Academic journal article Taboo

Character Education in Contemporary America: McMorals?

Academic journal article Taboo

Character Education in Contemporary America: McMorals?

Article excerpt

Character education, the instruction of core ethical values and cultivation of good conduct in the classroom (McClellan, 1999), is increasingly being incorporated in public school curricula across the country. Over the last few years, schools in 48 states have introduced programs in character education as a means to nurture moral behavior among our youth (Gilbert, 2003). Public support for the addition of character education to school curricula is the strongest it has been since the 1950s (McClellan, 1999), and it is bolstered by a variety of statistics related to moral decline. An often-cited survey of 12,000 high school students conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics (2002) suggests that children are more likely to steal, cheat, shoplift, and lie to their teacher and parents than they were only a decade ago. Character educators contend that we are experiencing a national "crisis of character" that necessitates the inclusion of formalized curricula in character in public schools. Among the trends they identify are: rising youth violence, growing disrespect for parents, teachers and authority figures, the deterioration of language and increased levels of "self-destructive" behavior such as premature sexual activity, substance abuse and suicide are all presented by (Likona, 1996; Josephson Institute for Ethics, 2002).

In this era of purported moral decline, the federal government has taken up character education as a cause. Nothing can energize an academic field so strongly as a societal crisis revolving around the field's area of inquiry (Damon & Colby, 1996). So it is with character education. On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Much has been written about the strict academic achievement standards imposed in NCLB and their effect within schools across the country. Less frequently noted, however, is the fact that NCLB has tripled federal funding for character education, to nearly $25 million. The funding is being used to both expand the implementation of character education programs, as well as to evaluate their effectiveness.

Thus, for many children, the "hidden curriculum" (Jackson, 1968) is being shifted to a central, more structured place in their daily lives. In this essay, I will explore the extent to which contemporary character education programs are being provided through a "McDonaldization" model. My thesis is that federal sponsorship of character education programs through NCLB has the potential to lead us to what I define as an era of "McMorals." Increasing pressure to fit character education into the national standards movement in education and to employ and fund only "effective" techniques poses a great risk because it ignores the complexity of character development and the importance of acknowledging and working within situational constraints and cultural complexities that naturally affect the process of character development.

Ritzer (2000) defines "McDonaldization" as:

   The process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant
   are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society
   as well as the rest of the world.
   (Ritzer, 2000, 1)

He argues that the effects of McDonaldization on our culture have been profound, and that the fast-food operating principles of efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control have become cultural values around which much of our lives are centered. The movement to integrate character education in public school in more formal ways is, in fact, characterized by many of the advantages common to McDonaldization in other industries, including: goods and services are more widely available; the availability of goods and services is not location dependent; people can get what they want instantaneously; goods and services acquire a more uniform quality; fast, efficient good and services are available to a population with less hours to spare; because of quantification, consumers can more easily compare competing products; and goods and services are of a more uniform quality (Ritzer, 2000, 15-6). …

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