In an age when cultural and religious differences seem to pull our society ever farther apart at the seams, our children need to learn how to coexist and have healthy discussions about each other’s perspectives, even when they are different. A student’s moral compass will be developed during these important formative years and it is up to us as educators to determine the best approach to creating an environment that fosters growth of appropriate character traits and social skills.
One opinion on how to approach this involves creating a character education program that serves to create a school environment that searches to become a “microcosm of a civil, caring, and just society” (Likona, Schaps, and Lewis, 2003). At the heart of this approach is to uncover the common points of our humanity so that students can learn that although we can have many differences, we can also have many things in common, which can hopefully unite us and maintain grounds for mutual respect and even friendship. The ability to find healthy ways to relate to each other is an essential life skill for a student to develop and take with them into adulthood.
There is, however, an opposing view to the above opinion on character education programs in our schools. The opposing view holds that character education programs are flawed in that they do not actually produce free-thinking, socially-skilled, empathetic students. Rather they produce students who are trained not to question authority (even if they receive unfair treatment) and who are expected to fall in line with what our authoritative government chooses to offer them in life. Anything but preparation to be a progressive functioning member in a truly democratic society.
In my own opinion, character education is an important element to include in a classroom. However, I believe it should not be forced upon students simply to get them to comply with your wishes as a teacher. A great deal of student learning results from the observations of how others act in their presence. The teacher’s behavior, in particular, has great influence on the development of character in the classroom. Students watch teachers very closely; their moral “thermometers” are always on. If a teacher acts and responds consistently in a variety of situations in a way that is in line with the morals they are teaching then students will benefit. However, if teachers do not follow those morals they strive to teach then students may be led astray in their character education program.