In my estimation, we are typically educated so that we will get into the right college and be successful monetarily. Far less emphasis is placed on developing a strong moral character, which is often only an afterthought. If intellectual achievement outpaces the development of moral character, we get a population of people bent on being smart and successful but not much concerned about the needs of others.
How does someone develop moral character? I'll give you a hint; not in school. The largest scientific study conducted on the subject concluded that school-wide character education programs produce no improvements in student behavior or academic performance. Moral character develops in the family and through exposure to various life experiences. Parents therefore need to be intentional about character education for their children, and in this post, I’ll give some tips for how to do it.
Why You Shouldn't Depend on Schools for Character Education
The last couple of decades have seen a resurgence of interest in school-based character education. There are dozens of formal character education programs, most of which vary from the classical approach in that they all emphasize completely different character traits. As I mentioned above, there isn’t a lot of evidence that these programs work.
One thing all these programs do agree on is what values are NOT included in their lists of core values. Not found, even though they are fundamental to the history and success of great nations are such noted values as independence, calculated risk, ingenuity, curiosity, critical thinking, skepticism, and even moderation.
It is unsurprising that schools can’t teach calculated risk, curiosity, and critical thinking; schools are mostly about conformity to a system and competitive grading based on providing the right answers. So if school-based character education doesn't work so well, what can parents do to foster moral character in their children?
Character Education Tips For Parents
First, parents should be clear about their own philosophy of life and moral values. Then, they should be intentional about finding ways to teach these values, which includes providing opportunities for their children to develop traits like critical thinking, curiosity, moderation and calculated risk taking – subjects which I and others have written a lot about previously on the blog.
All of these posts contain tips for parents looking to be more intentional about character education for their children:
- Creating Your Ideal Family Culture
- 9 Great Critical Thinking Books For Children and Teens
- The read-aloud family
- 4 Ways to Teach Kids Moderation in a Materialistic Society
- Growing Up Stoic: Philosophical Education for Character, Persistence and Grit
Calculated risk-taking can be developed through outdoor play and programs like the Free Forrest School for younger children: https://www.freeforestschool.org/
Also be sure to provide your kids with plenty of downtime and let them be bored! Boredom promotes ingenuity and resourcefulness. Many kids today are chronically over-scheduled and have no time for unstructured play.
Please feel free to comment and suggest more programs and resources that I haven’t included here!
"Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live as well as think." -Ralph Waldo Emerson
*This post has been updated. It was originally published in December 2013, under the title, "Why Character is More Important than Intellect."
"Efficcacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children" (PDF). The Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. 2007. The Teacher Report on Student was a self-administered survey completed by teachers. The survey took approximately 15 minutes. Even then, the study found that the vast majority of character education programs failed to prove their effectiveness over 3 years, some were detrimental.