Citation: Huitt, W. (2004). Moral and character development. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/morchr/morchr.html
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B. Impacting moral and character development
C. Three exemplary programs
D. Summary and conclusions
As previously stated in the section related to desired student outcomes (Huitt, 1997a), in my opinion there are three major issues in the education of young people today. The first is the development of a vision for one's life that includes the discovery and/or defining of one's life mission and desired lifestyle. The second is the development of one's character, dealing with concerns of direction and quality of life. The third deals with the development of competence that deals with concerns of how well one is able to do something. These three issues are addressed specifically in the SCANS report (Whetzel, 1992) and in my critique of that report (Huitt, 1997). Similarly, Walsh (1990) defines education as the process that prepares young people for their social inheritance and advocates three dimensions of education--development of knowledge, training of mental abilities, and development of character. The issues of vision and competence permeates other sections of these materials (e.g., information processing, abstract thinking, critical thinking, conation/volition.) The focus of this section will be the issue of character.
The following two definitions provide examples of a normative view of character:
In general, character, good or bad, is considered to be observable in one's conduct (Walberg & Wynne, 1989). Thus, character is different from values in that values are orientations or dispositions whereas character involves action or activation of knowledge and values. From this perspective, values are seen as one of the foundations for character. In the context of the model of human behavior presented at this site (Huitt, 1996), values includes both cognitive and affective components, but not necessarily conative or behavioral components. Character includes all four components.
Character Education in the United States
Scholarly debate on moral development and character formation extends at least as far back as Aristotle's Nichomacean Ethics and Socrates' Meno and continues through to modern times (Nucci, 1989). In the last several hundred years, character education has been seen as a primary function of educational institutions. For example, John Locke, 17th century English philosopher, advocated education as education for character development. This theme was continued in the 19th century by English philosophers John Stuart Mill (e.g., "development of character is a solution to social problems and a worthy educational ideal," Miller & Kim, 1988) and Herbert Spencer (e.g., "education has for its object the formation of character," Purpel & Ryan, 1976). American education has had a focus on character development from its inception. The American philosopher, John Dewey, an influential philosopher and educator of the early 20th century, saw moral education as central to the school's mission (Dewey, 1934).
However, since the 1930's American education has increasingly turned away from character education as a primary focus (Power, Higgens & Kohlberg, 1989). This is in spite of the fact that both educators and the public believe character education to be an important aspect of schooling. Spears' (1973) survey of members of Phi Delta Kappa (an education honorary society) on goals of education showed the following ranking of the goals of public schools:
In terms of defining good character, educators stated that this should include developing:
In two more recent Gallup (1975, 1980) surveys of public attitudes toward public schools, 79% of respondents indicated they favor "instruction in schools that would deal with morals and moral behavior."
Since the 1960's teacher education has downplayed the teacher's role as a transmitter of social and personal values and emphasized other areas such teaching techniques, strategies, models, and skills (e.g., Nucci, 1986a). More and more the vision of a good teacher is as the good technician, the skilled craftsman, who has acquired those behavioral skills and strategies that the "effective teacher" research claims are related to achievement. However, the fact that "effective" is defined as the students' scores on standardized tests of basic skills, but without reference to higher-order intellectual processes or concern about the students' morals, is of concern to many parents and educators. Educational psychology, rather than philosophy and religion, has become the basis of teacher training (Ryan, 1989). In most cases, educational psychology focuses on the individual, separated from the social context. Additionally, modern education has been heavily influenced by the behavioral approach, which has proved adept at developing instructional methods that impact achievement as measured by standardized tests. In the opinion of most researchers in the area of character and moral development (e.g., Lickona, 1991; Nucci, 1989), additional emphasis must be placed on the philosophical "why" of education in addition to the technical "how."
The two educational goals most desired by both the public and educators--academic competence and character development--are not mutually exclusive, but complementary (Wynne & Walberg, 1985). Competence allows character to be manifested in highest forms and vice versa. For example, Stallings (1978) found a positive impact of attempts to improve student achievement on independence, task persistence, cooperation, and question-asking. Etzioni (1984) and Ginsburg and Hanson (1986) reported that students who were self-disciplined or more religious, hard working, or valued learning scored higher on achievement tests. Kagan (1981) and Wynne and Walberg (1985) argue that good character ought to be the more primary focus as it is a goal in reach of more children than is high academic achievement and can result in less alienation from the school.
