Educate for Character

09/03/2009  |  JOHN WOOD
character education

A woodsman was granted one wish after saving a leprechaun’s life. “Good husbands for my daughters,” he said.

“Define good,” the crafty leprechaun replied.

“Good character,” the woodsman said.

Impressed, the leprechaun arched an eyebrow. “Define good character.”

“The kind of men you’d want for your daughters.”

The leprechaun beamed. “Ah, then you will have honorable men with kind and loving hearts. And I’ll throw in a strong conscience.”

Do we want our children to be rich, smart, attractive, famous — but devoid of virtue? Or, do we wish them to have sterling values? If the latter, we must educate for character.

Character education has been with us since the ancient Greeks and from the beginning days of our republic. All major civilizations have taught youngsters ethical doctrines. All the world’s great thinkers — from Socrates to Confucius to Buddha — have advocated living according to principle.

And youngsters get it. They know character education isn’t being done to them; they’re doing it for themselves. They know they’re not blocks of stone that adults carve into ideal students; they’re sculpting their own morals.

Character Education Cuts Crime

Youth offenses plunged 74 percent in St. Johns County, Florida, since CHARACTER COUNTS (CC)! began in 1998-99. By comparison, at demographically similar Flagler County next door (without CC!), they dropped nine percent.

In a South Dakota State University study of 8,000 middle and high school students who experienced CC! for five years, theft dropped by 40 percent, vandalism by 33 percent, and alcohol use by 37 percent.

At the Tulare County (CA) Probation Youth Facility, which uses CC!, 70 percent of the youths remained crime-free while in residence (twice the national average) and 92 percent stayed crime-free after they left (compared to 28 percent nationally).

It Enhances School Climate

After a district-wide CC! implementation in Dallas in the late 1990s, discipline referrals at John J. Pershing Elementary School plummeted from more than 1,500 to fewer than 100 in one year.

Discipline referrals fell 75 percent at Easton Elementary in Easton, Maryland, over the four years of CC!

Suspensions fell 63 percent, repeat suspensions fell 53 percent, and the number of students in extracurricular activities rose 58 percent over five years of CC! in Glenn Westlake Middle School in Lombard, Illinois. Moreover, graffiti declined by 61 percent, curfew violation by 68 percent, truancy by 63 percent, and alcohol use by 41 percent.

“There’s a yearning in students to be good and to do good,” said character educator Avis Glaze, Ph.D., former education commissioner of Ontario, Canada, in an interview for the Josephson Institute of Ethics. “We need to capitalize on that desire — especially during the values stage of their development when they want to save the world.”

Despite character education’s many benefits, however, the current economic climate can make it difficult to fund such programs. How can schools keep the money coming in for their initiatives during the recession? There are two primary funding sources: government grants and private and corporate foundations.

Government grants come from cities, counties, states, and the federal level. Many schools pay for character-education materials and training with federal funding under Titles I and II for professional development or Title IV Safe and Drug Free Schools. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) also offers grants that can be used for character education.

Title I – These funds aren’t a common source for character education, but schools have used portions of them for character-development activities.

Title II – These NCLB funds are allocated for professional development. Many schools use them to attend character-education training.

Title IV – These funds partially earmark programs that prevent violence and drug use and promote student wellness. Often a good starting place to look for funding.

DOE – These funds are particularly time-sensitive. Try to work with a grantwriter who has experience writing DOE grants.

Foundations support a variety of causes. Some, like Gates, Ford, and Rockefeller, fund diverse projects around the globe. Others target specific issues or are dedicated to a certain geographic region. There are also more than 2,000 corporate foundations, many of which support educational and youth-oriented programs.

As every school knows, though, locating funding sources is much easier than getting funding. For a compendium of information and advice on fundraising and grantwriting, see “Your Character-Education Fundraising Resource Guide” below.

“We in the business world don’t want young people coming into our employment and communities who are brilliant but dishonest, who have great intellectual knowledge but don’t care about others, who have creative minds but are irresponsible,” said Sandy McDonnell, founder of the Character Education Partnership. “All of us in business and the community need to do our part in helping build young people of high character. There isn’t a more critical issue in education today.”

The challenge for educational policymakers is to acknowledge the role schools play in character development and to help schools produce the men and women we wish to run society tomorrow. Then we’ll have more tales like this one:

“One morning a grade six student came to the office to report that their teacher had not come in,” Avis Glaze remembers her deputy principal telling her one day. “He went to investigate with a great deal of trepidation. How many students would still be there? What would he tell their parents?

“When he entered the classroom, the students were busy writing and barely looked up. One of them had read the teacher’s Day Plan, wrote the instructions on the board, and all were doing the work. When he congratulated them, one of them looked up and shrugged, ‘What did you expect? We’re a character class.’”


Your Character-Education Fundraising Resource Guide   Here are resources to help fund your character-education initiative. Fundraising   Grantwriting For much more funding help, visit funding/index.html page at CHARACTER COUNTS!


John Wood is a senior editor at the Josephson Institute of Ethics, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization. For more information, visit
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