Saturday, April 14, 2007

Character Education Special Sauce

Education Next recently published a profile of character education programs at several different types of educational institutions. "From Aristotle to Angelou" by Paul J. Dovre highlights how these schools integrate principles of character education into their curricula and inculcate values into their students.

While different in many ways, as the profiles attest, the programs do have a lot in common. Each of the character education programs are "comprehensive, encompassing all school activities, engaging all members of the faculty and staff, and includ[e] all grade levels. At each site, there is clarity and transparency about goals and values." Faculty engagement, curriculum development, and parent participation are all critical components of the character education programs Dovre features.

It seems like a tough thing to measure or prove outright--that character education works in any demonstrable way, but one school in Minnesota, Community of Peace, has had some success measuring and documenting quantitative and qualitative gains in students and environment. For my money we could spend more time trying to figure out exactly what we want to gain out of character and citizenship programs in schools, and devote more resources to trying to prove we're meeting our objectives. I don't doubt that most of our best teachers in our own school experiences cared about more than just our academic progress. They cared about the whole person. Some of these special teachers provided tools to navigate the world more humanely. The function of character education seems to be an exercise in capturing that "special teacher sauce" and spreading it around the whole school.

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