What are concerns about the way that character education is currently presented?
No one will concede better judgment to anyone other than themselves. Other people won’t accept what you say is true simply because you say it. It needs to be presented in a context that makes it easily accessible to them in the context of their own lives.
Why character education now?
State Education Departments require school districts to include character education in the curriculum even if they fail to tell districts what character education is and what they wish to have taught.
Districts are casting about for material. A search on “character education” on the internet returns hundreds of sites.
Why is character education important?
Character education is important because it helps people deal with the simple daily problems of living. Interestingly, the great minds of history in their writings turned to address the simple daily problems of living. Seneca, for instance, reminds us in “Letters from a Stoic”, written 2000 years ago, that that is what philosophy intended to address.
Real character education isn’t abstract. is useful at any level individual, small groups, communities, states, nations and the whole world.
Why now?
We are in a race that there is no guarantee that civilization will win. In Jacob Bronowski’s book, “Magic, Science and Civilization”, he explained that science has put power in the hands of all who chose to learn about it. That power means that no longer is a strong box enough to protect our gold and no longer is a bar on the door enough to protect our family. We are in a race to convince people that it is in all of our individual and collective interest to join together under a protective umbrella of peaceful problem resolution. If we win, we all win, if we lose, we must operate according to the law of the jungle where there are no guarantees that the “good guys” win.
There are hundreds of Character Education websites on the internet. Why another one?
Most CE websites suggest particular virtues and frequently propose how to teach them. The sites don’t explain why particular virtues are worth learning. Today’s students are unlikely to buy into anything that is not in their long-term best interest. Fortunately, the virtues are in their best interest. We just need to explain why.
Many CE websites were produced by skilled teachers with substantial experience in character education. How could they be better?
Technique depends on the experience or frame of reference one brings to the problem. If one is never exposed to Confucius, Seneca, Montaigne – if one is never exposed to feedback systems and dynamic structures ÀÜ one can’t expect to include them in the synthesis of how to teach something.
Like anyone, the teachers are writing from their education and experience. The dynamic model — which seems to be useful in teaching why — simply isn’t taught many places and probably not at all in character education.
So how can current websites improve?
Some CE websites suggest that character education is “instruction in virtue through edifying stories, the teacher’s example, and discipline‚àë”. If that were enough, we would expect greater success.
Some character education websites say that certain specified virtues are good simply because they say so. “Character education is directive rather than non-directive; it asserts the rightness of certain values ÀÜ such as respect, responsibility, honesty, caring, and fairness”. Teachers cannot expect students to agree on blind faith. When good arguments exist, they should be used.
Some character education websites deride the dynamic model as ineffective, confusing it with moral relativism. There is no necessary connection. Moral Relativism is not useful because it provides no anchor, no tools and no yardsticks. However, the fact moral relativists ineffectively used dynamic thinking does not negate its effective use elsewhere. In fact, it is a very important way for people to discover validity based ontheir own experience.
Some character education websites confuse method with virtues. Cooperative learning is a method of working together, not a virtue.
One character education website suggests moral relativism, pluralism, and the fear that teaching morality was teaching religion caused the decline in the middle 20th century. What else would explain the perceived decline?
Teachers after the middle of the 20th century were no longer necessarily exposed to the classics during education. As classes were exposed to worldwide communications and events, teachers were forced to answer “why” to a generation of students no longer willing to accept “because I said so”. Although good “why”s exist, they did not come quickly to mind. In each succeeding generation since then, the teachers are simply graduated students, doing the best they can, but unpracticed at the good answers that do exist.
Why should character education be more accessible now than it ever has been?
We nave a wider variety of analogies and metaphors than ever before. There are representations in art and computers, for instance, that make it easier to explain to students the processes people use to think. There is a point of view looking from the past, through the present, to the future that is very useful in checking the validity of concepts.
Haven’t similar analogies been available before?
Yes and no. As literature demonstrates, surely certain people have used such analogies before. But today they are ubiquitous ÀÜ just not used to present character education.
People use literature to demonstrate this kind of consciousness, but it’s like trying to prove that a room is lit by using a flashlight. As you point the flashlight into a corner the room seems lit. Everywhere you point the flashlight, the room appears lit, but that doesn’t mean that the room is lit.
What should you look for in a character education website?
  1. Look for consistency and usefulness.
  2. Look for tools and processes that can be used to help deal with the simple daily problems of living.
  3. Look for examples of how to apply what is offered.
What is the substance in a nutshell?
Simple concepts that appeal to self-interest build on each other to help minimize pain in your life. Everyone has felt pain that might have been avoided if they understood things differently at the time. Moral behavior builds on personal experience.
What are some simple wisdoms
The possibility of being wrong — You think yourself right, not because your ARE right, but because you THINK you are right.
  1. Sense of time and your place in it.
  2. Sense of otherness — Other people feel their life as acutely as you do yours.
What you think isn’t reality but is, instead, a map of reality. Reading, writing, and conversation are the tools you use to improve your map of reality.
From such accessible concepts as these, the “virtues” proposed in most character education websites can be deduced and justified.
