Review: “Character Education for the 21st Century: What Should Students Learn?”

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This review follows on from my post about about the education department’s (DfE) proposal for a ‘character education’ award in English schools.

The Center for Curriculum Design has recently produced (February 2015) a booklet titled: “Character Education for the 21st Century: What Should Students Learn?” The booklet obviously has some intellectual clout behind it and is underscored by the following purposes:

“Since ancient times, the goal of education has been to cultivate confident and compassionate students who become successful learners, contribute to their communities, and serve society as ethical citizens. Character education is about the acquisition and strengthening of virtues (qualities), values (ideals and concepts), and the capacity to make wise choices for a well rounded life and a thriving society”.

Clearly a lot of effort has gone into the production of the framework and it does acknowledge, obliquely, the “Treasure Within’ thinking from UNESCO.  However, it includes another set of all encompassing, shopping list of ‘desirable qualities’, and is thus subject to the same set of suspicions I leveled at the DfE proposals. 

In this list they include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Curiosity
  • Courage
  • Resilience
  • Ethics
  • Leadership

Each item is provided with a sub-list of associated qualities, many of which overlap with each other.  This does raise the question of their explanatory and evaluative value.

The document goes on to outline each of the their ‘top qualities’, and then: “briefly summarize how  they can be learned and–whenever possible–measured”  The document goes on to state that “The subject of character assessment is a large and important undertaking.  The cursory coverage of these ideas in this document aims to simply give some examples of possible methods of assessment, not prescribe any particular assessments or exhaustively describe all possibilities”.

Unfortunately, some of the ‘assessment’ suggestions do seem really cursory and reductionist, with an over optimistic reading of their validity and reliability.  The document does have the merit of including, and citing, a range of research sources.  The predominant paradigm is psychology.  They come up very short, in my opinion, on the teaching of ethics and leave many critical faculties at home when it comes to leadership and management.  But then they have set out from a different starting point from me; you might find their complete lack of cynicism and their rallying cry to politicians refreshing.  The push for becoming wiser as a species is certainly worth supporting.

So make your own mind up!  Download here