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How do children learn values and good habits?
While parents have the primary role in character development with respect to their children, schools, too, play an essential role.
The concept of values and habits tends to be collected under the broad umbrella of "character education." The term can refer to a host of values and attitudes: respect, trust, honesty, concern for the welfare of others, standing up for moral principles, responsibility, and the desire to do one’s best. Schools with a religious mission include additional values aligned with a belief system.
Many schools address character education as a part of their way of doing things rather than as a separate subject. A science teacher, for example, can stress the importance of precision and truth when reporting data. A language arts instructor can examine racism by assigning students to read a novel such as To Kill a Mockingbird.
For many students, the experiences they have in sports are thick with life lessons. They experience victory and defeat, the following and breaking of rules, aggression, bruises, and more. These lessons aren't always good ones, and a lot depends on the culture of the competition. The Positive Coaching Alliance, a California-based non-profit organization, trains parents and coaches to help maximize the good stuff and train away the bad stuff.
Character education programs have had a measurable effect on reducing substance abuse, violence, and pregnancy
Research has indicated that a comprehensive program of character education can contribute to results beyond the general development of good character. The evidence shows that these programs connect strongly with important measurable outcomes such as reduced rates of substance abuse, violence, and pregnancy. The Character Education Partnership has identified eleven principles of effective character education and created a scoresheet to help school groups reflect on their approach. (The Center for the 4th and 5th Rs has them beat by one, with twelve principles.) Education writer Alfie Kohn, while supportive of the aims of these programs, views them as "tantamount to indoctrination" and offers his own prescription.
Many elementary school report cards include elements that allow teachers to communicate with parents about their child's progress in "soft skills" that relate to the development of their character; perhaps something is lost in the more cut-and-dried letter grade evaluations that generally take center stage in middle school and high school.
Character education is not part of Common Core. But it's important anyway.
A number of curriculum and intervention programs start from the premise that students need to be taught strategies for dealing with conflict. For example, restorative justice empowers students to show respect for others, take responsibility for their actions, and create positive relationships with their peers. Another model, Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, calls for school faculty and staff to actively teach, model, and reward positive behaviors such as academic achievement, following adult requests, and engaging in safe behavior.
It too often goes without saying that good study habits in school form the basis for work habits that lead to success as an adult. Basic principles that can be used to enhance study skills include: make doing homework a positive experience; make homework a high priority; use homework to teach organization and planning skills; and set expectations for homework. Other desirable academic behaviors -- like going to class, arriving ready to learn, and actively participating in class -- also lead to better academic performance.
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