These have to fit within the current 40 minute lesson plan. We can’t add classes. We have to use what we already have. Show me something I can use in my classroom?
Questions (Second Grade level):
  • Why do people lift weights? Answer: To build strong muscles.
  • What is weight lifting for the brain? Answer: Reading, writing, and conversation is weight lifting for the brain.
  • Why do you want to have a strong brain? Answer: Your brain is the only tool you have to build your very best future.
  • When you have more words to choose from; when, for your sentences, you learn to choose the better word from several similar words, your mind is stronger.
Points for higher grades:
  1. Your mind is your map of reality. You can’t afford the possiblity of being wrong.
  2. You think you are right, not because you are right, but because you think you are right.
Assignment Upper elementary school level:
Write a program to count five cards.
  •    Input: Read the card.
  •    Compute: Add one to the total
  •    Compare: Are we there yet?
  •    No? — Go back to Input.
  •    Yes? — Output the result.
Notice the program can feed back more input into the computer. The computer program works just like the human brain does.
Computing is a useful symbol, name or metaphor.
  1.    Using metaphors, the brain can think about thinking.
  2.    This is feedback and it can be either positive or negative; useful or not.
Why does everyone have to be on board — administration, teachers, security staff, lunchroom staff?
We have to decide whether we want to create merely obedient citizens or thinking, educated participants in the community. The social benefit of the latter imposes obligations on all of us. As they learn to apply these principles in their daily life, they will apply them everywhere. A teacher who does not admit when he or she is wrong or a staff member who does not treat a student with respect will be recognized for it.
How do we get everyone on board?
Human beings excel at pattern recognition. The goal early on is to get everyone to learn to easily recognize instances where particular simple wisdoms are at work. Each instance opens the opportunity for a teachable character education moment. That’s the moment when the teacher recognizes where a student is heading and places suitable information in the path for the student to discover for him or herself.
Why is your method more useful than others offered?
The principles are easily stated, accessible to everyone, and stand ready to be used in daily activities within the curriculum and without.
What makes this presentation compelling?
Simple concepts appeal to self-interest and build on each other to help minimize pain in life. Everyone has felt pain that might have been avoided if they understood things differently at the time. Moral behavior builds on personal experience.
Are you happy with the scope of character education?
No. Setting aside for the moment the absence of why, current character education seldom addresses the importance of reading and writing to personal development, the importance of conversation, or the importance of harnessing the mind.
Who needs to be involved in character education?
   Everyone. The principles are used in daily activities within the curriculum and without. Lessons are applicable in every social interaction so each interaction with students needs to be consistent. Accordingly, every school staff member has to buy into this: from the principal, to the teacher, to the lunchroom staff, to the security staff.
What is the difference between ethics and morality
Some philosophers say there is not much difference. Ethics is the formal structure derived from examining personal moral decision-making. There is nothing more to ethics than that individuals matter.
What if I disagree with what you are suggesting?
That’s great. Of course we argue our position strenuously, but that doesn’t necessarily make us correct. Paraphrasing Montaigne, why shouldn’t we run to embrace the truth when we see it coming? We’re always interested in presenting ideas that accurately map reality. Please explain how and where we might have made a misstep. If we’re wrong, we need to change it. If we need to weave in new concepts, we need to try to be complete.
Some ideas that you present offend me.
That’s unfortunate. We don’t try to offend. Nevertheless, we don’t believe that good ideas need defer to the least common denominator of offense. If you are offended, you need view no further.
What is a virtue? Should we be teaching them?
A virtue falls out of the process of deciding how one should behave in a given situation. If you teach virtues without teaching how to be virtuous, one can quickly get into a situation where a generally valid virtue fails.
   There are people for whom it is very difficult to master the process of deciding how to behave. For those people it is necessary the specific rules be set in place and taught.
   Some things are taught as virtues that are not. Cooperative learning is a method of working together. It may be a good practice, but that does not make it a virtue.
What is the place of myth in character education?
Someone once said that myths are lies that tell the truth. We tend to hear myths as charming but irrelevant, missing useful educational content.
For instance, the superficial interpretation of the myth of Sisyphus, condemned by the gods forever to roll a boulder up a mountainside only to have it tumble to the bottom just as it reaches the peak, is that if you offend God, there will be retribution. But the useful interpretation shows that Sisyphus resolves not to be defeated and to learn to love the struggle. What matters is not what happens to us, but the attitude we have. This myth teaches us that whether we struggle in sport, struggle learning a musical instrument, struggle with homework, the foremost battle is to harness our minds.
As Cousineau, in “Once and Future Myths” explains to us, many things change over the centuries, but what doesn’t change is human character. Myths show time and our place in it. Myths tell us that we are alone together, and there is a hunger for community.
Part of our daily life is to recognize myths, learn from them, and decide, are particular myths working for or against us.
What makes you think that you have something to offer teaching character education?
My education and experience is in Computer Science, History, and Political Science. My business is cultural — I publish a daily newspaper. My reading is eclectic and includes several relevant classics. My exposure to philosophy is minimal, but useful. In other words, my background is different than most and, in this instance, apparently directly applicable.

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