EDU 6989: Conflicts with Character Education

H – Honor student diversity, development and their right to learn.

H5 – Honor student potential for roles in the greater society. Teacher candidates prepare students to be responsible citizens for an environmentally sustainable, globally interconnected, and diverse society.

“Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

The problem with teaching ethics in any institution is the complexity and diversity of moral beliefs. Therefore the teaching of ethics in any public school should be taken into careful consideration. Evans (2008) states many advocates against character education programs argue “…character education curricula is the potential constitutional issue of separation of church and state if such programs and curricula are tied too closely to religious dogma” (p. 357). This is not to inform that the concept of presenting character education opportunities in the public school should be deemed obsolete; on the contrary we live in a world of vast diversity presenting educators with an endless variety of methods to introduce lessons that promote positive citizenship within the school and the greater community.

Those against character education programs have proposed that these programs are conservative approaches to education, promoting obedience and conformity (Evans, 2008). By having students follow a character education program, we may be influencing their moral beliefs while also promoting conformity and control within the school. Figure 1 depicts an example of the complexities of this dilemma with the aftermath of a story of a father and daughter’s discussion. The daughter describes respect as being the Golden Rule, a lesson taught earlier that day in a character education assembly. When the father asked his daughter what this meant, she could not articulate the meaning but rather repeated a statement she learned, “Why should you do unto others as you would have them do unto you?” (Evans, 2008, p. 344).

Figure 1. Character Counts! The Golden Rule (Evans, 2008).

Figure 1. Character Counts! The Golden Rule (Evans, 2008).

While this example presents a situation that many educators would want to avoid, there are methods of instilling civic values in the public school. Evans (2008) also states:

The risk in personal and social choices is minimized when character education invokes the breadth and depth of reason by explaining ‘why’, takes into consideration an even social playing field, and calls for moderation according to individual differences. But that isn’t character education at all. It is just education” (p. 354).

In order to facilitate that students are prepared to make sound decisions in the greater community presently and later in their adult lives, character education programs should provide opportunities for students to reflect on their perspectives while also trying to understand the perspectives of other people. Noddings (2006) presents some excellent examples of curricula that promotes student understanding of a broader world culture, utilizing the concepts of home and what that means to students. This idea can tie into a wide variety of subject matter, but one example is relevant when relating home to shelter. Students can define what shelter means to them based on their view. They can also research and study shelters as defined by populations elsewhere, such as those in urban areas such as apartments, those in rural areas such as small houses or perhaps huts, or those in hot desert climates such as cave dwellings. Students can utilize their expanding knowledge of what home and shelter means to them to further define what it means to be homeless (p. 70). When the school then holds a food drive, charity event at a local food bank, or other relevant event, students won’t be obediently donating to a cause but may understand “why” they are choosing to participate in the charity.

There are many examples of how students can be educated about their individual differences. Prior to instilling a character education program, this program should be outlined to educate students about diversity with an underlying understanding of why they would participate in the program. Students should apply validity to the program based on their own knowledge and should also be promoted to ask questions. It is also practical to allow students to question what they are asked to do when promoting character education programs allowing for social teaching moments. It is important that kindness and good moral character is promoted in our society; the trouble is we have to learn to teach how this is defined from a vast variety of perspectives.

Reference:

Evans, D. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and educational practice (3rd ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education.

Noddings, N. (2006). Critical lessons: What our schools should teach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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