decade. This concern has been prompted by the increase in the signs of moral breakdown in our society. Statistics regarding crime, suicide, substance abuse, illegitimate births, and other social problems, have increased dramatically over the past few decades. A response to these problems has been an urging for schools to teach more traditional values and to teach character.
This concern was voiced by the recent Secretary of Education, Bennett, in his three Cs: content, character, and choice. Of course this push for character education has not been without its opponents. Leading among these opponents are those concerned about the separation of church and state and the difficulties of teaching character in our pluralistic and individualistic society. None the less, few would argue that whether we teach character consciously and overtly or not, our schools are deeply involved in the business of character education.
Character development is influenced by and related to the culture and its value system. Schools, as major institutions for the transmission of culture, are also major transmitters and facilitators of character development. Schools must take this responsibility seriously and prepare our students to be morally capable and responsible adults. Teacher training institutions must equip the future educators to consciously and responsibly address the issues of moral and character development.
“Schools must enable our students to deal with the multitude of problems facing them as individuals and those that are facing our society,” believes Dr. Dettrick, a leading mind of education reform in Australia. To effectively deal with these problems, one must have a moral framework and a strong character. Teachers need to be able to engage students in discussions on morality and character. They need to help students think through moral concepts, such as honesty and justice, and to apply these concepts to their individual and collective life. “By helping students approach and reflect on current problems, teachers will help students develop their moral and character frameworks. This can be done through the study of each subject, as well as through the day-to-day practices within the school.
Moral lessons in character development are to be found throughout the school curriculum and the school day.” Teachers must seize these opportunities and take advantage of the growth potential they offer. Students need to be exposed to the heroes and heroines of our history and literature so they may be made aware of and inspired by the qualities that enabled these men and women to be great. Exposure to the villains in our society has some merit in helping students understand how people can make poor decisions and how important character is for doing the right thing.
Schools need not only to be places of effectiveness but need to be places of goodness and love for all living things. Students need to be encouraged to acquire the virtues that are accepted by all and to help students weed out those weaknesses that are inherent to all. Not only should we seek and promote academic, athletic, and artistic excellence, but we should also seek and promote moral and character excellence.
An important way that schools can accomplish this is to involve students in service activities. Through service, students are allowed to develop character and to experience the rewards of such development. Students should be of service not only to themselves and their fellow students, but also to their teachers, their school, their communities, their country, and their world. Moral discussions in schools should be followed by moral action, which allows students to put into practice that which they have learned. If schools have to decide between academic excellence and moral excellence, the latter should be the first choice.
If students are bright but have no moral framework, they are potentially dangerous, not only to themselves but also to society. We must strive for students to be both intelligent and good. If we have to choose between the two, let us choose goodness. As a society we must move away for the extensive focus on individualism and move towards an acceptance of community. Schools have special responsibilities and special opportunities for developing this sense of community and cooperation. Currently, our schools favor an individualistic approach that de-emphasizes cooperation and service.
Hanley (1994), a Maryland based socialist in the field of education, is convinced changes will need to be made by schools to engender an approach that will significantly contribute to character education. Her first fear is that we cannot agree upon a set of moral standards that should be taught. At the very least we have the values of the Constitution and our laws which could form a foundation for character education for the United States.
Literature, philosophy, history, and religion also offer a great wellspring of values, morals, and character models that could be drawn upon to develop an agreeable core of values. Historically, schools have been seen as important institutions for intellectual and moral development. Through the teaching of literature, philosophy, and religion, students have been prepared for intellectual and moral life. The founders of our country were influenced by philosophers in literature, and religion to make similar recommendations for the role of virtue in our society. School in our society has been broadly conceived as developing citizenship. The need for citizenship training is evermore apparent. “Character education can be seen as an essential part of citizenship education (Hanley, 1994).”
