Administrators' Perceptions of Character Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

For centuries educators have talked about the role of education in teaching values. The term character education has also been discussed for years and has been defined as "a planned, comprehensive, and systematic approach for teaching self-respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, and citizenship." (Gholar, 1997, p.1) Various approaches have been taken to effectively implement the teaching of values in our schools. Consequently, character education has had periods of being in and out of vogue in the teaching profession. During the past few years character education appears to be coming back in vogue across the United States. (Lickona, 1993)

More formal discussion about character education can be traced back to the middle of the 1800s. In reviewing the literature, a number of articles appeared as early as 1913 on a wide variety of character education topics. The National Education Association's (NEA) Seven Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education were distributed in 1918 with one of the principles being Ethical Character. The 1920s was called the golden age of character in United States education. Schools across the nation required students to participate in programs of character development. (Cunningham, 1997; Leming, 1993)

Following the great depression of the 1930s and then World War II, the emphasis moved from teaching character development to formation of individuals with diversified life-skills. The focus of education in the 1950's changed as a result of "Sputnik" and the challenge for greater emphasis on academics in the schools. (Cunningham, 1997) In recent years value clarification advocates, Lawrence Kohlberg's work on Moral Development, and journals such as the November, 1993 issue of Educational Leadership, and the February, 1997 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, once again emphasized the principles of character education.

President Clinton also supported character education, stating in his February 4, 1997 State of the Union address: "I challenge all our schools to teach character education, to teach good values and good citizenship." (in Cunningham, 1997, p. 1) In addition, educators can locate literally hundreds of Internet sites with character education resources and information.

However, character education is definitely not without critics. "What goes by the name of character education nowadays, is for the most part, a collection of exhortations and extrinsic inducements designed to make children work harder and do what they're told." (Kohn, 1997, p. 429) In his Letter to Character Educators, Lockwood (1993) warned that "Any program that intends to promote good behavior by teaching values rests on a shaky foundation." (p. 73)

Educators, and especially school administrators, are important decision makers in curriculum design and implementation. In dealing with character education, it is imperative that they choose clear roles when discussing this controversial issue. Because of this, administrators' perceptions about character education are extremely important in the decision making process.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to survey school administrators in the rural state of South Dakota with regard to their perceptions about character education.

The Method

In order to select participants for the research, 200 hundred public school administrators were randomly selected from the published educational directory for the state of South Dakota. All school superintendents, elementary school principals, middle level principals, and high school principals were identified and given an identification number. A table of random numbers was then used to select 200 administrators.

An eight-item questionnaire was developed from factors identified through a review of the literature related to character education. The questionnaire was juried by five administrators who were not in the population. …