Instructional design/Affective behaviors/Character Education - Back in Style

"Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live as well as think." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Education has for its object the formation of character." - Herbert Spencer

Welcome to the lesson on character education. You should have reviewed the other lessons in the affective domain module and now have a better understanding of what the affective domain is and that it is concerned primarily with feelings, attitudes and behaviors. Since character education is all about feelings, attitudes and behaviors, instructional theory and strategies for it are related to the affective domain (although the other domains - cognitive, psychomotor and interpersonal - are also involved).

Please note that the outline and information for this lesson on character education is taken from Thomas Lickona's Character Education: The Cultivation of Virtue theory as presented in the book Instructional-Design Theories Volume II. Additional resources have also been used throughout the lesson and are cited.

Before we review the learning objectives for this lesson and get started, take a minute to watch the following video. from The Foundation for a Better Life.While you are watching the video, think about why Pedro’s soccer ball was returned to him. Keep this in mind, as we will come back to Pedro and his soccer ball later on in the lesson.

Learning Goals & Objectives edit

In this lesson, you will learn what character and character education is. This will be done by reviewing the history, character, goals and psychological components of character education. You will also learn about specific strategies, guidelines and assessment relating to character education development. At the end of this lesson, you should possess a basic understanding of what character and character education is as well as a basic understanding of the specific strategies, guidelines and assessment relating to character education development. A review activity "In the Character Education Designer's Shoes" is provided at the end of the lesson to help you tie everything together in order to help you design character education.

Additionally, you should be able to:

  • List at least five values upon which this theory is based.
  • List the three goals of character education.
  • List the six pillars of character education and provide an example for each one.
  • Identify character education strategies as either being classroom strategies or school-wide strategies when presented with a list of strategies.
  • List the six guidelines presented by Simonson and Maushak (2001) for effective design of attitude instruction.
  • List the three key instructional approaches relating to the behavioral aspects of attitude learning presented by Smith and Ragan (1999).

Character Education edit

What is Character? edit

The word 'character' has many different connotations and uses. For example:

  • A person represented in a drama, story, etc.
  • A person who seems a bit larger than life might also be called 'a real character'.
  • 'Character' is often considered to refer to how 'good' a person is - in other words, a person who exhibits personal qualities which fit with those considered desirable by a society might be considered to have a good character and developing such personal qualities is often then seem as a purpose of education. Commonly emphasized qualities include honesty, respect, and responsibility.
  • Here are the dictionary definitions of character.
  • Here's a few more definitions from Googlism:
    • character is what you do when no one's watching
    • character is what you are in the dark
    • character is needed to lead a good life
    • character is higher than intellect
    • character is the jewel of human life
    • character is the only secure foundation of the state
    • character is in the eye of the beholder
    • character is defined by what you do
    • character is shaped in the womb

The above definitions of character can be summed up as follows:

Character is the acquisition, internalization, and application of commonly held and time-honored principles that promote optimal personal growth, establish an upright citizenry, and support the common good.

Now, think back to the video you watched at the beginning of this lesson about Pedro and his soccer ball. Why did Pedro get his soccer ball back? Because, the boy who found it had good character. At some point he was taught that it was bad to steal (or to keep something that isn’t yours). He then internalized it, meaning that he believed it is wrong to keep something that isn’t yours, and then as we see in the video, he applied what he learned by giving the soccer ball back to Pedro. This is an example of someone who has developed good character.

Now that we have defined what character is and have viewed an example of it, let’s find out what character education is and the strategies and guidelines for designing effective character education instruction.

What is Character Education? edit

"To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace society." - Theodore Roosevelt

Thomas Lickona has defined character education as:

the deliberate, proactive effort to develop good character in kids—or, more simply, to teach children right from wrong. It assumes that right and wrong do exist, that there are objective moral standards that transcend individual choice—standards like respect, responsibility, honesty, and fairness—and that we should teach these directly to young people.

Lickona goes on to say, “One of the most important ethical developments of recent times has been renewed concern for character. Scholarly discussion, media attention, and everyday conversation have focused attention on the characters of our elected leaders, our fellow citizens, and our children.”

The psychiatrist Pittman (1992) writes:

The stability of our lives depends upon our character. It is character, not passion, that keeps marriages together long enough to do their work of raising children into mature, responsible productive citizens. In this imperfect world, it is character that enables people to survive, to endure, and to transcend their misfortunes.

In its underlying philosophy, character education asserts the reality of objective moral truth, the notion that some things are truly right and others truly wrong. Objective moral truths have a claim on our conscience and behavior. A variety of approaches to morality exist in philosophy including the idea that morality does not exist as a set of objective truths, but are either biologically intrinsic or human creations, or some combination of these.