The families and schools are retreating from the responsibility of teaching students citizenship, morals, and values, leaving a vacuum in our society. Another fear of Hanley’s is that character and moral education will infringe on the rights of the individual or their parents. Our society, which puts such a high premium on individual rights, has yet to learn the need to balance with social responsibility. There is some misguided feeling that children should be left morally naive until they are old enough to develop their own moral standards and their own moral character. This thinking is superficial in that morals and character are not self-chosen initially, but are developed through modeling and interaction with others.
The values of the young are acquired by their exposure to external sources. Thus the need for socialization and enculturation and character development is very apparent. Our recent history has encouraged this individualism and created mistrust in the social institutions. The sixties were influential in undermining our trust of social institutions and authority. The value of the individual was vaulted over that of the society and such things as socialization and character education were viewed with suspicion. “Character education and moral training were seen as indoctrination and an infringement on individual rights (Hanley, 1994).”
The sixties saw the birth of value clarification and the influence of Kohlberg’s theory of moral education. Our nation, based on individual philosophies, has taken those philosophies to an extreme and harmful degree. If some balance is not found between the rights of the individual and the responsibilities of the individual to society, we will continue to experience many social and individual problems. Aristotle indicated that morals and virtue were habits and dispositions that had to be ingrained in young people through training and repetition so that they would be disposed towards these virtues in their later years. This is sound advice for today’s educators who need to establish some habit of moral behavior in children. This moral behavior is character. Aristotle’s answer to how we know virtue was to consult wise men and to have statesmen decide on these questions.
We could use these same standards in judging which morals or virtues should be taught to our students in order to develop their characters. By consulting wise men, we could look to the social sciences to see which virtues result in beneficial behaviors and well being. We can consult with the leaders in our institutions to find out which virtues are needed to help our society progress and we can also empirically test through various means, the value of certain virtues. We can also study the societies throughout the world to see which ones have progressed and which ones have not and to identify the common elements or virtues in those progressive societies. Such an exploration should reveal that truthfulness and justice are foundational principles for the individual and collective well being of mankind.
Hanley’s third fear is that these schools will not be able to teach the correct moral values and moral character. This fear results from lack of trust in schools and teachers, and the not knowing which virtues the school would attempt to engender in our children. Whether we like it or not, our schools do teach virtues and character, all be it in an indirect and unconscious way. Schools and teachers can accomplish this through modeling character, allowing students to practice character, exposing students to examples in history, literature, and society that highlight moral virtues and character and creating an environment within the classroom that manifests the virtues we wish our students to develop.
As children grow older and have these moral principles established, we could further develop their morals and character through discussions and involvement in school and community affairs. Such helping activities as peer tutoring, fund raising, team sports, and service to the class, school, and community are useful ways to help students develop character. Encouraging volunteerism and excellence in all activities are two ways to help students to develop character. “The discipline codes in the teacher-student and student-student relationship are indicators of moral and character development within a school (Hanley, 1994).”
Schools should recognize, not only excellence in academic achievement, but also in moral development. The community and the parents should encourage this recognition. Schools must be models of excellence and goodness. Although schools can be influential factors in a student’s character development, the parents play a special role in the overall development of a child’s character. Evidence suggests that efforts by schools and other groups such as churches would be inadequate to counter act the role models and lack of character training within the home.
The problem in our society does not appear to be basically a lack of knowing what is right to do, but a lack of desire or will to do the right thing. This desire and will are a result of character and this character develops over years and much practice. “Character education must go beyond the moral dilemmas that are currently popular in education.” Such moral reasoning does not necessarily lead to moral behavior or the development of moral principles.
Knowing and loving are the two basic human capacities. These capacities can only be realized by actualizing them through action. Knowing and loving are comparable to the cognitive and affective domains, but they transcend these definitions. Educators must develop their own knowing and loving capacities to enable their students to realize their knowing and loving capacities.
Knowing and loving manifested through action are the necessary components for the accomplishment of any objective. The knowing, loving, and behaving are the components of character education. Loving is an essential element of character education and has been sadly neglected in current educational practice. “Teacher education institutions should adopt a view of the teacher as an enabler of students’ knowing and loving capacities.” This should be an organizing principle or theme of teacher education programs and all schools. The teacher’s responsibility is to maximize knowing and loving capacities. As such this makes teaching and education a moral endeavor.
