“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Character is a set of personal traits that produce specific moral emotions, inform motivation and guide conduct. Character education is an umbrella term for all the explicit and implicit educational activities that help individuals develop positive strengths called virtues.
In order for individuals to flourish they need to demonstrate self-confidence, perseverance, resilience, courage, honesty, humour, optimism, trust, loyalty, integrity, enterprise… the list goes on. However, we must steer clear of the idea that these characteristics are assumed by genetic transfer or some form of osmosis, they are not. They must be consistently taught, modelled and encouraged.
Character education is about helping individuals grasp what is ethically important in situations and how to act for the right reasons, so that they become more autonomous and reflective. In this process, the ultimate aim of character education is the development of good sense or practical wisdom; the capacity to choose intelligently between alternatives.
In these terms, it is clear to see how character education underpins raising aspiration, promoting achievement and increasing happiness for all.
In 2003, a study of more than 600 California State schools found a distinct correlation between the strength of the character education that a school offered and its academic scores.
In 2008, a study published in School Psychology Quarterly reported that social-emotional competence, which is closely related to character education, strongly influenced the academic skills of almost 300 third-grade students that were included in the study.
More significantly, a recent meta-analysis of over two hundred different studies has found that character education truly does have a positive effect on academic achievement, increasing test scores by between 11 and 17 percentage points.