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Lesson 6.14

Character:
Can Values and Habits be Taught?

Maybe the stuff that really matters most CAN be taught.

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How do children learn values and good habits?

Although parents have the primary role in most kids' character development, schools play an essential role, too.

In most schools, the concept of values and habits tends to be lumped into the broad umbrella of "character education, a term that can refer to a host of values and attitudes: respect, trust, honesty, concern for the welfare of others, standing up for moral principles, responsibility, and the desire to do one’s best. Schools with a religious mission include additional values or norms aligned with a belief system.

Many schools address character education as a part of their way of doing things rather than as a separate subject. A science teacher, for example, can stress the importance of precision and truth when reporting data. A language arts instructor can examine racism by assigning students to read and discuss a novel such as To Kill a Mockingbird.

For many students, experiences in sports are thick with life lessons. They experience victory and defeat, the following and breaking of rules, aggression, bruises, and more. These lessons aren't always good ones, and a lot depends on the culture of the competition. The Positive Coaching Alliance, a California-based non-profit organization, trains parents and coaches to help maximize the good stuff and train away the bad stuff.

Making Character Education Intentional

Character education programs have had a measurable effect on reducing substance abuse, violence, and pregnancy

In many schools, leaders are working to make character education an intentional part of the curriculum. Character education programs can differ greatly from one another. They can be hard to measure, and quantitative research on their effects can show mixed results. If your school or district is considering a program, have a look at the federal What Works Clearinghouse for inspiration, as well as the California Department of Education's summary of character education resources. Some character education programs have had a measurable effect on reducing substance abuse, violence, and pregnancy.

Another good source of inspiration is the Character Education Partnership, which suggests 11 principles of effective character education. Or maybe you'll prefer the Cortland Institute's 12-point approach. Then again, maybe you'll resonate to the perspective of education writer Alfie Kohn, who views these programs as "tantamount to indoctrination" and offers his own prescription.

On thing is clear: character education programs work best when they are sustained and consistent, becoming part of the culture of the school. If your school or district is considering a push for character education, it may pay to build agreement among the faculty, board, and union leadership. Go slow to go fast.

"Soft" Skills and Conflict

Many elementary school report cards include elements that allow teachers to communicate with parents about their child's progress in "soft skills." that relate to the development of their character; perhaps something is lost in the more cut-and-dried letter grade evaluations that generally take center stage in middle school and high school.

Character education is not part of Common Core. But it's important anyway.

A number of curriculum and intervention programs start from the premise that students need to be taught strategies for dealing with conflict. For example, restorative justice empowers students to show respect for others, take responsibility for their actions, and create positive relationships with their peers. Another model, Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, calls for school faculty and staff to actively teach, model, and reward positive behaviors such as academic achievement, following adult requests, and engaging in safe behavior.

Work Habits

It too often goes without saying that good study habits in school form the basis for work habits that lead to success as an adult. Basic principles that can be used to enhance study skills include: make doing homework a positive experience; make homework a high priority; use homework to teach organization and planning skills; and set expectations for homework. Other desirable academic behaviors — like going to class, arriving ready to learn, and actively participating in class — also lead to better academic performance.

Updated July 2017, March 2019

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Is character education a part of Common Core?

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Jeff Camp March 8, 2017 at 11:08 pm
Christine Carter on how to get kids to do chores - without the nagging (via GreatSchools)
user avatar
Jeff Camp January 31, 2017 at 1:04 pm
Truthfulness as a virtue has taken a tough hit recently. There are an awful lot of bad role models out there in politics and pop culture. As a parent or educator, how do you help kids develop habits of truthfulness? GreatSchools suggests 12 practical ways. http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/12-tips-raising-truthful-kids/?utm_source=Ed100
user avatar
cnuptac March 26, 2015 at 11:02 am
I would love our district to pick one program and have all 50 school do it. Right now some have picked their own and yet put the time and the money into it but do not follow the program
©2003-2019 Jeff Camp
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