Tom (1984), a New York grade school instructor, characterizes teaching as a moral craft in which the role of the teacher is to create a just and caring environment. Goodlad (1990) and Goodlad and his associates (1990), professors in education that reside in San Francisco who strongly support the value and purpose of teaching character in schools, also perceive education and teacher education as a moral endeavor. If teachers are to be maximizers of their students’ knowing and loving capacities, the teachers themselves must be maximizers of their own knowing and loving capacities and must have achieved a certain level of knowledge, loving and commitment before they can adequately carry out their responsibilities and meet their moral obligations as educators. This belief and organizing theme forms a foundation of a knowledge base for teacher education and can guide curricular and instructional decision of a teacher education program.
One aspect that is missing in most teacher education programs and in most school programs is the focus on character education. In this proposal, I attempt to address some of the major themes and principles that are relevant to character education, identify a number of possible program attributes, and suggest types of activities that might enable students to develop proficiency in character education. These aspects, along with the attribute of a professional bibliography, constitute the attributes of a teacher education knowledge base identified by Galluzzo and Pankrata (1990). The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), in answering the questions of what teachers should know and be able to do, has pointed to a number of areas dealing with character education (1987).
The NBPTS does not seem like a likely place to find items related to character education. Most of their propositions, items, and standards deal mainly with teacher’s knowledge and skills, focusing primarily on the cognitive domain. (The NBPTS’s five propositions being: 1) teachers are committed to students and their learning; 2) teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to their students; 3) teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning; 4) teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience; and 5) teachers are members of learning communities; are seeking to set professional standards for elementary and secondary school teaching.)
Persons who receive board certification are expected to possess a standard of commitment and competence in the profession of teaching. The Board acknowledges that the propositions and the enumeration of skills conceal the complexities and dilemmas of the teaching profession. They recognize that teaching requires judgement, improvisation, and human qualities, along with a professional commitment toward excellence. NBPTS speaks to various elements related to character education such as addressing the individual needs of the students based upon their different backgrounds, abilities, interests, and circumstances. Not only do they speak about students’ cognitive capacity in respect to learning, but also they address the need to foster students’ self-esteem, motivation, character, civic responsibility, and respect for individual differences. Board certified teachers are to be able to help students develop critical and analytical capacities, deal with their preconceptions and solve their own problems. They can ensure a disciplined learning environment, set norms for social interaction, motivate students, and help students to achieve their goals.
Board certified teachers are to be models of education, exemplifying the virtues they seek to inspire in their students. These virtues include curiosity, tolerance, honesty, fairness, respect for diversity and appreciation of cultural differences. The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has established an education task force that has developed guidelines for basic elementary education programs (1989). These guidelines and indicators are based upon a number of beliefs. One of these beliefs states that teacher candidates should be able to influence and improve the education of elementary school students. They also state that elementary school teachers have multiple responsibilities, such as student’s general socialization, adjustment to the school environment, and academic instruction.
One of the problems facing educators in schools who wish to undertake moral training within their classrooms is the lack of agreement as to what that training should be. A beginning solution to this problem is to have a balance of science and religion. In other words, there should be scientific approach to the religions and a religious approach to science. The scientific methods offer a way of investigating religions that can eliminate the superstitions and imitations that have crept into them and the religions offer the correct attitude to the approach of science.
Proper character education will encourage students to be excellent in all endeavors of their lives. The training that schools should give in religion should be presented in such a way that would reduce, if not eliminate, fanaticism and bigotry. The value of teaching religion is shown in the results of high moral character, which is essential for the appreciation and practice of a multicultural and global society. Religion plays an indispensable and vital role in the development of individual and societal character. Religion has not only been one of the greatest forces propelling civilization onward, but also has been one of the most common causes of war, bloodshed, and hatred in the world. Part of the cause of disunity among the religions is that each religion has seen itself as better than the other religions and, has in the name of God, waged war upon those who are nonbelievers.
