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Character Education

What is character education and how does character education take place? These are the two main questions answered in this article. Changes in legislation may effect how much focus is put on character education in the future. Read on to learn more….

While most people consider academic education, when the word education is mentioned, the education of a child in the realm of personal and social skills and accomplishments - that is, character education - has long been considered to be an essential element of education, though its relationship to academic learning is not agreed upon. This article explores the area of character education.

What Is Character Education?

The Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston University School of Education presents character education as an integrated part of any education that educates a child in virtue. They distinguish virtues, which are dispositions that include courage, diligence, personal accountability, perseverance, and sincerity - from values and views.

Values, they explain, are personal choices that may fall anywhere on the moral scale and are not absolute. Views, they explain, are intellectual opinions on issues. Virtues, which they define, quoting Building Character in Schools Resource Guide by Bohlin, Farmer, and Ryan, as “good dispositions of the heart and mind . . . regularly put into action” are - they say, the basis of character development. Character education, then, is education in virtue.

They take care to make these distinctions because character education has, at times, focused on values or views, as opposed to virtue, and the current thinking - of this group, at least - is that virtue is a more appropriate focus. They do not say - but it is clearly true - that even people whose values and views differ (say, any class of students and their instructor), could still be committed to developing and practicing the same virtues.

Some trace the focus on virtue and character education at least partially to the influence of William J. Bennett, former secretary of education and author of The Book of Virtues.

How Does Character Education Take Place?

There are many approaches to character education. Some emphasize the ubiquity of character education in the day to day occurrences children witness of behavior, choices, expectations, and - despite the careful definition given above - some would say, values, even though the “values” they reference are virtually identical with the “virtues” that the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character references.

Others present character education as a definable and certifiable skill and suggest that instruction in it can be formalized. For example, University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences offers a Specialist Certificate in Character Development, an online course designed to move educators toward qualification as a school or district character education coordinator.

You may not have heard of a character education coordinator before. That’s because it is a recently created position. Character education has recently become a mandated requirement in some places. For example, by passing the Student Citizen Act of 2001, the North Carolina legislature began requiring that all public schools teach character education. Character education coordinator is a new job title in the field of education to meet the needs created by this type of legislation.

William Bennett offered a three-part concept of how virtue is taught. He said that virtue is taught be acquiring habits. Virtue is taught be being aware of and learning to follow precepts and rules of virtue, for which he gave the example, the Ten Commandments. And thirdly, he said that virtue is learned by example. He added explicitly that he didn’t believe that having courses in “values” was an appropriate or useful instructional technique.


The Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston University School of Education - How to Do Character Education by David H. Elkind and Freddy Sweet Ph.D.  -

University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences: Character Development Center -

Public Schools of North Carolina State Board of Education Department of Public Instruction: Character Education  -

School for Champions: Teaching the Virtues -