The relative lack of interest in character education in the last three decades has begun to change (Lickona, 1990). In 1987, the National School Boards Association proposed to the United States Department of Education a project, "Building Character in the Public Schools," designed to enhance character development in the schools through involvement of more than 15,000 local school boards in this country. The project had two overall goals:
Impacting Moral and Character Development
Campbell and Bond (1982) state there are four major questions to be addressed when focusing on character development:
As previously discussed, good character is defined in terms of one's actions. Character development traditionally has focused on those traits or values appropriate for the industrial age such as obedience to authority, work ethic, working in group under supervision, etc. However, as discussed in the SCANS report (1991) and Huitt's (1997) critique, modern education must promote character based on values appropriate for the information age: truthfulness, honesty, integrity, individual responsibility, humility, wisdom, justice, steadfastness, dependability, etc.
In terms of what influences character development, Campbell and Bond (1982) propose the following as major factors in the moral development and behavior of youth in contemporary America:
These sources of influence are listed in approximate order of least tractable to most tractable in order to suggest why we often seek solutions to social problems through schools. It is important to realize that while schools do and should play a role in the development of character, families, communities, and society in general also have an important influence (Huitt, 1999).
The measurement of character has proven difficult since character, by definition, involves behavior, but character is often defined in terms of traits (i.e., honesty, integrity, etc.). Some possible measures suggested by Campbell and Bond (1982) are:
Bennett (1993) proposed a list of cultural indicators that he believes could be used as measures of the character of our society. In addition, he cited a number of social trends that he believes have impacted these indicators. The following table provides an overview of how these have changed from 1960 to 1990.
|General Social Trends||Leading Cultural Indicators|
|US Population||Inc. 41%||Avg. Daily TV Viewing||Inc. to 7hrs.|
|Gross Domestic Product||Inc. 270%||% Illegitimate Births||Inc. 419%|
|Social Spending (All Levels of Govt.)||Inc. 550%||Children on Welfare||Inc. 340%|
|Spending on Welfare||Inc. 630%||Children Living With Single Parents||Inc. 300%|
|Spending on Education||Inc. 225%||Teen Suicide Rate||Inc. 200%|
|Violent Crime Rate (Per 100,000)||Inc. 470%|
|Median Prison Sentence (Violent Crimes)||Dec. 30%|
|SAT Scores||Dec. 76 pts.|
Even a cursory glance would indicate that our society is changing in ways that produce discomfort for most of us. While Gross Domestic Product (GDP--the amount of goods and services produced in this country) has risen dramatically relative to the growth in population, with a corresponding increase in spending on social programs, data on indicators that might be used as a measure of the nation's character show movement in the opposite direction. In my opinion, this type of analysis is quite beneficial because it is at a level that includes the influence of all of the major social institutions that influence character development in our young people, not just schools. However, schools do have an important influence and we should use that influence judiciously.
There are a variety of alternatives to dealing with moral and character education in the schools (Watkins, 1976). First, we can ignore it completely which assumes the issue is outside the bounds of proper curriculum. The interest by professional organizations and the public suggests that this view is inappropriate. Second, we can take a "values neutral" stance and provide opportunities for students to clarify and defend their own values without making recommendations or advocating a particular viewpoint. This is the position taken by the advocates of the values clarification movement (e.g., Kirschenbaum & Simon, 1973; Raths, Harmin & Simon, 1978; Simon, Howe & Kirschenbaum, 1972) and assumes that in important ways no values or character traits are more valid than others. However, to the extent that certain values or character traits are more likely to lead to socially desired outcomes, it would seem inappropriate to not identify these as "better" values. This is not to say that the techniques used in values clarification have no merit, but that when educators and the public have developed a consensus about the worth of certain values, it seems entirely appropriate to teach those to students.
