The inadequacy of character education in society is evidenced in the behavior of youth today. This is obvious in the speech and actions of elementary age students as well as in the lack of respect and violence of teenagers. Character is a natural process of adaptation that is learned through education, experience and personal choices. Researchers have found that character is definitely not hereditary and has nothing to do with genetics, but rather with the upbringing and environment in which the child is raised. Moral learning occurs during the early formative years of life. During this time, most children are involved primarily with a family unit and with friends. On weekdays during the school year, nearly half of their waking hours are spent with teachers and peers in the educational system. The school environment therefore has a profound influence on shaping the way a child habitually behaves. To take it a step further, Gerald Grant claims that “much of what we have become as a nation is shaped in the schoolyard and the classroom” (195). This indicates far reaching effects of the character education of society’s youth.
According to Ryan and Bolin, “Socrates long ago stated that the mission of education is to help people become both smart and good. In recent decades the second part of that definition has suffered in American schools and colleges” (19). There are moral precepts accepted by society as a whole and adults should have the courage to teach them. Morals refer to generally accepted customs of conduct and right living in a society, and to the individual’s practice in relation to these.
Teddy Roosevelt reportedly said, “To educate a person in the mind but not the morals is to educate a menace to society” (Josephson, YEAR, p. 43). This indicates that at the turn of the twentieth century there was concern for proper character education. Schools at that time incorporated what they would call teaching of virtue right along with their teaching of knowledge. Reading was taught using the well-known McGuffey Electic Reader which contained value laden stories that emphasized individuals with good moral character. Writing often required students to work on their penmanship by copying sayings about principles of conduct. Moral education was intentionally integrated in the curriculum.
In the 1960s, character education was completely eradicated under the banner of progressive education. The new philosophical approach held self-fulfillment and individual autonomy as the ultimate in human freedom. “It led people to focus on expressing and fulfilling themselves as free individuals rather than on fulfilling their obligations as members of groups such as family, church, community, or country” (Lickona, YEAR, p. 9). Educational critics held that the basic nature of humans was constructive and trustworthy. Teachers were instructed to stand back and let natural processes follow their course.
In 1966, Sidney Simon’s untested model of values...