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Bringing in a New Era in Character Education

reviewed by Amy Westby - 2003

coverTitle: Bringing in a New Era in Character Education
Author(s): William Damon (Editor)
Publisher: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford
ISBN: 0817929622, Pages: 194, Year: 2002
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As the nation is faced with an increasing number of ethical and moral decisions, the call for character education in our nation’s schools instilling or reinforcing values in our children is still evident.  In the last decade, increasingly recognizing the values and norms that unite us and distressed by the increasing rate of violence, adolescent suicide, teen pregnancy, cheating scandals, and other social ills confronting American youth, educators are reawakening to what historically has been one of their most essential tasks: assisting in the character and social development of the children entrusted to them.  Conspicuously neglected in this resurgence of character education, however, is the attendant preparation of teachers in our nation’s schools.  Few new teachers are prepared to complement their work to develop children academically with the need to address their character formation, citizenship preparation, and social development.


How well are teachers prepared for this important task?  The book, Bringing in a New Era in Character Education, is written to provide some practical insights on how to bring about an effective character education program.  Throughout the book, contributing authors provide insight and suggestions as an entry point for integrating character education more deliberately into the school curriculum.  Most importantly, the authors offer articulation of the objectives of a character education program and draw conclusions to show the importance of re-establishing student morality and character development.


The book begins by addressing the need to bridge the age-old problem of  “whose values anyway?” For years, the character education field has been plagued by excess terminology and division; it has become almost impossible to sift through the jargon, much less impact student lives.  Several authors attempt to address this problem by challenging readers to focus less on the terminology and more on the pedagogy that truly impacts and inspires young people to act morally. Marvin W. Berkowitz puts this idea simply in saying “when and if the dust settles, it should be clear that the bottom line of character education is not philosophical distinctions, pedagogical ideologies, politics, or other conceptual disagreements.  Rather, it is the development of children” (p. 44).  Sometimes, throughout the book, however, these ideas can lose the reader by focusing too much attention on the philosophical and jargon laden arguments.  These viewpoints, without explanation within a comprehensive framework can inflict great damage on the character education movement and are not practical for the everyday educator. 


On the other hand, several authors in the book provide a less philosophical view of the new standards for character education and instead, give practical suggestions for schools and practitioners who are focused on the moral development of children.  The moral development of kids, what works in schools, and parenting approaches are addressed in several articles.  Christina Hoff Summers’ article, “How Moral Education is Finding Its Way Back Into America’s School” provides a thorough overview of the history of character education and the various stages that the movement itself has gone through, ultimately showcasing the important need to keep character education at the forefront of education reform.  Several other authors addressed the new change in character education by discussing democratic communities and changes that need to occur at the higher education levels.  In order for true change to occur at the younger levels, these authors endorse the great need for colleges and universities to create a solid, integrated curriculum that aims at producing effective, moral citizens.  “It is now time to redefine this earlier vision in a contemporary framework and hold colleges and universities accountable for a fuller conception of the educated person” (p. 171).  Without the help of colleges and universities changing their pedagogy and strengthening their teacher education programs, the moral development of children and young people becomes increasingly difficult, and character education programs will continue to flounder (p. 130).


The aim of this book is to provide examples and strategies for schools and parents to keep character education an effective, enduring part of our educational agenda.  The most effective pieces from the book showcase effective and comprehensive designs for schools to follow that go beyond the philosophical and delve into the practical.  For those interested in reading about the differences in character education, the role of character education in today’s schools, and several key practices for effective implementation, this book is a good read.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 4, 2003, p. 630-632
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11006, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 11:02:46 AM

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About the Author
  • Amy Westby
    Character Education Partnership
    E-mail Author
    AMY WESTBY is a program director at the Character Education Partnership, Washington, DC.
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