A third approach is to teach students a specific process to follow when making decisions and putting these into action. This is the approach of the analysis view used in values education (e.g., Ennis, 1969; Metcalf, 1971) and assumes moral and character decisions are made rationally. Another cognitively-oriented approach is to engage students in discussions of relevant moral issues with the expectation that students who hear their peers discuss the issue from a higher level will gravitate to that position. This position is expounded in the moral development approach of Lawrence Kohlberg (e.g. Kohlberg, 1976, 1984) whose theory was based on the cognitive development theory of Jean Piaget (1932, 1962; see Hersh, Paolitto & Reimer, 1977). While the techniques used in both of these approaches have been shown to be effective in changing thinking, there is scant evidence to support the belief that changing thinking will automatically lead to a change in behavior. And it is impact on behavior that distinguishes values education from character education.
A fifth approach is to teach students a given set of values and accompanying appropriate actions. This is the position taken by the inculcation approach to values clarification (e.g., Georgia Department of Education, 1997; Wynne, 1989; Wynne & Ryan, 1992; Wynne & Walberg, 1984). This approach assumes a set of absolute values agreed upon by society that are unchanging and that be applied equally appropriately in all situations. Huitt's (1995) analysis of the rapid change in society over the last 100 years, accelerating at an even more rapid pace today, suggests this approach alone will not lead to desired outcomes in character development.
A final approach is to use the inculcation, values education, analysis, and moral development approaches described above when and where appropriate and then to have students put their thoughts and feelings into action in a variety of social actions as suggested in the action learning (e.g., Cottom, 1996; Gauld, 1993; Solomon et al., 1992) or service learning (e.g., Champion, 1999) approaches. This combination of approaches is much more likely to impact the two important aspects of character not included in values education--volition and action.
From the perspective of a systems view, which is most compatible with the action learning and service learning approaches to character education, we need to define character development in terms of the three components of mind: (cognition, affect, volition) and the component of behavior as depicted in the systems model of human behavior (Huitt, 1996). The cognitive component of character consists of both a knowledge base of right and wrong as well as the rational and creative processes necessary to work with that knowledge base to make sound moral decisions. There is a related value system that defines what the individual holds in high esteem or to which he or she is attached. These are the criteria that students use to make moral or ethical judgments. Students learn to value what is in their knowledge base; they will also more deeply esteem what they critically and creatively think about. These two components influence what students are willing to commit to, what they are willing to set goals for, what they are willing to plan for and put energy towards accomplishing. As students make these commitments and plans, it adds to their knowledge base and strengthens their thinking skills and values. These three components then influence the final component, overt behavior. This behavior has two aspects: personal virtues such as being courageous and self-disciplined and social virtues such as being compassionate, courteous, and trustworthy. As students reflect on their behavior, it adds to the knowledge base, strengthens their thinking skills, and impacts their values. Of course, behavior can also be directly influenced through the application of consequences as described by operant conditioning theory (Huitt & Hummel, 1997a) and through observation and modeling as described by social learning theory (Huitt & Hummel, 1997b). The basic principle of this model is that much of the knowledge and values that students hold are implicit and have been obtained though observation, modeling, and the application of consequences. As important as it is to impact overt moral behavior, it is equally important to help students make explicit one's own knowledge base, value system, and the process of committing and planning so as to make that behavior more intentional. This multi-faceted view of character development is more similar to Bandura’s (1989) social cognition theory with its emphasis on reciprocal determinism than it is to a behavioral, cognitive, or humanistic view, each of which is more likely to focus on one component to the detriment of the others.
