What Is Character Education?

Character education is the teaching of values or virtues that we use every day to make decisions.  There are moral virtues such as kindness, compassion, and justice, and there are performance virtues such as perseverance and work ethic. Character education programs promote these virtues, not for rewards or reputation or to avoid punishment, but because it’s the right thing to do.

A multidisciplinary field, character education affects our physical health, our mental health, our relationships with people, and how we contribute to better families, better communities, and a better society and world.  The programs can take many shapes.  With younger kids, we promote a basic understanding of making smart, ethical decisions and naming good behaviors. For children in preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school, this can include storytelling, art, music, social games, and role-play.

As children grow older, character education programs help them practice in more complex situations, not only through role play but also through community service.  They include case studies, which help young people prioritize values and analyze complex situations that even experts and policymakers sometimes find hard to resolve.  Character education can also be infused into subjects that are part of the regular curriculum; it does not have to be a standalone program.  In fact, it might even be more effective when integrated into classes on social studies, health, and English language arts, for example.

Although many schools believe that their primary responsibility is to teach academic subjects such as reading, writing, math, and science, including character education can actually promote academic achievement.  Research shows that students in schools with character education programs become more attentive, more motivated to learn, and more caring and respectful towards friends.  When schools provide a safe and supportive environment thanks to character education, students learn better.

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