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More Feedback on Character Education
November 5, 2002

"To love what you do and feel that it matters—how could anything be more fun?" —Katharine Graham


Our October 17 ExchangeEveryDay generated more feedback than any previous item. Here are just a few more of the reactions. In an upcoming EED, we will also reprint a Rebuttal of David Elkind's article by Bettye Caldwell.

Marjorie Kostelnik: It's interesting to me that we are approaching the character education conversation as an all or nothing enterprise. We seem to dichotomize many issues in early childhood, forcing folks to pick a side. I think this conversation is better served if we think along a continuum. Naturally, it is most important that children (especially young children) learn character development from loving adults who are great models and who take advantage of teachable moments to help children learn about empathy, self-regulation, respect, impulse control, etc. At the same time children's books and other similar materials can be useful tools to reinforce such natural lessons. As children get older, programs like Charater Counts, often sponsored by 4-H, can be useful means for children in the later elementary years and middle school to talk about important issues and reflect on how they wish to live their lives. I think the better admonition is not to rely on character education to teach ALL the lessons we hope children will learn. Another pitfall is to assume that a few written lesson plans will relieve us of our responsibility to teach character lessons through daily interactions. Instead, we must create environments that support positive character development, we must provide support and coaching for young children as they wend their way through the social landscape, and sometimes we can use formal teaching to highlight the fact that character is worth talking about.

Tracy M. Ruska:
Thank you for the information on character education. At the YMCA, we have made the four core values: honesty, respect, caring and responsibility apparent in everything we do. It is on every newsletter, lesson plan (even the infant room) and literature we use. The children understand it easier when the teachers talk about it and model it everyday. We also use a model of 40 developmental assets that aid in the growth of a child. These include things such as unstructured time at home, adult positive role models, and living with boundaries and expectations. In today's hurried world, parents often don't have time to explain these fundamentals. Often, families enroll with us specifically because we offer character education!

Abby Humphrey: Bravo to David Elkind on character education. Twenty-five years and thousands of preschoolers into my career, I know that character and respect are taught early in life and primarily by example. There were no character education classes when I was in school, but my two amazing parents taught me about compassion, nurturing, community involvement and respect for my fellow human beings.

Frances M. Carlson: I didn't respond to the article when you first published it, but want to share a personal experience now. Last year, I spent over thirty minutes at my youngest child's elementary school just trying to locate her class in order to have lunch with her. It was "Picture Day" and so all the classroom schedules had been altered. No one seemed to know when her class would be eating, or where they were in the interim. After asking several people to please locate my daughter, only to have all of them "too busy" to help, I finally left the school in utter frustration. As I drove away, I noticed that the Character Ed "Word of the Week" was proudly displayed on the entryway marquee; the word of the week was "Helpfulness." I laughed. Being on a sign is completely ineffective when it fails to be modeled by the people in children's lives.

Beth Engelhardt:
I had to laugh out loud when I read your intro to "Feedback on Character Education" and learned that people actually unsubscribe when they don't agree with something. And yet, I am saddened too, that as educators we aren't open to listening to other peoples opinions and willing to challenge our belief systems. Education and learning is about being exposed to a variety of information and knowledge so that as professionals we continue to learn and grow. I tell my students (college) that it is my job as the facilitator in the classroom to challenge them and to take them outside their comfort zone. I purposefully bring in controversial speakers to cause them to think and to question. As my husband says, "If it offends us (society) we want to get rid of it or kill it." In this situation, they just unsubscribe.

Win a Trip for Two to the World Forum, with a prize covering airfare, lodging and registration at the 2003 World Forum on Early Care and Education in Acapulco, Mexico. Go to www.ChildCareExchange.com to sign up for the drawing.


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