Character Education, Coming to terms with the significant

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Character education is an umbrella term loosely used to describe the teaching of children in a manner that will help them develop variously as moral, civic, mannered, behaved, non-bullying, healthy, critical, successful, and/ or socially acceptable beings.

In layman’s terms it’s a method of instilling a strong ethical consciousness, and a general sense of decency within children. What this has to do with decreasing bullying is simple: how often has a bully targeted his victims simply because he didn’t consider how it would feel being in their shoes? How would you deal with this bully? Would you simply punish them or end the bullying without clarification?

Of course not; but then again, what if the bully is still resistant after explaining the wrongness of hisher actions? What if the concept still goes over their head? (They simply don’t grasp the value of caring for others, they are encouraged by peers etc…)

What if they don’t conceive the idea of propriety or selflessness or karma because they have never been taught its’ value? At this point it would be difficult to undo years of bad parenting, and you can’t force them into a principal or value without their willingness.

Character Education: All you can do is broaden their horizons, and start opening their mind to various possibilities.

This is the purpose of character education, which is generally most successful when enacted as an indirect method that endorses character building rather then imposing indoctrination or stiff standards.

A- How this started:

The common proverb “it takes a village to raise the child” has unfortunately lost its charm. The difficult task of raising moral children is compounded by other forces in the lives of children and parents (e.g. culture, media, peers, etc.) that promote unethical, immoral, and self-focused behaviour. Only rare and fortunate teenagers encounter the kinds of experiences that help them break out of this envelope of self-interest and learn to contribute to others. The notions of philanthropy and altruism are becoming less and less popular with increasing trends of “getting even” and “every man for himself” parents on the other hand; who are becoming increasingly busy themselves, have to train their children to watch out for themselves as they’re rarely around to keep tabs on the child themselves.

If you ask a child “if you have an extra sandwich, and see someone looking hungry; would you give it to them?”. Odds are they will answer “why don’t they get their own?” or “what if I get hungry later?”  And that’s probably the first thing that will come to mind as opposed to thinking that this person is in need and they have a moral obligation to help them when they can.

The decline of sympathetic and compassionate traits has led to the belief in the necessity of character education.

Generally the most common practitioners of character education are school guidance councillors; teachers are more focused on the academics which makes it hard for them to divide their attention between educating and upbringing. But as awareness has increased on the association of both aspects, teachers are now beginning to implement character building techniques within their standard school curriculum.  Schools are identifying the significance of their roles in guiding children as human beings, not just as subjects receiving a service. There are many theories about means, but no comparative data and no consensus in the industry as to what approach may be most effective. What we will be aiming is to do throughout this article, is giving you possible methods and ideas that have been proven effective by getting a child to think outside the box of his own mentality, and step into the notion that there is more than meets the eye.

Character Education: The Kohlberg model

Lawrence Kohlberg is likely the most well known moral theorist; his name is synonymous with moral development. Kohlberg expanded upon the work of Jean Piaget, who viewed the development of logical reasoning as a progression through a series of stages in which individuals incorporate a greater number of interacting variables in each stage (the progress or growth of a child is divided into stages, supported by social situations or interactions which leads a child to ponder)

Character Education:  Introducing the following situation to a class, and eliciting reactions:

a-     imagine you were babysitting and had full access to the family’s stash of candy, and your stomach started growling- would you dive in?

b-     without their consent?

c-      what if you knew they wouldn’t notice if you took a bar or two?

(Notice how each added question would affect reactions)

now let’s say you find out they have a nanny-cam?

It is important to leave the conversation on an open note, to allow the students to reflect upon their decisions; and also to allow the ones with weak moral values to compare and analyse replies.

Kohlberg believes that moral development is promoted by social experiences that produce cognitive conflict and that provide the child with the opportunity to take the perspective of others. By introducing a controversial subject and allowing the child to reflect on different outcomes and theories; you’re in fact strengthening their ability to contemplate the impact of their choices and decisions.

Kohlberg ascertains that moral thinking can be advanced educationally, using social interaction, cognitive conflict, a positive moral atmosphere, and democratic participation. He advocates a Just Community approach to education which includes equality of the participants, “ownership” of decisions by all group members, and a teacher that advocates mature moral reasoning but who does not present morality in an authoritarian way.

Character Education: Selman’s addition

Selman has classified age groups according to the individuals’ ability to receive other viewpoints and perspectives; and react accordingly. According to Selman, children from ages 5-9 realize others may have different views than their own, they are unable to understand such views. Older children from ages (ages 7-12) and pre-adolescents can reflect on their thoughts and feelings from another person’s viewpoint, but they cannot hold both perspectives simultaneously. Only starting at adolescence (12 and up) can a teenager step outside their own viewpoints and those of others and assume the perspective of a neutral third person.

This helps in identifying your audience if you’re a teacher, and knowing who may be most responsive to character building exercises and who will need more direct, assertive approaches.

And last but not least…Socrates’ approach for Character Education

Socrates’ classical technique leads students to recognize contradictions between values they avow and the choices they make — and shows them that they have the power to choose

Character Education: How this is implemented?

In this time-honoured technique, the teacher asks a series of questions that lead the students to examine the validity of an opinion or belief. This is a powerful teaching method because it actively engages the learner and forces critical thinking, which is just what is needed in examining ethics, values, and other character issues. The method is also dramatic and entertaining, and it triggers lively classroom discussion.

When conducting such discussion, you must have clear vision of the lesson you want your students to take away from it. It is essential to have your endpoint in mind so that you can always be angling toward it. Then, launch the discussion by asking something provocative. This will force the kids to take a position that you can use as a point of departure. For example, you might ask, “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers’?” Regardless of their response, you will find yourself well positioned for a spirited discussion.

As the above dialogue shows, a good hypothetical situation is a powerful springboard for discussion, ex. if you saw an elderly woman in a department store unknowingly drop a $50 bill and walk away? You are the only person who saw it. What would you do?

You can usually count on a lot of disagreement over whether to keep the $50 or give it back. Those who favour giving it back typically take the position that keeping it would be wrong. When a student gives a “right” answer like this, we ask questions such as:

How did you arrive at that choice?

How does that choice make you feel?

What makes you the kind of person who can make such a good choice in the face of negative pressure?

Questions like these almost always make children feel like heroes and reinforce their better instincts.

Of course, there will also be those students who would keep the $50 and consider themselves lucky. This is where the Socratic’ method shines. Instead of telling students that they made a bad choice, we ask a series of questions designed to bring the students around to that conclusion on their own:

How do you justify that choice?

How would you feel if it happened to you?

Aren’t you taking something that belongs to someone else?

What’s the difference between that and stealing?

Of course there are important factors to keep in mind while addressing students; which are:

Maintaining a kinder, gentler dialogue (children will sense an disapproving attitude, and you cannot make them feel bad for about opinions or ideas)

Know where you’re going (always be prepared and have a clear objective in mind; without being forceful)

Up the ante (encourage positive outlooks and offer simple rewards for children who implement these ideas)

Character Education: Adjust for age

Last but not least, is to tailor your project according to your initial motive- if your objective is to end bullying; then reinforce principals that work to your advantage such as sympathy and tolerance etc..

We hope you found this guideline on Character Education useful; off course this is just a stepping stone and you’ll still have a long way to go before actually achieving a hazard-free environment, but this is a good start.

Spread the word about the need for Character Education Now!

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