The essential meanings and purposes of each of the religions have been one in the same. Their teachings have revealed an ever-advancing truth. If we could see and could teach children that all the great religions of the world are divine in nature, and that their essential spiritual principles are in harmony, we would eliminate one of the most destructive prejudices existing in the world. It would release a flood of spirit and good will that would greatly aid us in advancing civilization to its next stage of evolution. That stage is the stage talked about in all of the great religions, as the age of ages, the time of the end, when swords will be beaten into plow shares and the kingdom of God will be established, and peace will reign on the planet.
By respecting and learning about the beliefs of the great religions and the essential unity of God and the unity of His messengers, the oneness and wholeness of the human race becomes much more apparent and achievable. We live in an age when the great Holy Books of all the religions are available to the generality of human kind, and where most of the peoples have the ability to learn first hand about the teachings of the various world religions.
The necessity of understanding and appreciating the unity, and the essential oneness of the various religions is the prerequisite for the unification of the world, and the peace that will result from the recognition and appreciation of our multicultural, multi-religious village called the Earth. If we as individuals and as educators could begin the process of investigating the truths of the great religions, freed from our former prejudices and superstitions, and recognize and practice the unity and love that is preached in each of these religions. We would be well on the way to establishing the harmony necessary for the advancement of humanity to the adult stage of human development.
We must educate our students so that they can investigate these truths and religions for themselves. This might be best achieved by exposing the students to the literature of the great religions. In brief, we must be able to study these religions using the scientific method, and not to accept that which either logic or historical evidence cannot substantiate. Recognizing that religion has been a primary force for the progress of human development will be useful in better understanding the history of humankind. It will also be useful to see how this force of religion has also, when used incorrectly, been a cause of destruction of civilization and advancement. Like science, religion can be used for both good and evil.
It is only when we can bring the tools of intellect and investigation that are common to science & to our exploration of religion that we will achieve the advances and understanding necessary to guide us to this rectification of the disunity between the worlds’ religions. Beginning with the understanding that religious truth, like scientific truth, or any other truth for that matter, is relative and not absolute will help us in our search for a more sane view of religion and its role in education and our multicultural and global societies. We must realize that the more deeply we study the world religions, the more we can learn from them and their truths, the more we can appreciate how they are but facets of one great, larger truth, each contributing and interacting with the other. Only when religion shorn of its superstitions and its outworn shibboleths achieves its rightful place in education and society will the transforming power inherent in religion be used for the good of humanity.
Indeed this principle probably more than any other principle is the bedrock upon which a peaceful world will be established. This principle is a principle that permeates the teachings of all the great religions and is necessary for this stage in human growth. This stage is when we must cast off the decades and centuries of entrenched patterns of conflict between the religions and develop a new attitude of love and unity and see each and everyone as members of one human family, as children of one father, as creatures of one creator, and as cells of one body. Schools must become places that serve the cause of morality, and religion, as one of the key elements to establishing and promoting the morality, is needed to guide the world in its future development.
The teaching of religion cannot be divorced from any effective program of any moral and character development. The inclusion of religion must be done with wisdom and care if fanaticism and bigotry are to be avoided. Students of education should be familiar with the various religions and the basic underlying truths they contain. They should be familiar with the influence of religion in the various aspects of literature, art, culture, and history. These spiritual principles and truths should be infused throughout their curriculum.
Based upon what I have uncovered from my sources and from my own personal rationale, it is my conclusion that a holistic education should give children the abilities and desire to seek truth. Educational institutions can play an important role in the developing of a common, moral framework for society and establish a foundation for unity within society. Character education should develop an appreciation for the oneness of humanity as well as the need for unity in diversity. Character education should free us from the prejudices and fanaticism that have hampered our development. “Not only must schools train students in morality and service but teacher education institutions must also train the teacher in the field of morality and service (Tom, 1984).” For this to be accomplished, student teachers in the teacher training institutions must be dedicated to morality and service also. Only then will the classroom environment truly foster an individual that is mature – one who excels in academics but who also can distinguish the difference between right and wrong.
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