There is much talk in education about children and young people ‘fulfilling their potential’, but this is possible only if they have developed a range of virtues that make up good character. A virtue is not a mere capacity, but a disposition—a settled habit of acting in a good way. That habit can vary in strength; however, we would not ordinarily be regarded as possessing a particular virtue unless we exhibit that quality most of the time. A virtue is a reasonably consistent behaviour pattern that is a distinguishing ‘mark’ of our character. People know us to be that sort of a person in most circumstances (‘Karen is hardworking’, ‘Ahmad is honest’, ‘Sue is kind’).
Character education enables us to be the best we can be in every area of our lives. As the title of Professor Thomas Lickona’s book Character Matters (2004) suggests, working on our character is important. It’s the right thing to do.
Research shows that high-quality character education has many benefits, including fostering the good work habits that support academic attainment. (See, for example, Berkowitz and Bier’s monograph, ‘What Works in Character Education’, www.charactereandcitizenship.org, and Benninga et al., 2003).
Developing good character also enables us to perform better than we otherwise would on a great variety of tasks in life and at school.
As teachers who are character educators, we must focus on doing, not just understanding, if we are to help young people become the best they can be. We would not regard a character education curriculum to have taught kindness successfully if, at the curriculum’s end, students were able to define and explain kindness but treated each other cruelly and were not motivated to treat each other kindly.
Good character enables a student to attain a personal best academically as well as in other areas of life.
Character education has been demonstrated to be associated with academic motivation and aspirations, academic achievement, prosocial behaviour, bonding to school, prosocial and democratic values, conflict-resolution skills, moral-reasoning maturity, responsibility, respect, self-efficacy, self-control, self-esteem, social skills, and trust in and respect for teachers