HomeHealth & BehaviorEmotional Well-Being

Character education: as imporant as academics?

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By GreatSchools Staff

Effective models

Not all character education programs are effective, according to Bennett. Lofty discussions about gun control, abortion and same-sex marriages don't teach children right from wrong or how to get along with others. Beware of school administrators, he writes, who simply post signs that say "Help others," or "Thanks for being kind today" and think they have done their job. Effective programs engage children in hands-on activities where good character is emphasized throughout the school environment as well as through the curriculum.

Character education includes having high standards for students' academic success, too. "When they are challenged to work up a mental sweat, they learn about virtues such as industry and persistence," writes Bennett. "When students rarely get homework, when they aren't held accountable for mistakes in spelling or grammar or arithmetic, when they can put forth little effort but still earn high grades, schools foster laziness, carelessness and irresponsibility."

The parent's role

Many teachers complain that parents are too lax and don't provide enough discipline at home. Character education works best when schools and families work together. Here is what you as a parent can do to help:

  • Ask your child's teacher or principal whether the school has a character education program. If the school has a program, find out how well it is working and what you can do at home or as a volunteer at school to support the program. If the school doesn't have a program, check the resources section below to learn about successful programs that you can help bring to your school.
  • Ask to see your child's homework. Encourage your child to establish good work habits. Be firm in your expectations that your child complete his assignments neatly, thoroughly and on time. Set limits, such as "No television until the homework is complete." Check to see that assignments get returned to your child, and that the teacher makes corrections and sets high standards.
  • Take action if your child is learning bad habits or shows a lack of discipline. Express your concerns about bad habits to your child's teacher or bring up the topic at the next parent-teacher conference.
  • Demonstrate courage, respect and compassion through your actions. Talk to your child about good character, and model the behavior you want your child to have. Talk about other people you know who are examples of good character.


Comments from readers

"The challenge is which values to teach. Our school has done away with honor roll and straight A celebrations in favor of rewarding students for coming to school on time, staying out of trouble and making at least C's "
"Character is great but not when it is used as a tool to intimidate the students. There needs to be a guidline so that the administration at a staff can do it correctly without intimidation to the point of fear. Read the comments: ns-parents-complain-about-disciplining-at-girls-prep/ "
"I believe that forcing teens to do community service to graduate is wrong. I am a 10th grade student, and have enough on my plate to boggle my own parent's minds. I make straight 'A's' because it is required of me, and have something to do after school EVERY day. If I had to do community service to graduate, I would fail because I just don't have TIME. Teenagers have lives and, though adults would like to deny it, often have just as much - or more - stress on their shoulders as their parents. That said, let us move on to the real issue at hand: Incorporating morals into the school system. We say that children - teenagers, even - need to be taught right from wrong. But I ask you: Do adults even know these morals? And, if they know, do they act on that knowledge? Don't be biased about your own age group. Admittedly, our moral structure has fallen dramatically since our parent's childhood years. You can't let a kid walk down the street alone without being afraid they'll be kidn! apped. You can't let your children trick-or-treat just anywhere, because you don't know who puts what in their candy. Our society has spiralled downward, but you can't blame it on your kids, OR give up hope. We say youth should learn right from wrong at an early age. To have it taught in the schools. There are 2 points I'd like to make about that. 1, school only lasts about 7 hours a day. Out of 24, that leaves a span of 17 hours for your kid to be corrupted before the next day begins. And, honestly, who does a 1st grader look up to more: their teacher, or their parents? If you, yourself, don't have your priorities straight, and don't live an honest life, how can you expect the same out of your children? 2, they may learn right from wrong, but they may not CHOOSE to go the right way. This is especially true for teenagers. We're at a point in our lives where we question everything going on around us. You give us an answer, we want proof. Why? Because we're trying to build ou! r own character now. We want to think for ourselves, test our ! boundari es. Say you've taught your teen all his life that he shouldn't smoke. Well, when he turns 16, he bums a ciggarette off a friend, and tries it anyways. Now, he knows it's wrong, but he's testing his boundaries anyways. Why is it wrong? Does it taste bad? Why did my parents not want me to do this? Don't hate him for it. Don't judge him for the decisions he has made - and will make - during these years of his life. If you look back, are you the same now as you were when you went to high school? I highly doubt it. You may carry some of the same traits, a bit of the same personality, but you have changed. We all do. We all will. I agree with enforcing morals in school. Lord knows, our society needs it! My point here is this: Don't judge for what has happened, and don't be angry for what will happen. Just make sure you're there when your child needs a shoulder to cry on. We all learn better from our own mistakes, anyways."
" I think that students have enough on their plate with passing the wasl requirements for graduation; developing a portfolio; having to present it to the school board prior to graduating. They don't need community service on top of that. Plus with a bill pending in washington state, they need to pass the wasl prior to getting a drivers license. If this should go through anytime in the future; it affects those for the 11th grade who want a job; who have no transportion to do the community service; or parents who care. At the last open house at Highline High School, of 42 students in a class, 4 parents showed up! Not a very committed family setting. If they don't support their children in school, do you really think they are supportive outside of school?"
"This is a great article. I'm a seventh grade science teacher and I just informed my Principal that I wanted to spearhead a character education program at my 100% minority, 95% poverty middle school. This article helped me to gain insight into the kind of success we could have by implementing a character education program."
"We've found another great program for character education call 'Learning for Life' which is a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts. They have a great K-6 curricula that is easy to use, and fits into and suppliments the core subjects. "
"It's about time we see something like this. The 'do your own thing' era is over, hopefully. I will pass this article on to some teachers, parents and students I know. Thanks for the article! "
"I am working with a school that has high suspension, low attendence rate, students are not interested in learning and low test scores I am looking for a program of interest for students and teachers. And a why to get parents involved with their child If you can shed some light, please help "
"I am currently a homeschooler; character education is the most important part of my childrens' day. I am glad to see character education being brought to the schools for the wellness of our homes, communities and nation. We definitely need well-rounded children! "
"This article is a long-time coming. It's so refreshing and on the right track to bringing our children back to the 6 basic steps you mentioned above. I wish this article could have come out 20 years ago. "
"My question to you is...will character education and the policy on No Child left behind have close ties? I think the article is great! However I feel No Child left behind is not focused on character but over reacting to education and not character. I am an educator at an elementary school! "