Schools and Education

We strongly urge that all educational institutions, from kindergartens to universities, recognize and take seriously the grave responsibility to provide moral education. Suggestions that schools participate actively in moral education are often opposed. The specter of religious indoctrination is quickly evoked, and the question is posed: “Whose morals are you going to teach?”

Our response is straightforward: we ought to teach those values Americans share, for example, that the dignity of all persons ought to be respected, that tolerance is a virtue and discrimination abhorrent, that peaceful resolution of conflicts is superior to violence, that generally truth-telling is morally superior to lying, that democratic government is morally superior to totalitarianism and authoritarianism, that one ought to give a day’s work for a day’s pay, that saving for one’s own and one’s country’s future is better than squandering one’s income and relying on others to attend to one’s future needs.

The fear that our children will be “brainwashed” by a few educators is farfetched. On the contrary, to silence the schools in moral matters simply means that the youngsters are left exposed to all other voices and values but those of their educators. For, one way or another, moral education does take place in schools. The only question is whether schools and teachers will passively stand by, or take an active and responsible role. . .
–The Responsive Communitarian Platform

During the past decade, the character education movement has pressed for a revival of moral education in the nation’s public schools. Communitarians have played a key role in this drive. In 1993, the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies, in partnership with its sister organization, the Communitarian Network, sponsored the first in a series of five annual conferences on character education, bringing educators and administrators from across the country to Washington for discussions and workshops. Communitarians emphasized that it was possible to reintroduce basic moral education into public school curriculum without violating church-state separation and without engaging in “culture wars.” At the heart of good character, Amitai Etzioni has argued, lie two core values: self-discipline and empathy.  It is not difficult for parents, teachers, and administrators to reach consensus around a curriculum and school culture designed to nurture these key traits. But it is vital that schools not abdicate their crucial role as moral educators. In fact, the past ten years has seen a revolution in moral education as hundreds of schools around the country have adopted character education programs.

Reading and Links

In two articles – “How Not to Discuss Character Education” from Phi Delta Kappan, and “On Character Education” from The School Administrator, Amitai Etzioni explains how to think about character education from a communitarian perspective and lays out his theory of empathy and self-discipline.

In an article titled “Education for Intimacy” from Tikkun, Etzioni offers a solution to the controversy over sex education.

Institute Chairman Norton Garfinkle, who also chairs the Executive Committee of the Lamaze Institute for Family Education, reminds us that character begins to form long before a child arrives at the schoolhouse door. In “Moral Character Formation in the First Three Years of Life”, he shows how parental nurturing in early childhood is critical in laying the groundwork for later moral development.

In “The Relationship of Religion to Moral Education in the Public Schools”, Charles Haynes and Warren Nord describe the civic and educational principles that should guide the instruction of religion in public schools. They sketch a general theory of moral education that conceives a liberal education as a moral education. Sex education and economics education serve as case studies in examining the essential role of religion in moral education. The authors offer a series of recommendations for reforming education in a manner that takes seriously religion and moral education.

In “The Role of Civic Education”, Margaret Stimman Branson and Charles Quigley discuss the need to improve civic education in the United States, and examine the essential components of a good civic education, as well as where and how civic education takes place. The authors make specific policy recommendations for shoring up education for citizenship.

In “Twisted Tongues: The Failure of Bilingual Education”, Rosalie Pedalino Porter examines   the ways in which the 30-year experiment in what is called bilingual education in American schools has failed to provide a solid grounding in either English or Spanish for the majority of students. Porter presents significant data demonstrating the educational disservice of bilingual education as it is conducted in most schools, and highlights the lack of accountability in current bilingual education structures.

New York University professor of psychology Susan Andersen shows how service learning can play a role in shaping the character of young citizens in “Service Learning: A National Strategy for Youth Development”. Voluntary service learning options for students that include regular, structured opportunities for reflection provide demonstrable benefits, including engaging students with their communities, developing an ethic of service, and enhancing civic attitudes. Susan Andersen outlines components of, standards for, and early best practices in service learning and makes policy recommendations for implementing meaningful service learning opportunities.

In “From Public Relations to Partnerships: A Changing Paradigm in School, Family, and Community Relations”, Howard Kirschenbaum analyzes the shift to a collaborative model of education among schools, families, and communities at large. Kirschenbaum makes specific policy recommendations to foster parent and community involvement in developing and sustaining effective public education.

Thomas Lickona’s Educating for Character remains a classic of the character education movement. Lickona, professor of education at the State University of New York at Cortland, explains why schools abandoned the mission of shaping character, tells why schools should resume, and provides practical suggestions for teaching respect and responsibility.

Visit The Character Education Partnership.

For Further Exploration

Brown, Daniel J. Schools With Heart: Voluntarism and Public Education. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

Demaine, Jack, and Harold Entwistle, eds. Beyond Communitarianism: Citizenship, Politics, and Education. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Durkheim, Emile. Moral Education. Trans. E.K. Wilson and H. Schnurer. Glencoe: Free Press, 1961.

Amitai Etzioni, Marvin W. Berkowitz, and W. Bradford Wilcox, “Character Building for a Democratic, Civil Society,” The Communitarian Network, Washington, DC. (1994).

Gutek, Gerald L. “Communitarianism, Religion, and Education: An Historical Perspective.” Vitae Scholasticae 7 (1988):389-406.

Janowitz, Morris. The Reconstruction of Patriotism: Education for Civic Consciousness. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Kilpatrick, William. Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Lickona, Thomas. “The Return of Character Education.” Educational Leadership 51 (1993): 6-11.

Loehrer, M.C. How to Change a Rotten Attitude: A Manual for Building Virtue and Character in Middle and High School Students. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press, Inc, 1998.

Sergiovanni, Thomas J. Building Community in Schools. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1994.