A new study suggests character education programs can be effective, and even more so, in high school than with younger students.
William Jeynes, Senior Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, said during a recent presentation at Oxford University that his analysis of 52 different character education studies involving more than 225,000 students shows character education has the biggest impact on high schoolers.
“The results are particularly intriguing, because the sparse number of character education school programs that there are, emphasize ‘getting them when they’re young,’” Jeynes said, according to the Religion News Service. “However, these results suggest that not only does character education have quite robust effects on student behavior and academic outcomes overall, but it also has an especially potent impact in high school.”
Jaynes contends that while his analysis “goes against the tide of current thought that character instruction should primarily take place when pupils are young, upon further examination, they really do make sense.”
“Students begin the process of making some of the most important decisions of their lives when they are in high school,” he said. “If there is ever a time in which they need moral guidance, this is the time period.”
Jaynes also discussed how character education has become eroded in American schools, and offered his take on how to pursue character education in a world that shuns religious references in schools.
“In the aftermath of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1963 that removed the Bible and voluntary prayer from the public schools, an unintended consequence of their actions was the defacto removal of character education as well,” he said. “This is because when schools taught love, forgiveness, or the ‘golden rule,’ all it would take is one parent to complain that such teaching was Christianity to cause schools to retreat from teaching related to character. “Naturally, although love and forgiveness are an integral part of Christianity, one can demonstrate each quality without being a Christian.”
“The character education that is appropriate in our contemporary society is one that emphasizes the values that virtually all people value, unless they are in prison or a sociopath,” Jaynes said. “These include honesty, sincerity, responsibility, love, and respect. We do not have to go into the real controversial issues.”
James Davison Hunter in his book on moral education, The Death of Character, reminds us “Instead of forcing commonality in our moral discourse at the expense of particularity, one discovers commanlity through particularity…. We will most certainly discover other moral agreements about integrity, fairness, altruism, responsibility, respect, valor—agreements too numerous to mention. But these agreements will be found within moral diversity not in spite of it.” Thus maintaining space for different moral communities to flourish side-by-side is conducive to character formation.
 Hunter, James Davison. The Death of Character (Basic, 2000), p. 230.
The UK’s Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has developed extensive curriculum for secondary school teachers to teach character. The virtue of justice could be applied to examples of evil and injustice that are found throughout history. The Jubilee Centre’s lesson on justice would be a reliable place for educators to begin.