Some Brits Not Impressed with Missouri’s Character Education Expert. Is Your School District Expending Professional Development Funding for his Conferences?
Character Education is an integral component in the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Its purpose is to shape student’s attitudes, behaviors and beliefs, and data will be gathered to determine if the school’s desired grit is instilled in the human capital. It’s a global effort to develop student’s characters as world NGOs have joined in this effort for shared curriculum and techniques. A teacher from the UK has an issue with the character education being foisted on its system and much of what he writes holds true in the US educational system. From The Character Education Bandwagon:
To say that schools should focus on developing character education is ‘not even wrong’. It’s a political bandwagon that typifies the ‘cargo cult’ approach to school improvement which so bedevils our education system. It’s ‘not even wrong’ because the concept lacks a clear definition or intended outcomes. Just what is it that our children supposedly lack? ‘Character education’ seems to encompass everything and exclude nothing.
The recent ‘Character Nation’ report by Demos illustrates this problem. Their discussion of character education includes: perseverance, resilience and grit; confidence and optimism; motivation, drive and ambition; neighbourliness and community spirit; tolerance and respect; honesty, integrity and dignity; curiosity and focus; moral virtues such as courage, temperance, generosity, magnificence, pride, gentleness, friendliness, honesty, wit or charm; humility and modesty; empathy and compassion; a sense of fairness and gratitude; a love or zest of learning; creativity; locus of control and self-efficacy; discipline and/or a sense of agency; critical thinking; application and self-regulation; civic virtues such as acts of service and volunteering; performance virtues such as social and emotional skills; emotional intelligence and skills for life and work; self-perceptions, self-awareness and self-control; the ability to bounce back and cope; personality traits like ‘openness to experience’, ‘conscientiousness’ and ‘agreeableness’; the attitudes, dispositions and behaviour that are vital to education. This isn’t an exclusive list, however; you can easily find more.
Demos insist that ‘character’ is the right term because although no one can define it, everyone ‘knows what it means’. At best, as far as I can make out, it means everything except possibly exam grades. Which means the priorities for schools should be good exam grades and … ‘everything else’. This fundamental flaw is treated as a virtue, however. Demos suggest the ‘loose definition’ is ideal as individual schools can develop an approach and language suitable to their school context. I disagree: A term that means everything means nothing.
This ‘loose definition’ of what character education means in the US is being defined for local school districts by such character experts as Marvin Berkowitz from the University of Missouri. He is Professor of Education at The University of Missouri and is co-director of the Center for Character and Citizenship:
The Center engages in research, education and advocacy to foster the development of character, democratic citizenship and civil society. Funded by grants, individual donations, and through corporate and foundation support, the Center focuses on generating and disseminating both knowledge and research pertaining to how individuals develop moral and civic character. By providing scholars, educators and social organizations with the tools they need to contribute to this development, the Center plays the role of a think tank, offering workshops, consulting, and professional development. The Center also provides resources and tool kits to assist educators, parents and scholars in character and citizenship education.
The Center’s core programs include: the Leadership Academy in Character Education, Youth Empowerment in Action!, Kids Voting Missouri, Missouri Youth Engaged in Local Government, and the Journal of Character Education and graduate degree programs (M.Ed., Ed.D., Ph.D). These, along with other programs, serve hundreds of schools, educators and students locally, nationally and internationally.
Here are the partners for the Center for Character and Citizenship:
- Association for Moral Education (registered in Minnesota): http://www.amenetwork.org/about.html
- Character Plus (located in Missouri): http://www.edplus.org/characterplus/mission_history.php
- The Jubilee Center (UK based): http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/education/jubilee-centre/index.aspx
- Character Education Partnership (now known as Character.org and based in Washington, DC): http://character.org/new/
- Center for Moral Science and Education (based in Japan and self-describes as a moralogy school): http://cmse.reitaku-u.ac.jp/english/about_en/aims_activities/200910051056_24.html
Character Education is of educational importance and discussion in Britain as it is here in the US. The UK Daily Mail disagrees with University of Missouri’s Character Educator Marvin Berkowitz and his belief that Singling out pupils for praise ‘does more harm than good’ because others will resent them and the recipients can feel embarrassed:
Teachers should not award prizes to star pupils in assembly, an education expert has claimed.
Marvin Berkowitz said it caused ‘collateral damage’ because other children can resent the recipients who themselves can feel embarrassed.
Teachers should instead praise pupils individually.
Expert opinion: An education expert has said singling children out for praise does more harm than good
Speaking at a conference in Glasgow, Professor Berkowitz said: ‘My elegant advice to you about rewards and recognition is the following: stop it. Replace it with individual affirmation.
‘All I have to do is go up to my pupil, put my hand on her shoulder and say, “I saw what you did. That was so kind. Keep it up”.
‘No audience, no one else, walk away – and there’s no collateral damage that we get from the other stuff.’
He said the effects of being singled out for praise could stay with children for years afterwards: ‘Some of those marks are temporary and wash away, some are scars that will throb with pain for the rest of the child’s life.’
Teachers have an ‘awesome power over children’ he added. He also criticised schools that try to influence behaviour by putting up motivational posters with key words, according to a report in the Times Educational Supplement.
All of these techniques are not ‘deep and powerful’ and are unlikely to have a long-lasting effect on the children, he said. He added that the use of role models would be a better approach.
Professor Berkowitz is an expert in character education at the University of Missouri-St Louis.