Character Insight

Quick and dirty summary of key elements and principles of character education

  • Harmful material is everywhere – television, newspapers, the internet, movies, etc.  Trying to protect children from all of this is a losing proposition.  While effort is to be made to limit what children are exposed to, it is equally important to have discussions with children about harmful material they are exposed to.  If you catch your child on a XXX site on the internet, a character enhancing response is to discuss the family values, why they are that way, and what the effects of such material are for your child.  A Socratic process is best, rather than a lecture or soliloquy, which often generates temporary deafness.
  • Expressing your own emotions in a non-degrading or demeaning manner is also very helpful as moral messages are far more likely to stick when they are adhered with emotional vigor (not yelling or screaming).
  • Children must think.  They must be active.  They must take the other’s perspective.  They must consider all the possible consequences.  Such activity is best if it comes from real personal experience, not something hypothetical.  When moral mistakes are made, take them as incredibly valuable learning opportunities.  Moral dilemmas are excellent learning opportunities.  Encourage children to express their opinions and listen to other’s viewpoints.  It is helpful for children to participate actively in moral debates with peers and parents.  Children who come from large families or who attend day care tend to be more moral as they have had a lot of experience taking the perspective of others.
  • An authoritative parenting style is helpful for raising a moral child.  This style involves providing consistent rules and firm limits with open discussion and clear communication.  Explain and, when justified, revise the rules (monitor approach).  Children are far more likely to comply with reasons than commands.  Furthermore, children are more likely to behave morally when no one is looking if reasons are given instead of commands. When parent’s predominant technique involves the use of power, the child is likely to develop a moral orientation that is based on fear of detection and punishment.  Instead of relying on internal standards, the child’s behavior is largely governed by external sanction.
  • The peer group is also extremely important.  Children and adolescents learn a lot from their peer group – some psychologists (for example see the book “The Nurture Assumption”) argue that children learn more from their peer group than from parents themselves.  That is more the case when the peer group is a stronger identity group than the parent/family one.  Parents can monitor their children’s peers.  They can also try and give their children the skills and values necessary to pick a prosocial peer group.
  • Modeling is another excellent method of instilling morality.  It’s those everyday, minute-by-minute cues that people pick up on.  Everyday is a school day when it comes to moral development.  Moral development is an incremental process occurring in thousands of small ways. Children are quick to note “Do as I say and not as I do.”  On a similar note, having the child model moral behavior to others is a very effective mechanism that takes advantage of the psychological principle of dissonance.  Having the child volunteer is a way to have the child model (like with CAPP projects).
  • Community influence (often called the hidden curriculum).  It’s important to have consistency across settings:  teachers who don’t tolerate cheating on exams, parents who don’t let their children get away with lying, sports coaches who encourage sportsmanship and fair play, and a sense that people are open to discussion and feedback. The challenge for a pluralistic society is to find enough common ground to communicate the shared standards that the young need.
  • Moral identity.  People and children need to move from “People should be honest” to “I want to be honest.”  Proper values are widely held, but the resolve to act on them varies.  Those that act morally have a moral identity that requires them to take action, even at great personal cost.  This is closely related to the concept of self-esteem; if being moral is an important component of the self, not acting in such a way would degrade one’s self-image.  People who define themselves in terms of their moral goals are likely to see moral problems in everyday events.  That deeper element of self and other often occurs in adolescence when children are able to analyze people in terms of stable character traits.  Younger children can still act on the idea of being moral, yet they rarely understand the concept in its abstract form.
  • Two modes of education – indirect and direct moral education.  Modeling and community influence are more indirect methods.  Indirect tends to be more powerful, because it is almost omnipresent.  Indirect education can take several forms, such as feedback from others, observations of actions by others that either inspire or appall, or reflections on one’s own experience.  Direct moral education can be effective, but it tends not to be if the children are passive – or worse, a captive audience.  Direct moral education tends to take the form of lectures, role playing, moral dilemmas, discussion, and example and definition.  At home, an example might be discussing a particular moral virtue every Sunday evening at the dinner table.  Religion is often presented as a form of direct moral education.  Religious people behaving well is indirect education.  Values clarification is sometimes mistaken for moral education, however, it is not, because no moral judgments are made; any position is a correct or okay one as long as you are clarifying your values.
  • Moral reasoning is important up to a point, but in the Kohlberg tradition, one does not have to reason at the tier three level to be a moral person.  Indeed, moral exemplars tend to have the same level of reasoning as everyone else.  Also, one can reason in terms of principles and not live up to those principles.
  • Praise and rewards are delicate incentives for moral behavior.  Such devices are external reinforcers for behavior.  Thus, children don’t carry them with them like internal incentives such as moral identity or the good feeling one gets for moral behavior.  One can hope that external incentives are internalized via attributions, but such an outcome is far from guaranteed.  If rewards are given to numerous people for the same thing, the reward often ceases to have special meaning.  If the reward or praise isn’t truly deserved, it often ceases to have meaning as well.  If children’s behavior is due to the promise of reward (it isn’t something they would have freely chosen to do otherwise), the overjustification effect might set in – children assume the behavior isn’t worth doing without the reward and the desired behavior actually decreases after external rewards cease or diminish.
  • Situational influences are also important.  When there is a clear need to act, one’s arousal is heightened, time is not pressing, and there is clear responsibility, an individual is more likely to act.  One is also more likely to help or act morally if not doing so violates a social norm and one would be caught or observed.
  • Individual needs are met.  Akin to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, an individual is more likely to behave morally if their fundamental needs are met.  For example, empathic (central to moral behavior) behavior is more likely when central needs are met, such as:  power and worth, fun and happiness, need for supportive people, love, and freedom and control.  Empathy is also developed when a person has practice experiencing, identifying, and expressing a wide range of emotions.  Also, see children must think point above.

How does Camp Augusta create character insight?

A few external links/articles are included below.

Social awareness + emotional skills = successful kids Bringing these non-academic skills into classrooms improves the children’s lives in several ways, including academically.
Beat the Cheat Psychologists are providing insight into why students cheat and what faculty, schools and even students can do about it.
The Other 3 Rs: Reasoning, Resilience, and Responsibility A research study whose goal of the pilot project conducted with Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools was to examine not only whether teaching the skills of reasoning, resilience and responsibility had an impact on student learning and efficacy, but on teacher self-efficacy as well.
Can You Teach Emotional Intelligence? Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) in schools is briefly covered in this article.
The Secrets of Self-Control: The Marshmallow Test 40 Years Later What happens when 4-year olds are asked not to eat a marshmallow for a period of time?  The results of that question lead to interesting results both at the moment, and 40 years later.
What if the secret to success is failure? Has both examples of useful character education techniques, and ones unlikely to work.  The “Grit” assessment is an interesting and likely useful concept/tool.  Here’s a sample of it (one) (two).

Hero and character — inspiration and insight

What makes a hero? From Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, Dr. Zimbardo speaks to the nature of good, evil, and heroism.  Includes videos.  You’ll also be interested in this separate link: “The Hero Construction Company.
My Hero (website) This website shares hero stories, art, audio and short films. MY HERO gives lifelong learners access to an ever-growing digital archive of inspiring content, tools for self-expression and tutorials to help them share their uplifting stories with the world.
Story – Janusz Korczak