Should character education be taught in schools?
As I have learned about character education over the past year, I have been very adamant that I would introduce some sort of focus on practicing positive character traits and values in my classroom. I was aware that there might be issues with deciding on which traits to concentrate on and I did not want to create any specific lessons about the characteristics. My philosophy has been that it is best to discuss the values with my students. Another advantage of character education is to help unite my students to work toward a common goal of operating as a caring, functional classroom. It did not occur to me that some parents or community members might view character education programs as a conservative, religious agenda until reading Cornwall’s perspective that value-focused programs reinforce the majority’s social and cultural values (Evans, 2008, p. 343). Cornwall opposes character education programs for multiple reasons. A few of arguments against character education include 1) programs do not explain to children the reason for promoting certain values, 2) there is no way to track the success of programs, and 3) a better alternative is to transform how the classroom operates rather than focusing on the faults of people (Evans, 2008, pp. 343-347).
Cornwall’s first argument is not persuasive because it is nearly impossible to teach children anything without explaining why. If a teacher forgot, or purposefully did not explain the reason, then a student will likely ask. Cornwall assumes teachers or parents will respond to a child’s inquiry by stating, “because I say so.” If that is an adult’s response, then most children’s interest will decrease in learning whatever they are being taught. It is difficult to convince children of anything without providing ample reasoning. Children always have questions and (thankfully) are not satisfied until understanding why. Cornwall’s second argument is more convincing. There should absolutely be a method to track the success of character education programs. Of particular interest to me is what is the best method that students learn the values and what values are most worth teaching? Cornwall’s last point is thought provoking. I agree the system in place should not force people to make the better, responsible decision, but creating a better environment begins with people having values and morals. Additionally, this argument contradicts another argument that character education does not reflect the true complexity of choices in the real world (Evans, 20098, p. 344). If teachers and parents provide the most ideal system possible, then how will children learn decision-making skills to use once they are adults in society? Not everyone will be trying to protect them when they are adults.
Cornwall addresses important questions to consider, yet I still believe teaching values and character is beneficial for students. Character education helps teach students how to live by their values, even when there might be a hard decision to make. They have to analyze the benefits and consequences and decide on the option they think is best. Parents, teachers, and caregivers have the responsibility to guide children to learn why values and character traits are important and how these values help everyone live in a more harmonious society.
Evans, D. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views in teaching and education practice. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Higher Education.