Values, Character & Moral Education
Values education has been part of the American school system since the country's first schools were opened. Today, schools aim to develop students with strong, resilient characters using two of the most influential movements pertaining to values education: the value-clarification movement and the cognitive moral development model. However, inherent tensions also reside in schools between an emphasis on strong academic preparation and the degree of responsibility schools have for educating young people with regard to moral decision making and values. Research shows that creating respectful classrooms that promote values can increase student academic achievement.
Keywords Character Education; Cognitive Moral Development Model; No Child Left Behind (2001); Peaceful Schools Project; Respectful Classroom; Responsive Classroom; Values Clarification Model
Definition of Character/Value/Moral Education
Character, values and moral education take on many different definitions, both broad and narrow in scope. In general, character education encompasses both relational and personal values. From a relational perspective, character education focuses on respect, fairness, civility, and tolerance (Beninga et al., 2006). From a personal perspective, character education emphasizes self-discipline, effort, perseverance, and other characteristics related to the self (Beninga et al., 2006). Schools with strong character, moral, and values education programs can choose to focus on relational values, personal values, or a combination of both.
History of Values, Moral,
Schwartz (2007) indicates that the founders of America strongly believed that teaching civic responsibility, developing democratic values, and instilling a strong sense of moral responsibility were essential elements of a strong democracy. Therefore, the first public schools in the United States ensured that values education was a main focus of the curriculum. Paris (1995; cited in Schwartz, 2007) asserts that as early as 1789, Massachusetts required that all schools teach common virtues such as justice, regard for truth, universal benevolence, etc. A strong focus on morals and values was an extremely important component of the educational model in the infancy of the United States of America.
Although immigration in the early to mid 1800's began to change the landscape of America, thus affecting the demographics in schools, the focus on values and morals remained strong (Lerner, 2006). However, as the late 19th century approached, educators began to place an increasing emphasis on academics, decreasing their focus on moral issues (Schwartz, 2007). Interestingly, according to Lerner (2006), the subject of moral and character education became extremely popular at this time as many magazines and journals began to point out the moral deficits of well-educated individuals. Additionally, popular opinion held that parents were unequipped to teach values and therefore looked to schools to teach children about character. The debate regarding the responsibility of schools to teach values began in earnest.
By the mid 20th century, many schools still maintained a strong focus on moral education. However, certain uncontrollable phenomena such as racial tensions, religious tensions, the "Red Scare", etc. influenced public opinion and many people turned their attention to academic training as opposed to values education (Lerner, 2006). During the 1960's and 70's people rejected moral education completely as many were fearful of indoctrination (Lerner, 2006).
Schwartz (2007) indicates that as the United States continues to become increasingly culturally diverse in the 21st century, arriving at a consensus regarding morals and values education is becoming more and more difficult. Finding a common ground on academic matters has proved much easier for schools than debating the moral issues that many people believe should be left to the discretion of individual families. However, a new trend in character education is once again attempting to take center stage as there is renewed concern about maintaining American values. Additionally, the recent media attention on increased school violence raises many questions about young people's moral development.
Beninga et al. (2006) indicates that the renewed interest in character education programs has coincided with the rise of high stakes testing as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). NCLB asks schools to not only concentrate on academic achievement, but to also focus on character development. However, despite the increased national attention on character and moral development, many schools are fearful of focusing time and energy on moral development as they don't want to detract from their clear focus on academic achievement. Additionally, many schools don't have the resources, staff, or time to implement or create new moral development programs as they struggle to meet the academic demands of NCLB.
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, two movements influenced the ways in which educators thought about value and character education. Rather than taking the extreme positions of indoctrinating beliefs or remaining completely value-neutral, educators and researchers searched for an appropriate medium that did not coerce students into holding certain values, but also did not remain completely value-neutral. The value clarification movement and the cognitive moral development movement were two particularly influential movements that shaped the way educators thought about value education.
Value Clarification Movement
The value clarification movement was originated by researchers Simon and Raths (Simon et al., 1972; cited in Ellenwood, 2006). The central tenet of the movement is that educators do not need to be concerned with the actual content of the values that individuals hold, but rather they need to be concerned with the actual process of valuing. Simon et al. (1972) asserts that it is not reasonable to assume that teachers can work with students five days a week for many years without influencing students' values. Rather, the researchers argue that it is important for teachers to directly state their social and personal values, and then walk students through the actual process of developing their own sets of values and moral decisions in specific situations.
Simon et al. (1972) propose a three step value clarification process that enables students to actively participate in the process of making their own responsible decisions and adopting their own core sets of values. First, students are presented with a situation and encouraged to think critically about it. They are then allowed to choose freely among a variety of alternative responses without any restrictions with regard to the actual response they choose. Second, students are invited to publicly announce their decisions and publicly affirm their thought processes. Ellenwood (2006) indicates that through the process of affirming their decisions, students are encouraged to think about the social implications of their decisions and how they affect others. In stage three, students act on their decisions, with teachers helping them navigate through the process of making their actions part of their everyday sets of values. Ellenwood (2006) indicates that although this model has received significant criticism over the past two decades, it is still recognized as an extremely important contributor to the understanding of best practices with regard to values education.
Cognitive Moral Development Movement
Lawrence Kohlberg based much of his framework regarding values education on the work of Jean Piaget. Piaget asserts that cognitive development takes place naturally and in a sequential manner (Ellenwood, 2006). In the first stage of cognitive development, obedience, students determine what they believe to be right or wrong solely on information disseminated by a parent or teacher. At this stage, children believe what they are told to believe. In the second stage, at around age seven or eight, students are able to interpret rules and understand that their intentions are just as important as the actual outcome of their actions (Ellenwood, 2006). In the third...
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