Integrating Character Education Into the Curriculum

Read the recent dialogue between Marvin Berkowitz, Professor of Character Education at University of Missouri-St. Louis and Janice Stoodley, Director of the National Schools of Character. We invite your comments. How do you integrate character education into your curriculum?

Friday, May 15, 2009 4:28 PM
Hi Marvin,
Thanks for the feedback. There was much discussion on the panel [the Blue Ribbon Panel who selects the National Schools of Character]  this year about extrinsic motivation (they were tougher on this than sometimes in the past) and about integration into the curriculum and wanting to see sample lessons.
Janice

Friday, May 15, 2009 5:30 PM
Janice,
Integration into the curriculum in prepared lessons is vastly overrated. (1) For novice schools, it is very hard to do. (2) For mature schools, it is constantly spontaneously addressed in academic lessons.
Marvin

Friday, May 15, 2009 4:48 PM
Marvin,
What about the ones in the middle? Are you saying people shouldn’t look at their curriculums and find ways to integrate? That’s a whole different message from what I hear from other experts. As a former high school English teacher, I think I could point to specific content where I addressed character and moral issues. I agree that it doesn’t have to be a blow by blow description in a book somewhere. Although if teachers saw that the district had done that, they would get a strong message that it is an expectation.
Janice

Friday, May 15, 2009 5:51 PM
Janice,
Not saying it should not be done. Just saying that intellectual discussions of character probably only impact moral reasoning and moral knowledge, but not values, motives, social competencies, etc. So it is a good strategy, but less important than creating a social climate of respect, caring, etc. that is lived out by all community members.
Marvin

Sat May 16, 2009 2:53 AM
I agree, I agree. The social climate is the most important part.
Janice

Janice,
Was thinking about our exchange this AM. One thing most people don’t seem to “get” about character ed and academics is that character ed actually promotes academic achievement. When they do get that, they assume it is because we integrate character ed into the academic content. There are two nuances to this. First, the content does not have to be about character (Ron Berger never thought he was a character educator until Tom Lickona pointed it out). Second, it is more about the pedagogy than the content.

Integration is most effective when we teach academic content (any academic content) through character-building methods; e.g., a pedagogy of empowerment (student-generated service learning projects), a pedagogy of collaboration (cooperative learning was found to promote character development well before character ed got its hands on it…look at how many best practices are about collaborative work), a pedagogy of relevance (content that is connected to the lives of students), etc. This is where the rubber really hits the road.

Now, I think it is still a booster shot (turbo-charging?) if you also mine the character specific content in the academic curriculum at the same time (Ron Berger does many of his projects around service to others, but not all of them).

And finally, peer discussion of ethical issues does promote socio-moral critical thinking capacities.

Well, it is 8 AM on Saturday, so I better go to the gym (soccer senior olympics in a week and I am still rehabbing a muscle tear) and then do chores.
Marvin

Sat May 16, 2009 4:04 PM
Marvin,
Thanks for your very thoughtful analysis. I agree with you 100% re academic achievement. But if we want people who are honest, etc., we have to talk about moral issues at some point. Through the curriculum is a logical place, yes?

Good luck on your senior Olympics competition. I just got back from a 60-mile bike ride and I’m whipped.
Best,
Janice

Sunday, May 17, 2009 10:43 AM
Janice
I disagree (not about being whipped by the bike ride). There is too much research in disparage arenas that suggests that learning ABOUT a content is not a very powerful impact on character related to the content (e.g., preventing unhealthy behaviors, participating in public service or civic arenas, honesty and other character issues). It doesn’t hurt, but the real change in the heart and hand comes from how others treat you, the models others present, the experiences you have related to those contents (e.g., working collaboratively alongside others), and from direct mastery of SEL skills you need to act effectively in those ways (e.g., peer resistance to drug overtures).Learning ABOUT helps in providing accurate information (social norming in drug prevention so kids know how much is actually used) and discussions of it help stimulate critical thinking about those contents (e.g., moral dilemma discussions promote moral reasoning competencies). But in the latter case, it is the wedding of the content with the pedagogy that matters, not just exposure to the content.

I know this stuff gets pretty complex and that is why I say character ed IS rocket science and why so many fall so short in effective implementation. They simply don’t know why they are doing what they are doing nor know what really works.
Marvin

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 2:13 PM
Hi Marvin,
I don’t disagree with you at all that learning ABOUT a content doesn’t change behavior. However, learning content from a teacher the student respects, admires, etc. is another story. I’m just arguing that the content needs to be there.
Janice

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 6:47 PM
Glad to stir up a controversy. I would argue that learning physics from a teacher who is respectful, responsible, caring etc. would promote character development whereas learning character from a teacher who is not a role model will not (and in fact will hurt). Sure, both together are ideal, but I think more of the developmental power comes from what others do and not from what they say (and there is data to back me up).
Marvin

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 9:28 AM
No controversy here. I agree with you 100%, but the physics teacher would be even more successful in teaching values if he/she also talked about/taught them. I know you agree.
Janice

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