Academic journal article Journal of Research in Character Education

Character Education in British Education Policy

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Character Education

Character Education in British Education Policy

Article excerpt

It could be said that, throughout history, the aim of all general education has been to form character. Frequently it is an aim that, rather than being explicitly formulated, is assumed to exist. This has been the prevailing attitude with regard to character formation in British educational policy. In the United Kingdom at present, the government is advocating the teaching of virtue in schools in order to form character in students, but its policy on 'education with character' appears fragmentary. It is executed without explanation or analysis of its theoretical basis. There is no consensus among schools as to what constitutes virtue or how it should be taught. A careful examination of the range of official documents on the subject does however reveal the potential for coherence in this area. This article traces the early development of character education as a stated objective of UK government policy in relation to schools. It considers its decline and finally its re-emergence under the current New Labour government.

INTRODUCTION

In Britain today, as in much of the world, we live in a pluralistic society in which our values appear to be constantly changing and in which children are presented with all kinds of models and exposed to all kinds of opinions about right and wrong. For some, this appears to necessitate a content-based moral education curriculum that many others have rejected as too problematic. It is not therefore surprising that most academic discussions of character education have been rife with controversy, with constant disputes about definitions and methods. Consequently, many teachers and academics have sought to construct a character education rationale without subscribing to any particular set of values or content-based moral education. They have found subscribing to any set of values deeply problematic in a pluralistic society and so they often commit themselves to nothing in particular. We should note at the outset that in Britain the common language used in educational discourse for the main elements of 'character education' has been 'moral education' and in more recent times 'values education.' Character education remains closely linked to the concepts of moral and values education, the latter two concepts are generally broader in scope, if much less specific about what constitutes character education. Consequently, character education can be understood to be a specific approach to moral or values education. Character is ultimately about who we are and who we become, good or bad. It constitutes an interlocked set of personal values. Such values normally guide our conduct, but these values are not a fixed set easily measured or incapable of modification.

There is also a debate in Britain between those who say that the government should promote the "character' of its citizens, and those who say that the term is too pejorative to be used in a pluralistic democratic society. Even so, in modern British liberal society the development of a person's character is not seen as entirely a private matter for individuals or their families. It is recognized that character is intimately linked to the ethos of society itself and shaped by public forces. Public values have an influence on private life, albeit indirectly, because everything a democratic government does is founded on the notion of it being of some benefit to the people it represents. Character is connected to the political system through the medium of schooling which modern government oversees. It is also a major component of the making of a citizen. The decisions taken by government have a significant impact on the whole community and on individual citizens, including children. Therefore, the quality of political life in a democracy is largely determined by the quality and character of its people. Governments are thus concerned with citizens and whether the quality of their citizen's characters is improving or getting worse.

Character education is currently a growing 'movement,' but there is no unity of understanding among members of this movement. …

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