When the topic of character education is mentioned most everyone agrees that it is important in the education and growth of our children. Rarely will you find a person who takes the stand that character education is not important. However, there are those that believe that this topic should be taught and reinforced at home. The adage, “reading, writing and arithmetic should be taught in school and everything else left to the parents,” is still used by some today. However, others believe that character education instruction should be incorporated into our school curriculum and then reinforced in our homes.
What is Character Education?
So, what is character education? Character education can be defined as the teaching of principles and standards of living that are taught in a systemic way so that students of all ages can understand and incorporate into their daily lives. Whether character education should be taught in the schools will continue to be debated. However, most schools today make this teaching a part of the curriculum in some form or fashion.
The word character itself is defined as; attributes or features that make up and distinguish and individual or groups of individuals. With this definition, we find that there is some debate on what are considered “good characteristics”. What one group would consider, proper and right for living well, others would argue those characteristics are outside the norm, not part of the “mainstream” or don’t go far enough for one to incorporate into society. Character attributes can vary from ethnic groups, communities, regions, and countries just to name a few. Character in and of itself is open to debate as to what is proper and what is not. Given our current society and its challenges, this goes right along with other debates that are on going today.
If we can agree that character education is important in our schools and is important for all ages, there are a few character traits that should be considered. This listing is not conclusive, nor does this list indicate that these traits are the most important. If we teach character education in our schools, we should focus on those traits that will have an immediate impact on a student’s social skills, work ethic, and general well-being.
Optimism is defined as being hopeful and confident about one’s future successes. Through the teaching of optimism, a student can gain confidence that success through due diligence is achievable. Alongside of optimism, one should also incorporate the definition of success. Just because a person does not reach an originally set goal does not mean they were not successful. A person can work hard to achieve mastery of a concept and still not make a perfect 100 on the assessment. Learning that success does not mean perfection can and should lead to an optimistic attitude toward learning.
Self-control is defined as the ability to control one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them especially in difficult situations. Along with optimism, a person’s ability to control their emotions is a predominate trait that leads to getting along with and working with others on a consistent basis. Self-control is an important trait for all ages because as we age the situations become more serious as do the outcomes. A person must learn to measure their responses and reactions to situations to “walk along” in society. The person who is always “on the outside looking in” often finds their own optimism, self-esteem and their own self worth threatened. It is easy to see why people who struggle with self-control are often at odds with society and would rather be alone. Suicide is much more prominent with those who have issues with self-control. Basically, a person who struggles with self-control issues often feel like outcasts in most social settings.
Social intelligence is defined as the capacity to know oneself and to know others. Social intelligence is developed from life experiences and thus is important to be emphasized for all ages. In general, a person develops social intelligence over their lifetime. Some of the key types of social intelligence are verbal and nonverbal fluency, knowledge of social rules and how to abide within them, listening skills, understanding or being empathetic to the emotions of others, and playing social roles efficiently. These are but a few of the areas we grow daily in social intelligence. Often, our growth in this area comes from misreading the situation and having to learn from a mistake we made. However, we grow in social intelligence, reflection and change of attitude or reaction are important in the growth process of social intelligence.
Gratitude is defined as a quality of being thankful generally for the acts or generosity of someone else toward us. A key character quality which grows along with us as we age, showing gratitude toward others not only gives us a good feeling, but also builds up the person reaching out to us. Showing gratitude in the face of generosity no matter how big or small, grows a mutual bond of respect between individuals. Showing gratitude also teaches a person that to be generous to others is also a character trait that we should be developing within ourselves.
Generosity is defined as the quality of being kind, understanding, and not selfish in our daily lives. Generosity is a trait often lost in our “dog eat dog” world of getting ahead no matter who we step on along the way. As the person who has received generosity from others, showing generosity for others should follow naturally. The concept of generosity being learned well can open doors within individuals and a common respect for others. This common respect can ignite reciprocity among those giving and receiving.
These five character traits are nowhere near the exhaustive list of character education topics. In fact, these are just the tip of the iceberg. I am sure that in reading this article you have deduced that I am a proponent of character education in our schools. Your deduction is correct. I believe that teaching “how then we should live” within the schools is as important as “reading, writing and arithmetic.” Remember, as educators, our role is to teach the entire child, not to just infuse “book learning” to the masses.