To the Editor:
Thank you for identifying, in Peter R. Greer’s Commentary “Character Education on the Cheap” (Nov. 14, 2007), some important critiques of current character education programs. Our own experience during 15 years of sustained work with public schools corroborates many of these challenges and suggests some road maps toward an effective, integrated, and sustainable approach to this area.
We suggest five directions for educators to consider. Character education needs, first, to be connected with other important goals of student achievement and school climate. In addition to efforts to promote equitable academic excellence, programs under the umbrellas of civic engagement, social and emotional learning, school reform, democratic practice, and peace education (our own field) all contribute to character development. Effective programs in these areas integrate knowledge, skills, relationships, and opportunities to become actively engaged in real school and community issues, a second positive direction for the field.
We should also remember that, like other aspects of positive social development, character education takes time: Programs need to be given the same amounts of time as math, literacy, or science (think about the term “social literacy” as a framing concept here), and they need to be sustained over the full K-12 experience. Neither of these criteria for effective education can be done on the cheap.
Character education also needs to respect multiple perspectives and cultural resources—even as it focuses students’ attention on common-ground values and behaviors. And, finally, effective character education engages students in an active co-construction of values, skills, and habits—working with adults, rather than being lectured by them.
Our work with 7,000 students in four cities suggests that these kinds of approaches are useful for students, educators, and family members. They also are increasingly the focus for evidence-based evaluation and research. Four resources have been especially helpful in our work: the Center for Social and Emotional Education, or CSEE, in New York City; the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, in Chicago; Rethinking Schools, in Milwaukee; and work done by colleagues with the Center for Children, Families, and Public Policy at Lesley University, in Cambridge, Mass.
Thank you for continuing to raise these issues; they are urgent and important for the health of our young people and our democracy.
Regional Director (New York City)
Peace Games Institute
A version of this article appeared in the December 05, 2007 edition of Education Week as Time, Connection, and Character Education