Academic journal article Childhood Education

Implementing an Authentic Character Education Curriculum

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Implementing an Authentic Character Education Curriculum

Article excerpt

A growing body of research points to the need for character education in schools, as evidenced by rising rates of juvenile crime (Britzman, 2005) and increased reports of" bullying in schools (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009). A survey on school crime and safety in the United States .for the 2007-08 academic year (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009) reports that bullying occurs daily or at least once a week in 20.5% of all reporting primary schools and 43.5% of-all reporting middle schools. Feder (2007) emphasizes that bullying was considered a contributing factor in recent school shooting incidents and should be viewed as a serious public health problem confronting society.

Many probable reasons can be identified for increases in juvenile criminality. Britzman (2005) suggests that the rise in crime and inappropriate behaviors in schools (such as bullying) has developed due to a lack of shared values. Britzman's hypothesis is supported by a Public Agenda study (Duffett, Johnson, & Farkas, 1999), which reports that many Americans believe young people are not learning such values as responsibility, honesty, and respect. While a survey of young people found that 93% were happy with their character and ethics (Josephson Institute of Ethics, 2008), those same respondents also reported that: 1) 64% had cheated on a test, 2) 83% had lied to parents, 3) 23% had stolen from a relative, and 4) 30% had stolen property. The Josephson survey found that the young people's behavior was inconsistent with their shared beliefs. The concern about children's values led to actions by state legislatures and the federal government mandating that U.S. schools address character education.

According to the Character Education Partnership (2009), 18 states currently mandate character education, an additional 18 states encourage character education, and 7 states support character education without formal legislation. Four primary areas of limitations in the implementation of these programs have been identified, however (Berkowitz & Bier, 2006; Bulach & Butler, 2002; Howard, Berkowitz, & Schaeffer, 2004; Skaggs & Bodenham, 2006).

One limitation is the lack of a consistent definition for character education standards (Berkowitz & Bier, 2006). Since some individuals perceive character education as a non-essential program, stakeholders have no real belief, support, or understanding of roles (Bulach & Butler, 2002). An added difficulty lies with the assessment tools used to demonstrate the efficacy of character education programs. Many assessments are not appropri ate measures of a program's success. In addition, many character education programs adopted by the schools are not tailored to meet the specific needs of the students or the community (Bulach & Butler, 2002).

Given the uncertain value and vague definition of character education, we need to identify standards for an authentic character education program. This article describes standards for such a program, with suggestions for implementation and solutions for overcoming limitations.

Defining Character Education

There are as many definitions of character education standards as there are individuals writing about the topic, and many problems in judging their effectiveness (Berkowitz & Bier, 2006; Pearson & Nicholson, 2000; Robinson, Jones, & Hayes, 2000). One question, for example, concerns deciding which traits to use, how to teach them, and how to judge their impact (Berkowitz & Bier, 2006). In many ways, character education has become an umbrella term for many unrelated programs (Robinson, Jones, & Hayes, 2000), such as service learning programs, morals education, and civic education. Sometimes, character education has been taught in middle schools as a community service project (Stott & Jackson, 2005).

Berkowitz and Bier (2006) place the many character education programs into four types: 1) prevention of drug and alcohol abuse programs, 2) service learning programs, 3) social emotional learning programs, and 4) violence prevention programs. …

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