Character Education’s Local Success Goes Global
There will be no moral world without moral people, says Marvin Berkowitz who serves as the Sanford S. McDonnel Endowed Professor in Character Education. The leadership program developed through the Center for Character and Citizenship (CCC) that he co-founded has begun to grow its exceptional local and national success to take hold in far-flung regions of the globe.
“Schools play a large role in socializing the next generation,” Berkowitz said. “No matter how much school leaders want to focus on academic achievement or test scores, schools must recognize that responsibility. We have found the path to succeeding at both.”
The Leadership Academy for Character Education (LACE) is a year-long program for school leaders that has produced stunning results. Schools whose principals that have participated and fully implemented the tenets that LACE teaches have seen their schools transform into welcoming, caring places where all the people – students, teachers, leaders, staff members — learn from each other and care for each other. Because schools are transformed into places that kids love coming to, they start to love learning. Test scores soar. School detentions and bullying drop like a rock.
In the U.S., one of every four National Schools of Character, awarded by Character.org (formerly Character Education Partnership, a partner of the CCC), is a school led by LACE graduates. Since 2008, 53 schools in the St. Louis area have earned this national honor.
“Our LACE alumni constantly tell me that their work has been transformational for themselves as leaders, along with their schools,” said Berkowitz. “I often hear: ‘We now have the kind of school I’ve always dreamed of.’ They are places where staff turnover is low and attendance is high because the kids feel safe and cared for.”
To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society. -Theodore Roosevelt
Schools that embrace the principles of research-based character education not only see rising academic achievement, but they naturally experience less bullying and violence. School bullying and cyberbullying are heartbreaking and sometimes life ending experiences for young people. The deteriorated political discourse in this country now amplifies this bullying behavior with televised presidential debates that feature politicians hurling crass insults at each other, continuing for days afterward over their Twitter feeds and social media. Is that the example we want to set for our children?
Berkowitz believes schools understand that education is for the whole child and many wish to focus more on character education. But other pressures, especially the emphasis on standardized academic testing, often curtail their efforts.
Whether schools help to produce a civil and caring society depends largely on school leaders who take character education seriously. The work must include research-based character education practices to promote moral development along with social and emotional competencies in children, and model behavior that upholds prosocial relationships among everyone in the school.
“The work is a holistic positive development process that requires major shifts in leadership thought and behavior,” said Berkowitz. “It requires changing the way of being in schools, and it’s not easy to transform the ‘way we be’ with each other. Teaching a character word of the week, compensating good behavior with rewards like you would train a puppy, or remediating pathological behavior – none of these do much good. So we’ve narrowed down the turf to what works. Holistic positive development means that schools ‘promote flourishing’–not ‘stop bullying.’ It’s a positive model: We don’t want bullying because we want everybody to be prosocial.”
Berkowitz has identified a basic five-part model for successful character education in schools, called PRIME:
- Putting academics in perspective. Making character education an authentic priority
- Relationship building. Strategies that are a systematic, intentional part of curriculum
- Intrinsic motivation. Promote internalization of values, not rewards for good behavior
- Modeling goodness. Every teacher should be the character you want to see in students
- Empowering students. Flatten the administrative hierarchy to become less authoritarian
The nationally recognized success that CCC and LACE have achieved in local schools is now traveling around the world. Berkowitz noted that in some countries, part of the interest in character education stems from either longstanding national violence or the recent rise in violent extremist groups.
Most recently, the HTC foundation in Taiwan has made a 10-year commitment to the CCC, in part by funding a multi-year year project to create an online learning version of the Leadership Academy in Character Education. The materials created by the CCC for this program are currently being translated into Mandarin Chinese for distribution in Taiwan. Berkowitz also visits Taiwan annually to deliver his Summer Institute in Character Education (SICE) which provides in-person professional development for school leadership teams.
Other ongoing CCC efforts around the globe include:
- Supporting the Coalition for Character Building and Community in Kenya. We have supplied the bulk of their library and electronic equipment for use in professional development across the country. Berkowitz has mentored the CCBC Executive Director, Arthur Oyange, whose major interest is to stop violence in Nairobi. The CCC has brought him to UMSL for training and arranged for him to earn CHARACTERplus Basic Certification.
- Providing professional development and consultation to the Singapore Ministry of Education for their National Character Education program. The CCC has also hosted numerous visits by Ministry of Education professionals.
New Ed.D. Learning Community in Character Education Now Forming
This year, the College of Education is completing the first and forming a second Ed.D. Learning Community in Character Education and Democratic School Governance. Work will focus on understanding character and citizenship education through democratic school structures and classroom processes. This Ed.D. Learning Community will explore existing school governance structures, leadership education strategies, character education and school reform practices. We also offer an M.Ed. and a Ph.D. that focus on character education.
For more information about a graduate degree focusing on character education, please call the Office of Advising and Student Services at (314) 516-5937 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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