Two reports from the Massachusetts-based Pioneer Institute show that teaching character education in schools results not only in academic progress and decreases in behavioral problems, but also greater self-control and self-discipline in students.
“Over fifty years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream was that Americans would judge one another by the ‘content of their character,'” says Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute. “These research papers highlight successful models of character education in K-12 schooling, as well as a clear cautionary message – we have miles to go in educating schoolchildren towards King’s ideal.”
The reports come at a time when a major focus in schools is on science and technology at one extreme, while the continued progressive shift in education also has schools promoting the Obama administration’s gender ideology and the creation of emotional “safe spaces” for students of every minority identity.
In “Massachusetts Charter Public Schools: Best Practices in Character Education,” author and Pioneer senior education fellow Cara Stillings Candal observes two top-performing charter public schools in their approaches to character education.
Both organizations take different approaches to character education, but each is explicit: students know what faculty and staff consider “good character” and they are asked to think about it, talk about it, write about it, and display it every single day. Furthermore, each school understands that students’ character education needs evolve over time—a kindergartner may need to learn about fairness or sharing, whereas a fifth-grader may need to think about how to become a positive, contributing member of a wider community. For this reason, each has a curriculum that honors how students “grow” into different aspects of character. Finally, both schools understand that educating for character is an “all hands on deck” endeavor. From administrators, to faculty, to staff, the adults in these schools have a shared understanding of the kind of students they want to graduate, even if individual adults have the liberty to experiment with the “how” of character education.
Candal used observations, interviews, and reviews of school documents and student data from both the Abby Kelley Foster Charter School in Worcester and the Brooke Charter School Network of Boston for her analysis. Though she acknowledges there are likely other successful approaches to school-based character development programs, she makes several recommendations based on her research involving these two charter schools:
Character Education Initiatives Should be Aligned to the Needs of the School Community – “While both schools have core values that drive their understanding of how they would like to develop character in students, they have remained flexible enough to allow their curricula to evolve over time,” she notes.
Character Education Should be an Integrated Part of the School Experience – Though the two schools observed have chosen different paths to character education, “in each school, character development is part of the overall experience, rather than an add-on,” she writes. “[T]he values that each school seeks to instill in students are present throughout each and every school day.”
Character Development is a Community Endeavor – “For character development to truly be a community endeavor, the curriculum must be explicit and implemented during every part of the school day in every corner of the school, from the classroom to the front office to the lunchroom,” Candal emphasizes.
Investing in Teachers is an Investment in Character Education – “When good teachers have the support and autonomy necessary to meet student needs, they are better able to make character education meaningful and to achieve measurable results,” she continues.
View Character Development and Discipline Structures as Interrelated – “Both the schools profiled in this report have recently made attempts to help students reflect upon anti-social behaviors in a way that helps them understand the consequences of behaviors beyond simply acknowledging, ‘I will be punished,’” Candal states.
Her report comes at a time when the Obama administration’s #RethinkDiscipline effort to reduce unintended racial disparities in school disciplinary actions is actually encouraging more anti-social behavior and even violence in schools since the program calls for educators to refrain from disciplining minority students who engage in violent behavior.
— US Dept of Education (@usedgov) June 7, 2016
Hans Bader, a Washington, D.C., attorney who has practiced civil rights and constitutional law, tells Breitbart News, “To try to reduce unintended racial disparities, schools, encouraged by the Office for Civil Rights, are replacing suspension for violent offenders with talking circles and ‘restorative justice’ (even as they continue to suspend kids for things like toy guns).”
Bader notes that schools throughout the country – particularly in cities – are finding the Obama administration’s “restorative justice” policies are breeding more violence than ever before.
“People who come from broken homes (and that is disproportionately black kids) are more likely to exhibit defiance,” he explains. “Their disorderly home life carries over to school.”
Bader says the Obama administration’s “restorative justice” policies will ultimately harm black students the most.
“Punishing students who disrupt class for their defiance is not racist, and preventing disruptors from being punished will have a devastating effect on inner-city schools, by depriving the innocent majority of kids of a peaceful oasis in which to learn,” he continues. “Black kids will thus be harmed most.”
With decades of education policy reforms focused on the elimination of the achievement gap between white and minority students, the teaching of “good character” appears to have fallen to the wayside.
In a second Pioneer paper – “The Inevitability of Character Education” – author and founder of Boston University’s Center for Character and Social Responsibility, Dr. Kevin Ryan, says, “The fledgling character education movement was pushed back into the shadows.”
Ryan explains that competing theories within the discipline of social science – in particular, psychology – has had a significant influence in education and classroom practice.
“[W]hen it comes to the practical question of how a school system or an individual teacher should intervene in the life of a student (if he or she should at all!) there is no clarity about how to proceed,” he observes, adding that, as a result, schools have either withdrawn from character education altogether or attempted it without real knowledge of its underlying philosophy.
Ryan sees character education as a vital element for the continuation of American culture and society.
“The formation of a child’s character has been a preoccupation of parents and the community from the dawn of civilization,” he explains. “It is integral to our social survival mechanism. We need the next generation of students to be able to live and function in our communities, learning to follow the rules and traditions of our ordered democracy, as well as passing them on to the next generation.”