In assisting students to develop their morals and character, we should acknowledge that these components come into play within a rapidly changing context and therefore, we cannot teach our students all the specific knowledge, values, or behaviors that will lead to success in all aspects of their lives. We must therefore acknowledge that some values are relative and teach students to develop their own views accordingly. At the same time, we must acknowledge that there are some absolutes with respect to morality and character as accepted by commonalties among members of specific communities, major world religions, and moral philosophers. We, therefore, have an obligation to teach these in the family, in our religious organizations, and to support this effort in our communities. Moral and character development is integral to the development of self (Ashton & Huitt, 1980), and is as much the responsibility of early caregivers as it is of later educators. Nucci (1989) showed that "children's moral understandings were independent of specific religious concepts" and that both secular and religious children focus "on the same set of fundamental interpersonal issues: those pertaining to justice and compassion" (p. 195). In sum, as parents, educators, affiliates of religious organizations, and community members, we have an obligation to provide young people with training appropriate to their age level that would assist them in holding to the absolutes that are common across philosophies and the scriptures of the major religious traditions, while at the same time helping them clarify and defend their own acquired values. As a beginning effort in this identifying important moral character attributes that can be addressed by educators, I have developed a "Survey of Desired Values, Virtues, and Attributes". A preliminary study shows considerable overlap in beliefs among preservice and practicing educators (Huitt, 2003).
Any framework for impacting moral and character development is arbitrary unless it is based on some philosophical foundation. Since no current approach to moral education is consistent with all philosophies and meta-ethical theories, educators must first decide these and then develop curriculum (Watkins, 1976). Unfortunately, a series of studies by Hartshorne and colleagues (1928, 1929, 1930) showed that particular techniques of character training, such as in-class discussion, or even practicing helping activities, bore little or no significant relationship to pupil's later patterns of moral conduct. However, a review of research by Wynne (1989) reports that the quality of relationships among faculty (and between the faculty and adults in authority) is a major factor in the development of student character. An atmosphere of adult harmony is vitally important. According to Wynne, schools effectively assisting pupil character development are:
Three Exemplary Programs
Child Development Project. The Child Development Project (CDP) is designed to help teachers and parents enhance children's "prosocial" behaviors and attitudes with a program shaped by three general propositions (Watson, M., Solomon, D., Battistich, V., Schaps, E., & Solomon, J., 1989; Solomon, Schaps, Watson, & Battistich, 1992):
The interventions are designed to influence three different but interrelated systems--affective, cognitive, and behavioral. The CDP teaches relevant prosocial values (specifically fairness, consideration, helpfulness, and social responsibility) and teaches needed social skills and commitment to prosocial values. It is based on the idea that children need to learn both specific skills and the accumulated moral wisdom of our culture with appropriate social conventions.
There are five kinds of experiences that are deemed important for the development of children's prosocial orientations:
The CDP program has been designated as one of the Educational Programs That Work (National Diffusion Network, 1995). The results of this program showed that enrolled students were more helpful and cooperative and more frequently displayed affection, concern, support, and encouragement toward one another. They showed better cognitive social problem-solving skills and strategies and were generally more committed to certain democratic values. Program children were more likely to engage in assertion responsibility (i.e., state one's own position even though it seems unlikely to prevail.) They were more likely to state belief in equality of representation and participation, a belief that all members of a group have a right to participate in group's decisions and activities. In summary, teachers in the CDP program provided children with instruction on how to be fair, caring, and responsible in the classroom. They also provided opportunities to think about and discuss the meaning and importance of fundamental prosocial values and to practice these values primarily in the classroom but also in the school at large, at home, and in the community are important. The CDP program demonstrated that the combination of instruction, practice, and reflection is a powerful way for children to learn.
Hyde school. The Hyde School is a private boarding high school that attempts to not only transform the school but also the entire child-rearing community (Gauld, 1993). It has as its purpose to:
The program has been in operation for over 25 years and is guided by the fundamental belief that each child is gifted with a unique potential for excellence that defines his or her destiny and purpose in life. It is an education program that requires both individuals and the school to concentrate on developing character--specifically, courage, integrity, concern for others, curiosity, and leadership.
The school is organized around a comprehensive curriculum for growth, challenging students in four areas of life: (a) intellectual, (b) physical, (c) spiritual, and (d) emotional. Students are expected to meet world class standards not only in college prepatory academics, but also in co-curricular areas of performing arts, athletics, school leadership, and community service. They must take ownership for the success of the school through regular jobs and through taking responsibility for the growth of other students. The diverse requirements are supplemented by activities such as self-reflection through journaling and sharing with others. The highest objective is that students (and teachers and parents) become ready to commit themselves to continuous improvement towards excellence in all their endeavors: at school, at home, and in the workplace.
