October is Character Education Month

State Superintendent, Jack O’Connell, and California State Board of Education President, Reed Hastings, recently sent a reminder to schools that October is Character Education Month in California. In their letter http://www.cde.ca.gov/character/letter.html they remind us that character education is to be embedded in the core curriculum on an ongoing basis. The State Board of Education Resolution of August 2003 http://www.cde.ca.gov/character/cem.html “calls upon educators to impress upon students the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship; and the meaning of equality and human dignity, all of which result in awakening students to the moral and ethical virtues that build a fundamental strength of character” and defines an “effective character education program requires an intentional, proactive, consistent, and comprehensive approach that promotes a common core of personal and social values in all phases of school life, a core that includes trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, citizenship, civic virtue, honesty, and personal responsibility. ” There is no better place to think about issues of character and ethical behavior than in the history-social science curriculum.

The California Department of Education has reviewed and recommended a number of character education programs http://www.cde.ca.gov/character/reviews.html according to the criteria of content, instruction, teacher support, and assessment http://www.cde.ca.gov/character/criteria.html. Here are additional materials and websites on character education for the classroom that have been reviewed by SCORE History-Social Science staff.

Source: Character Counts

Six Pillars of Character
Part of the Character Counts website, this is a list and description of the Six Pillars of Character generally agreed upon across schools and communities: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. There are also changing sets of lessons on the Character Counts site at http://www.charactercounts.org/ideas/ideatoc.htm.

In addition to defining six principles of character this site has a wealth of curriculum resources for elementary, middle, and high school. There are also discussion guides and materials for service learning, a section on volunteer opportunities and another on character in sports. All the lessons listed are free.

In the classroom discussion, analyzing issues and behavior, and writing about these ideas are important ways to teach about character. Countless generations and cultures the world over have taught values to young children through stories and folklore. Here are some online versions of stories for this practice.

Absolutely Whootie Stories to Grow By
Here are multicultural folktales, animal stories, adventures, fables and much more that have a moral or ethical point that prompt lots of discussion among young children.

Aesop's Fables
This is an online collection of Aesop's Fables transcribed (with a version rewritten into modern situations), and illustrated by University of Massachusetts students. It includes over 650 entries.

PBS's Adventures From the Book of Virtues
At this kid-friendly Public Broadcasting site, children join Annie and Zach on their adventures through the book of virtues.

In addition to the above online resources, one of the best social studies applications of character education uses content from the popular Cobblestone Magazine. Readings and Activities for Character Education by former California Department of Education History-Social Science lead Diane Brooks, devotes a chapter each to seven character traits: caring, civic virtue and citizenship, honesty, justice and fairness, respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness. It includes character-related historical and biographical articles from Cobblestone with teacher support and student activities.

Another important way to learn about character and to see the consequences of behavior is through the study and discussion of biography. Your library shelves are full of printed options. For ideas check the books listed in the databases for Pages of the Past: History/Social Science Literature K-6 http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/litsearch.html or Tales of Time: History/Social Science Literature 6-8 http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/litsearch_middle_school.html.
There are also biographical websites that offer more limited but interesting information about people.

Academy of Achievement
This site not only has a huge catalog of biographies of people from the arts, science, business, sports, and public service it has examples in each of the characteristics that they identify as essential for success: passion, vision, courage, preparation, perseverance and integrity.

A & E’s Biography
This site has a huge database of short biographies on people both historical and contemporary. There is heavy emphasis on film, music, and television personalities.

My Hero
Discover real life heroes from around the world and explore the characteristics of a person who has been or is respected and honored by others.

Founding Fathers
This site by the National Archives has biographies of each of the members of the U.S. Constitutional Convention.

POTUS: Presidents of the United States
This internet public library has brief biographies of each American president. The information is almanac style but the links to other resources make this the place to begin biographical research on a president.

Another important way to develop character in an educational setting is through service learning. Service learning not only connects to standards aligned content in civic education, it builds the key elements of good character including “trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, citizenship, civic virtue, honesty, and personal responsibility.” If done with an eye to public policy and how it is developed, service learning can build the other elements of character education called for by the California Board of Education including the principles of “truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship.” The following websites offer guidance and ideas for service learning.

We the People Project Citizen
We the People: Project Citizen is a curricular program for middle grade students that promotes competent and responsible participation in local and state government. The program helps young people learn how to monitor and influence public policy. In the process, they develop support for democratic values and principles, tolerance, and feelings of political efficacy. Entire classes of students or members of youth organizations work cooperatively to identify a public policy problem in their community. They then research the problem, evaluate alternative solutions, develop their own solution in the form of a public policy, and create a political action plan to enlist local or state authorities to adopt their proposed policy.

Make a Difference Day
Make A Difference Day inspires and rewards volunteers. A national day of helping others -- a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors. Everyone who helps others on October 25, 2003 and sends in an entry form is eligible for a national or local award and for a cash donation to a charitable cause.

Cesar Chavez Day of Service and Learning Toolkits
The Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism features three Cesar Chavez Day of Service and Learning toolkits. Developed by the Volunteer Center of Orange County in conjunction with GO SERV and the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation, these toolkits will provide three service-learning activities for Cesar Chavez Day of Service and Learning on March 31.

Toolkit One: The Cesar Chavez Gleaning Project
In this hands-on project, children learn about migrant farm workers in addition to actually harvesting produce from fields. Children pick the produce for local food banks, which distribute the food to needy families.
Toolkit Two: Cesar Chavez – Individual Action: Clothes for Kids Project
Students write letters to local public schools, soliciting them for unclaimed, lost and found clothing. The students arrange to pick up the clothing, launder it, and distribute it at local homeless shelters.
Toolkit Three: The Cesar Chavez Community Service Fair
This project provides information on how to develop a Cesar Chavez Community Service Fair. Students work to involve organizations to represent the ten Cesar Chavez values. For example, the American Red Cross might represent the value of “determination,” and bring supplies for assembling emergency aid kits.

SCORE H-SS wishes you much success in implementing an effective character education program. If you find other useful resources, please submit them to me at the e-mail address below.

Margaret ‘Peg’ Hill, Ph.D.
Director, SCORE History-Social Science
San Bernardino County Supt. of Schools
601 North E Street
San Bernardino, CA 92410