The U.S. Department of Education defines character education as a learning process that enables students and adults in a school community to understand, care about, and act on core ethical values.
This includes respect, justice, civic virtue and citizenship, and responsibility for self and others. And while this definition is straightforward, there are lots of preconceived notions, misconceptions, and false impressions about character education.
We’d like to help clear those up.
True or False Challenge
Decide if each of the following questions are true or false, and then read the correct answers below.
- Character education is a religious endeavor. Answer: This statement is false. Although character education teaches students values, the movement has roots in everything from conservative, liberal, and progressive faith-based traditions to social-justice organizations. Ultimately, character education is about teaching children how to be good human beings who make smart decisions.
- Character education belongs at home—not at school.Answer: Remember that time your second-grade teacher spoke sharply to you for stepping out of line? Or the time your eighth-grade teacher shared your essay with the class and praised its stellar introduction? Whether we like it or not, all adults influence and shape character development—whether they do it intentionally or not. And that includes adults at school, so this statement is also false.
- Character education is all about getting kids to do what they’re told.Answer: On the contrary, character education helps students think for themselves, develop principles, and make better decisions. It teaches them how to understand and care about each other, act ethically, and become informed citizens. It’s not about telling students how to behave or to act, but about teaching them the skills to evolve on their own.
- Character education pulls time away from English language arts, social studies, science, and math.Answer: Actually, advocates of character education say that standardized test scores improve when schools incorporate character development into their culture. After all, students need to be socially and emotionally healthy in order to learn. In addition, many schools find ways to embed character learning into subjects and activities throughout the day and week so that it doesn’t become something else to “do” in the day.
- Character education and social-emotional learning (SEL) are interchangeable because they are the same thing.Answer: Character education and SEL overlap in some ways, but they are two different things.
Character education is about teaching core values like perseverance, courage, honesty, commitment, and tolerance. It’s about preparing children to be decent, productive, civic-minded individuals.
SEL, as defined by the SEL resources provider CASEL, helps children learn and apply the skills and attitudes to manage their emotions, set goals, develop empathy, build strong relationships, and make smart decisions.
How did you do?
For more information on character education, download EWA’s reporter guide. You’ll find article ideas, experts to interview, and examples of how schools are teaching character education to students.