Character Education Values

Some of the values upon which character education is based include:

  • the reality of objective moral truth-that virtues are objectively good human qualities,
  • the acquisition of objectively worthwhile virtues as an important educational goal,
  • context as influencing the choice of which virtues to teach,
  • behavior as the ultimate measure of character,
  • knowing the good (the cognitive side), desiring the good (the emotional side), and doing the good (the behavior side) as important to character development,
  • being comprehensive and objective in teaching virtues,
  • a whole-school effort to create a community of virtue for fostering character development,
  • students' active participation and responsibility for constructing their own characters, but also adults' exercise of moral authority and leadership,
  • transmitting a moral heritage of tested virtues, but also equipping students to think critically about how to apply the virtues in cases of value conflicts.

Brief History of Character Education edit

"Character education is as old as education itself. Down through history, all over the world, education has had two great goals: to help people become smart and to help them become good.

The American Founders believed that democracy has a special need for character education, because democracy is government by the people themselves. The people must therefore be good, must develop "democratic virtues": Respect for the rights of individuals, regard for law, voluntary participation in public life, and concern for the common good." - Thomas Lickona from his book The Return of Character Education

Early Days

In the early days of the republic, the Bible was the source book of both moral and religious instruction. When disputes arose over whose Bible to use, William McGuffey offered his McGuffey Readers as a way to teach schoolchildren the "natural virtues" of honesty, hard work, thriftiness, kindness, patriotism, and courage.

Character education -- instruction in virtue through edifying stories, the teacher's example, and discipline -- remained a central part of the public school's mission until the middle part of the 20th century. It declined for several reasons:

  • The rise of logical positivism ("There is no moral truth, no objective right and wrong") and moral relativism ("All values are relative")
  • Personalism ("Each person should be free to choose his own values; who are we to impose our values?")
  • Increasing pluralism ("Whose values should we teach?")
  • The secularization of society and the fear that teaching morality in the schools would mean teaching religion.

In the 1960s and 70s, values education that emphasized "process" or thinking skills -- clarifying your values (values clarification), reasoning about values (moral dilemma discussions), and decision making processes -- replaced character education's traditional emphasis on moral content (learning right from wrong and acting rightly).


As societal moral problems have worsened, character education has made a comeback. Adults realize that the young need moral direction. Parents and teachers have a responsibility to provide it -- to pass on a moral heritage. The school has a responsibility to stand for good values and help students form their character around such values. Character education is directive rather than non-directive; it asserts the rightness of certain values -- such as respect, responsibility, honesty, caring, and fairness -- and helps students to understand, care about, and act upon these values in their lives. The above was summarized from Thomas Lickona's book The Return of Character Education

Note: Character education is not without controversy as there have been an increasing number of critiques of the assumptions, methods and values typically promoted in character education (e.g., Brookes, 2003; Cornwall, 2005; Giampietro, 2003).

The Character of Character Education edit

According to Lickona, character education is a return to the conscious attempt to help students acquire objectively worthwhile virtues. Students don’t decide for themselves what is right and wrong; rather, the school (or other organizations) stands for virtues like respect and responsibility and promotes them explicitly at every turn.

Character education is not just talk; thinking and discussing are important, but the bottom line is behavior, taken to be the ultimate measure of character. It is desired that a community of virtue where behaviors such as respect, responsibility, honesty, kindness, diligence, and self-control are modeled, taught, expected, celebrated, and continuously practiced in everyday interactions.

A core theoretical principle guiding character education is Aristotle’s: Virtues are not mere thoughts but habits we develop by performing virtuous actions. We become kind by doing kind deeds, self-controlled by exercising self-control.

Acting on that principle, character educators seek to help children to perform kind, courteous, and self-disciplined acts repeatedly, until it becomes relatively easy for them to do so and relatively unnatural for them to do the opposite.

The Goals of Character Education edit

Character education has three goals:

  1. Good People – Asserts that we need good character to be fully human. We need strengths of mind, heart, and will and qualities like good judgment, honesty, empathy, caring, perseverance, and self-discipline to be capable of love and work, two of the hallmarks of human maturity.
  2. Good Schools - Asserts that we need schools that embody good character. Schools are better places – certainly more conducive to teaching and learning – when they are civil, caring, and purposeful communities that model, teach, and uphold high standards of conduct in all phases of school life.
  3. Good Society – Asserts that character education is essential to the task of building a moral society. Societal problems, such as violence, dishonesty, greed, family disintegration, the growing number of children living in poverty, the battering of women, have deep roots and require systemic solutions. But it is not possible to build a virtuous society if virtue does not exist in the minds, hearts, and souls of individual human beings. The school, like the family and the church, is one of the potential seedbeds of virtue.

