Teaching Character Education to Students with Behavioral and Learning Disabilities through Mentoring Relationships

By Muscott, Howard S.; O'Brien, Sara Tails | Education & Treatment of Children, August 1999 | Go to article overview

Teaching Character Education to Students with Behavioral and Learning Disabilities through Mentoring Relationships


Muscott, Howard S., O'Brien, Sara Tails, Education & Treatment of Children


Abstract

Despite nation-wide efforts to implement character education programs in schools, there is no research that specifically examines the effectiveness of these programs on students with behavioral and learning disabilities, SO (Service -Learning Opportunities) Prepared for Citizenship, an inclusive after school program, was designed to enhance the character development of elementary students by teaching specific character traits including (1) responsibility and self-control; (2) cooperation and teamwork; and (3) respect and appreciation of diversity through language arts and other activities. The program relies on high school and college mentors to introduce the curriculum to the children and build friendships. In this ethnographic study, we examined participants' knowledge of the curriculum and perceptions of the program. Data gathered from in-depth ethnographic interviews of 19 students with behavioral and other learning and language disabilities were coded through domain analysis. Descriptive statistics are i ncluded. Results indicate that students with disabilities: (1) expressed responsibility for their actions; (2) responded to the ideas of cooperation and teamwork and respect and appreciation of diversity; (3) learned to make new friends; and (4) found learning about character to be fun and rewarding.

The decade of the 90s has seen a renewed interest in developing character education curricula in schools. While educators have long been concerned about the moral education of students and specific character education programs have been in existence since the 1920s, the recent renewal of interest has developed from a mounting concern over the increasing moral decay of children and youth Josephson Institute of Ethics, 1998a; Kilpatrick, 1992; Lickona, 1992). The character education movement of the 90s was fueled by the policies of Secretary of Education William Bennett who actively called for schools to play a distinct role in molding the character of youth (Bennett, 1993) and two national coalitions, The Character Counts Coalition and The Character Education Partnership. President Clinton echoed Bennett's sentiments with a forceful call to schools in his January 23rd, 1996 State of the Union address saying: "I challenge all our schools to teach character education, to teach good values, and good citizenship."

Increasingly, states and individual districts have begun to require some form of character education for all students, including those with disabilities. In New Hampshire for example, the State Board of Education adopted a policy on November 30, 1988 that mandates each local school board adopt and implement written policies relative to character and citizenship development, "to be included in courses of study and instilled through an educational climate which encourages and prepares parents and teachers to be positive role models for our children and youth." As a result of the policy shift towards building character through direct instruction, a dramatic increase in the number and variety of character education curricula has become available to schools (Leming, 1993).

According to the Character Education Partnership (1993), character education refers to the deliberate effort by schools, families, and communities to help young people understand, care about, and act upon core ethical values. Lickona (1996) argues that all schools should be engaged in character education for three compelling reasons. First, good character helps us become fully human and more capable of work and love by building strength of mind, heart, and will. Next, Lickona believes that schools are better places, "when they are civil and caring human communities that promulgate, teach, celebrate and hold students and staff accountable to the values on which good character is based" (p. 93). Finally, teaching character education is essential to the task of building a moral society.

The difficulties that students identified as seriously emotionally disturbed (SED) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, P. …

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