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Peabody Journal of Education, Volume 88, Issue 2, 2013

Character Education: Introduction, Evolution, and Current Trends

The highly visible and contentious issues of education policy focus acutely on academic achievement, with current debates on teacher accountability and evaluation, performance pay, school choice and the use of standardized test scores dominating the conversation. However, the holistic development of the human being as a virtuous, empathetic and socially equipped individual often receives little public attention as an educational policy initiative. In this issue of the Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy and Organizations, guest editor Matthew R. Smith leads an examination of character education initiatives through analysis of several current trends in character education.

Smith opens the issue with a brief introduction to character education and its early development, which stemmed from a response to the public perception that American student development was disproportionately academically focused. A 1983 publication by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, titled A Nation at Risk, precipitated reform initiatives emphasizing the character development of students in American schools. What began as a supplement to the traditional academic curriculum evolved into an embedded, interdisciplinary instructional framework that has been adapted internationally for the sake of worldwide student character education.

Following an introduction to the current trends in character development, Smith’s introduction gives way to Scott Seider, Sarah Novick and Jessica Gomez’ article detailing a mixed methods study examining the effects of ethical philosophy programming on high school students. Employing pre-post survey data as well as field notes and qualitative interviews, the authors examine the academic integrity of participating students as compared with non-participating students at a comparison school. Jason M. Stephens and David B. Wangaard deepen the discussion on academic integrity in their study on a high school character education program designed to curb cheating and promote honesty. This article provides suggestions for further character education development, as informed by its description of the school program’s core components as well as its three year, mixed-methods study on the program’s implementation in Northeastern American high schools.

Addressing the other side of academic integrity, Richard Oguthorpe and Matthew Sanger instead focus on the moral beliefs and purposes of teacher candidates. The study examines candidates’ beliefs of the teaching profession as a moral one and provides implications for future teacher education research with particular relevance in an era of high-stakes testing and accountability. Departing from the traditional classroom setting, Thomas Lickona explores character education through the lens of sexual education. Highlighting the effects of the sexual revolution of the 20th century on the nuclear family and society’s moral structure, Lickona examines the merits of sexual abstinence programs and their alignment with traditional character education. Further, his study considers ways in which to extend support for sexual restraint in a university setting.

Outside of academia entirely, Adam H. Naylor and John M. Yeager combine modern cognitive science, social psychology and behavioral neuroscience with philosophical thinking of the past to give insight into character education through athletics. By examining sociocultural influences, emotional and cognitive responses and self-regulation skills throughout the moral decision making process in sport, Naylor and Yeager present a framework that provides insight to athletic educators in social aspects of athletics. The authors contend that this provides opportunities for creating a culture of character in the athletic community.

David B. Whittier places character education within the context of modern communication with his presentation of the theory and research that form the framework of a graduate course in cyberethics, with discussion based upon psychology of the Internet, moral development and character education. Extending the application of empathy and privacy from the physical world to cyberspace guides the discussion of this course, for which the author details the curriculum. Jonathan Kasler, Gwyne W. White and Maurice J. Elias close this issue with an evaluation of the success of the “Meaning of Life” program in Israel, an adaptation of the U.S. Laws of life Program. Their study analyzed the psychological health of participants in the program against that of non-participating students using pre- and post- intervention questionnaires. Designed to encourage participants to develop meaning in their own lives, the “Meaning of Life” program hoped to yield proof of feelings for which the questionnaires screened: perceived hope and self-efficacy, among others.

The Peabody Journal of Education would like to express its sincere gratitude to Guest Editor David M. Smith, as well as to the authors of this issue, without whom this issue’s examination of character education would not be possible. It is our hope that practitioners as well as researchers will benefit from this discussion and find its contents useful.