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The Case for Character Education: A Developmental Approach

reviewed by Darcia Narvaez - November 05, 2009

coverTitle: The Case for Character Education: A Developmental Approach
Author(s): Alan L. Lockwood
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807749230, Pages: 128, Year: 2008
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Alan Lockwood’s new book seeks to revamp character education as a valid approach to developing moral character in schools. He provides both a review and critique of two approaches to moral character education, values clarification and character education, and suggests improvements by integrating approaches from the past, Kohlberg’s moral reasoning development and Erikson’s identity development.  Although the book offers some helpful suggestions for converting character education into a more solid approach for forming moral character, Lockwood does not take advantage of more recent theory and empirical evidence that offer rich sources for the transformation of character education.

Lockwood promotes character education first by comparing and contrasting it with values clarification for which he provides an excellent summary. In both cases, he grounds his review in original sources, staying primarily with traditional character educators Wynne and Ryan (1993) and early Lickona (1991) and with the originators of values clarification (Raths, Harmon & Simon, 1976). Both values clarification and character education assume that a lack of values leads to poor outcomes. Values clarification teaches a seven-step process for formulating one’s own values whereas character education conveys a particular set of core values, avoiding the ethical relativism of value preferences.

Lockwood offers a deeper critique of traditional character education in preparation for the recommendations for change that he provides later. Criticisms have included the emphasis on personal responsibility without attending to social, political, or economic factors; the assertion that there is a consensus on values; and the belief that particular values will solve social problems or lead to desirable actions. His list of critiques is neither thorough nor inclusive of the most devastating critiques. Some of the best critiques against character education include an emphasis on unreflective development of habits and prioritization of values that makes adults happy—obedience and honesty. Another devastating critique of character education aims at the pedagogy often prescribed by traditional character educators, often called “receptive-accrual” (Anderson, 1989), that treats students like sponges who absorb the exhortations and knowledge of their teachers. Cognitive developmental science has dismantled this approach to learning (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 1999), even though adults often succumb to the belief that it works.

After his review of weaknesses in character education approaches, Lockwood makes recommendations to its proponents for how to respond to the critiques. Unfortunately, many of his suggestions are about public relations (say this, explain that) rather than advocating true reform based on sound theory or empirical evidence. In terms of instructional change, he advocates incorporating Kohlberg’s approach to moral development through moral dilemma discussion (Lickona has long advocated this; 1991). Although this is a good idea for developing moral reasoning capacities, reasoning is only one of multiple skills that need to be practiced for moral functioning. Other skills include those of ethical sensitivity, ethical focus, and ethical action (Narvaez & Rest, 1995). He ignores the “just community” approach Kohlberg and colleagues created which takes into account these other skills, emphasizing the development of community and a moral atmosphere (Power, Higgins & Kohlberg, 1989). He also advocates incorporating an awareness of Erikson’s identity statuses and their development as a way to be sensitive to adolescent character development (an emphasis he says is lacking in traditional character education). His other recommendations for instruction include defining values and identifying value issues through journals and role playing.  Although these suggestions may be good ones, they are rather lightweight.

Overall, Lockwood offers some good suggestions but does not go far enough. First, in a gross oversight he misses completely the hybrid and premier approach to moral character education, the Child Development Project (CDP), which was set up to “provide a set of consistent and mutually reinforcing school and home experiences that would positively influence children’s general prosocial tendencies” (Battistich, 2008, p. 328). Based on empirical science and showing valuable results, CDP emphasized cooperative learning and games, routine classroom helping, positive modeling, role playing and other activities to enhance interpersonal understanding, positive or developmental discipline (Watson, 2008).

Second, there is much more we know now that can transform moral character education. One wishes he would have taken notice of new theory and new understanding of moral functioning and the more recent publications that review these (e.g., Lapsley & Narvaez, 2006). For example, some aspects missing from the discussion include the classroom and school climate, teacher-student relationships, student self-authorship, local community support, service learning, social and emotional learning, and specific skill development. These are some of the topics addressed by specialists who summarize their work in the Handbook of Moral and Character Education (Nucci & Narvaez, 2008).

Although Alan Lockwood’s book provides a tantalizing tale of character education gone awry and its remedies, the book proves to be an appetizer instead of a full meal. There are more holistic and integrative approaches to moral character education that take the best of character education and integrate it with validated approaches, as in the Child Development Project (materials available through the Developmental Studies Center). The Integrative Ethical Education model (Narvaez, 2006; 2007; 2008) focuses on developing both intuition and deliberative understanding of situated virtue through expertise development. The framework includes a set of ethical skills that are fostered with novice-to-expert instruction, which requires both scaffolded guidance and immersion in experience (Narvaez, 2009; Narvaez & Bock, 2009; Narvaez & Endicott, 2009; Narvaez & Lies, 2009). For academics, it might be more worthwhile to spend time with the recent handbooks that address these topics such as the Handbook of Moral Development (Killen & Smetana, 2006) and the Handbook of Moral and Character Education (Nucci & Narvaez, 2008). For classroom educators, it might be more fruitful to read Lickona’s recent books, Good and Smart High Schools and Character Matters. These resources offer a more thorough review, critique, and transformation of approaches to moral character development based in empirical research.


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Narvaez, D. & Rest, J. (1995). The four components of acting morally.  In W. Kurtines & J. Gewirtz (Eds.), Moral behavior and moral development: An introduction (pp. 385-400). New York: McGraw-Hill.

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Raths, L., Harmin, M. & Simon, S. (1976). Selections from Values and teaching.  In D. Purpel & K. Ryan (Eds.), Moral education...it comes with the territory (pp. 75-115). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

Watson, M. (2008).  Developmental Discipline and Moral Education. In L.P. Nucci, & D. Narvaez (Eds.) Handbook of Moral and Character Education (pp. 175-203). New York: Routledge.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 05, 2009
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15821, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 12:02:34 AM

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About the Author
  • Darcia Narvaez
    University of Notre Dame
    E-mail Author
    DARCIA NARVAEZ is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Collaborative for Ethical Education at the University of Notre Dame. She has published over 80 articles, books and chapters in the areas of moral reasoning, development and education, including the award-winning books as well Postconventional Moral Thinking (1999), Moral development, Self, and Identity (2004), and the Handbook of Moral and Character Education (2008).
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