Character education: environment, empathy and failure (1 of 4)


SecEd recently published a piece on Character Education I'd written while I was still Education Manager at Keep Britain Tidy. It is quite long, so I've split it into four parts to post here. You can read it in full over on Sec-Ed. This is part one of four. 

The fact that “character” is now something that needs to be “taught” tells its own story about the modern world. I assume the powers that be feel there is not enough of it; individuals are letting themselves and the country down due to their lack of character or, worse still, bad character.

The rhetoric tells us that our children are not resilient enough, they are not kind enough, they are not creative, collaborative or critical thinkers, they do not persevere, they lack grit.

Could this be true? We are products of the environments we live in – so are our environments not producing character, at least not in the volumes deemed necessary?

School is an environment that has always had an influence on the character of children. As conditions in the wider environment become less conducive, the need for character to be developed in the classroom has grown; at least in the eyes of a slightly desperate government.

Rather than playing a part role in the character development of children, schools are now incentivised and encouraged to take significant responsibility for doing this – it is being loaded onto them. This presents a huge challenge for teachers. Schools must instil character in spite of prevailing social and cultural conditions, rather than in harmony with them; but this does also present an opportunity.

As teachers search around for an appropriate response, prescribed programmes and projects are emerging and being bought into.

They invariably promise to instil a set of qualities that will aid attainment and employability. Some come with a whiff of the artificial, a sort of intravenous injection of character. Others seem more natural, designed to nurture a school environment and culture from which character might develop organically.

So as you reflect on how your school and your teaching develops character, here are some ways to think about this important element of education:

Shape the environment, not the individual (part 2 of 4)
From setbacks to success (part 3 of 4)
Nurture empathy (part 4 of 4)

Morgan Phillips