The results of the program show that:
In summary, the Hyde School approach is supported by a wide variety of school improvement and social sciences literature. In addition, the Hyde School has established a number of benchmarks by which success can be measured:
This is an impressive set of goals that would be worthy for other schools to emulate.
City Montessori School. The City Montessori School (CMS), a private, nonprofit school in Luchnow, India, provides an exemplary education for K-12 students by focusing on both academic excellence and children's emotional and spiritual well-being. Four building blocks or pillars (universal values, excellence, global understanding, and service) are guiding principles for educating the whole child (Cottom, 1996). Diffusion of this program is being assisted by The Council for Global Education.
The teaching of universal values advocated by CMS begins with the concept that a child, as a human being, is endowed with spiritual capacities. This is translated into providing a spiritual foundation for all of the child's activities, be they academic, physical, or social. Some of the values focused on at CMS are trustworthiness, compassion, humility, courage, kindness, and patience.
Excellence, especially academic excellence, is a focus of the educational program beginning in the pre-school program. Students organize a daily assembly at which all CMS children take the school pledge and commit themselves to developing complete knowledge of all their subjects and to strive for excellence in all things. Mizzer (1995) reports that this focus results in 99% of CMS students placing in the first division of state and national exams. In addition, CMS students have received the highest number of merit-based scholarships in India. Exemplary performance by students, both individually and in groups, has also been recorded. One student was awarded 3 medals in robotics at a science fair in Canada; a second student won honors for his robotic project at a competition in Scotland. In each of these competitions, students from CMS were the only Asian students outside of Japan who had entered the event. Student musicians also took top prize in an all-India music competition.
Global understanding, with its concomitant convergence on achieving world peace, focuses on helping students develop an awareness of the interdependence of all things and a willingness to accept responsibility for the fate of the planet and for the well-being of all humanity. This is accomplished by showing how personal, local, and regional concerns connect to the challenges facing the entire world. Consultation and collective decision-making are integral processes to this aspect of the curriculum.
This understanding is carried into action via the fourth pillar: service. Students are encouraged to put their knowledge, values, and training into practice by engaging in service projects. Each student must perform a certain amount of school and community services such as tutoring the illiterate or helping the rural poor. Students are taught that labor has a dignity in and of itself and that and that no job is beneath a person when it is done in an attitude of service to others.
With the Council for Global Education setting up offices in five countries in addition to India (Brazil, Czech Republic, Italy, South Africa, and the USA) to assist in diffusing the program, the CMS progam can be expected to play a major role in creating a focus on character education as an important aspect of education in the twenty-first century.
Summary and Conclusions
The development of vision, character, and competence in our young people is necessary to allow our nation to continue its role of world leader into the 21st century rather than be relegated to history as former world leaders such as Egypt, Iran, Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain. Each of these former world powers failed to keep pace with the changing demands of the world around them. In many cases it was not a failure of the economic or material aspect of society, but rather the human, social, political, or spiritual aspects. The educational system must prepare individuals to progress in each of these arenas of life. Therefore, character development must be seen as an organic process in the development of the material/physical, human/psychological, and spiritual/transcendental aspects of human being.
There is much agreement that educators ought to enable individuals to live a good life; however, there is also a commonly held view that government, and consequently, public schools, ought to be neutral on defining the good life (Rawls, 1971). This neutrality is appropriate only in so far as we lack knowledge or simply disagree about the good. However, that does not seem to be the case (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1996). As a beginning effort to help a school or community identify those most important in a specific context, I have developed a "Survey of Desired Values, Virtues, and Attributes". A preliminary study shows considerable overlap in beliefs among preservice and practicing educators (Huitt, 2003). There is enough evidence from a wide variety of sources to develop a consensus of a community around a relatively small number of moral and character traits that can be the focus of a K-12 educational program. It must be integrated into a curriculum that enjoins young people to strive for excellence in the attainment of both character and competencies. As a beginning effort in this direction, a webpage has been developed with links to lesson plans that combine academic instruction with moral character development and related values, virtues, and attributes that adults believe should be developed by students during the K-12 schooling.
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