"Education at its best should expand the mind and build character."
- Secretary Margaret Spellings
What is character? Character is defined as "the combination of qualities or features that distinguish one person, group or thing from another; the combined moral or ethical structure of a person or group; moral or ethical strength; integrity; fortitude." In essence, it is an inherent and complex attribute that defines us as people and directs our moral and ethical actions and reactions.
Dr. Betty Siegel, who is a member of the Board of Directors for the National Character Education Partnership in Washington, D.C., believes character can be demonstrated and lived out in such a way that it can be learned and nurtured in our students. Students can be taught character, but to effectively teach it, one must go beyond the 'word of the week' created to satisfy the mandates of the state curriculum – rather, it should permeate the curriculum. To create ethical leaders, one must cultivate character early and consistently by putting theory into practice. A key component to teaching students character is invitation. Inviting students to learn encourages them to contribute. This approach helps each student fulfill his or her own potential as they learn both traditional subjects and an understanding of how to responsibly interact with the world around them. They feel empowered, they retain what they learn, and as their character develops, grows, deepens, and matures, they become accountable citizens.
"...nothing is of more importance for the public weal, than
to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue."
- Benjamin Franklin
Character education should provide an example of good character in every lesson, thereby creating an atmosphere in which all are valued, all are included, and students feel comfortable voicing their opinions. It is a learning process that enables students to understand, care about, and act on core ethical values such as respect, justice, civic virtue and citizenship, and responsibility, for self and others.
Character education must be approached comprehensively to include the emotional, intellectual and moral qualities of a person, while offering students multiple opportunities to learn about, discuss and enact positive social behaviors. Student leadership and involvement are essential for character education to become a part of a student's beliefs and actions. Character education teaches the habits of thought and deed that people live and work together as families, friends, neighbors, communities, and nations.
The United State Congress, recognizing the importance of this concept, authorized the Partnerships in Character Education Program in 1994 to promote strong character and citizenship among our nation's youth. State education agencies, through a collaborative community process, have chosen to incorporate character education into their school improvement plans and state standards, with the following common threads in character education agendas:
- Involvement of the whole community in designing and implementing character education for its schools; and
- Commitment to making character education an integral part of the education process.
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