Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

In the Name of Morality: Character Education and Political Control (Adolescent Cultures, School & Society, Vol.26) (2004)

Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

In the Name of Morality: Character Education and Political Control (Adolescent Cultures, School & Society, Vol.26) (2004)

Article excerpt

In the Name of Morality: Character Education and Political Control (Adolescent Cultures, School & Society, Vol.26) (2004). By T. Yu. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

For those of us who are deeply engaged in the field of character development, Tianlong Yu's book will seem at first glance a superficial look at character education programs and an exaggerated comparison of the similarities between moral education in mainland China and the United States. Nevertheless, it merits a thoughtful read for at least two reasons. First, an outsider's perspective is always worth considering because it reveals to us how we appear to the rest of the world. Second, although his description of character education programs in the United States is overly simplistic, out of date, and obviously incorrect in some instances, there remains more than a grain of truth in his analysis and we would do well to seriously consider some of his arguments.

Yu begins by drawing parallels between moral education as practiced in mainland China and in the United States, and argues that there is essentially a great deal of commonality in the goals and practices of the two approaches. As suggested in the book's title, he sees both as directed toward inculcating specific virtues in youth in order to preserve and strengthen the status quo: that is, as mechanisms of political control. In support of this argument, he points to the historical record (in both China and the United States) that shows that concern over "moral decay" and calls for schools to engage in character education increase during times of societal transition, and to the conservative, traditional, virtue-centered approaches to character education that are called for during such times, with their emphasis on assimilation, socialization and conformity to the existing social order. This may seem an inaccurate and unfair characterization (of the United States, at least), but Yu is correct that public support for character education is at its highest during times of perceived social turmoil, and often is politically motivated.

The majority of the book involves a description and criticism of contemporary character education. Yu argues that the recent upswing in support for schools to address students' character and moral development is highly reminiscent of the situation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when concerns over large-scale immigration and rising crime rates led to the widespread use of character education programs in schools in order to socialize youth into mainstream society. Then as now, he argues, proponents of character education pointed to disturbingly high rates of "antisocial behavior" as signs of a serious decline in morality and civility, and politicians voiced the need for schools to redress this disturbing social trend by taking measures to improve the character of their students.

Drawing on the writings of Bill Bennett, William Kilpatrick, Tom Lickona, Kevin Ryan, and Ed Wynne, and using the Character Education Partnership's National Schools of Character as example, Yu describes contemporary approaches to character education as focusing on deficiencies in moral character as the primary cause of problem behavior among the young, as emphasizing moral exhortation and indoctrination in "virtues of the month," and as using extrinsic incentives to shape desirable behavior (i. …

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