The Content of Character edit

When character education is embraced, the question of what virtues should a school teach as the basis of good character?

Some schools stress the “hard virtues” of self-discipline, hard work, perseverance, and self-control; others emphasize the “soft virtues” of empathy, kindness, compassion and tolerance. In choosing what to teach, schools should aspire to be comprehensive and objective. The governing criterion could be: What truly serves the best interests and development of the child? Alternately, the governing criterion could be : What truly serves the best interests and development of society?

The choice of which virtues to teach is also influenced by context. In democratic societies, for example, character education should logically include “democratic virtues” such as respect for individual rights, concern for the common good, reasoned dialogue, regard for due process, tolerance of dissent, and voluntary participation in public life – virtues that are important to the kind of character needed for democratic citizenship.

Religious schools can teach faith-based reasons for leading a moral life (achieving union with God in this life and the next) and lessons about the ultimate source of goodness (God’s grace) that, in a public school, can be studied as a worldview, or justified in utilitarian terms.

In deciding what to teach, many schools have chosen to implement the Character Counts approach that promotes the Six Pillars of Character. These pillars are provided for informational purposes in the table below.

Six Pillars of Character
Value Examples How to Remember
Trustworthiness Be honest • Don’t deceive, cheat or steal • Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do • Have the courage to do the right thing • Build a good reputation • Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country Trustworthiness: blue
Think "true blue"
Respect Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule • Be tolerant of differences • Use good manners, not bad language • Be considerate of the feelings of others • Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone • Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements Respect: yellow/gold
Think The Golden Rule
Responsibility Do what you are supposed to do • Persevere: keep on trying! • Always do your best • Use self-control • Be self-disciplined • Think before you act — consider the consequences • Be accountable for your choices Responsibility: green
Think being responsible for a garden or finances; or as in being solid and reliable like an oak
Fairness Play by the rules • Take turns and share • Be open-minded; listen to others • Don’t take advantage of others • Don’t blame others carelessly Fairness: orange
Think of dividing an orange into equal sections to share fairly with friends
Caring Be kind • Be compassionate and show you care • Express gratitude • Forgive others • Help people in need Caring: red
Think of a heart
Citizenship Do your share to make your school and community better • Cooperate • Get involved in community affairs • Stay informed; vote • Be a good neighbor • Obey laws and rules • Respect authority • Protect the environment Citizenship: purple
Think regal purple as representing the state

The Psychological Components of Character edit

In addition to defining the content of character, schools also need a psychology of character. What are the psychological components required for living the moral life? Character must be broadly conceived to encompass the cognitive, affective, and behavioral aspects of morality: moral knowing, moral feeling, and moral action.

Good character consists of knowing the good, desiring the good, and doing the good: habits of the mind, habits of the heart, and habits of behavior.

The cognitive side of character includes at least six components:

  1. Moral alertness (does the situation at hand involve a moral issue requiring moral judgment?)
  2. Understanding the virtues and what they require of us in specific situations
  3. Perspective taking
  4. Moral reasoning
  5. Thoughtful decision making
  6. Moral self-knowledge

People can be very smart about matters of right and wrong, however, and still choose the wrong. The emotional side of character serves as the bridge between moral judgment and moral action.

This emotional side includes at least five components:

  1. Conscience (the felt obligation to do what one judges to be right)
  2. Self-respect,
  3. Empathy
  4. Loving the good
  5. Humility (a willingness to both recognize and correct our moral failings)

There are time when we know what we should do, feel strongly that we should do it, and yet still fail to translate moral judgment and feeling into effective moral behavior.

Moral action, the third part of character, involves three additional components:

  1. Moral competence (including skills such as listening, communication, cooperating, and solving conflicts
  2. Moral will (which mobilizes our judgment and energy and is at the core of self-control and courage)
  3. Moral habit (a reliable inner disposition to respond to situations in a morally good way).

Task: Check Your Understanding of Character and Character Education edit

Now that you have reviewed what character is, what character education is, the history of it as well as its goals, content and psychological components, let's stop a moment to see what you have learned so far. Please complete the following worksheet.

Page Two: A Comprehensive Approach to Character Development edit

Now that you have had a chance to learn about character and character education, its history, character, goals, and the psychological components of character education, it's time to learn about strategies, guidelines, and assessment relating to character education development.

The next page of this lesson has sections relating to these topics. This next page also contains sections for "In the Character Education Designer's Shoes," a Lesson Summary, and References for this lesson.

Please continue on to the next page to complete this lesson.

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