Dr. Peter R. Greer, former headmaster of Montclair Kimberly Academy (NJ) and member of CEP’s Blue Ribbon Panel, adds to the dialogue on integrating character education into the curriculum. He is the author of “Character Education on the Cheap”  [http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2007/11/14/12greer.h27.html.]

I agree with Dr. Berkowitz and Mrs. Stoodley (and they with Aristotle) that merely having intellectual discussions (theoretical wisdom; the head) about the virtues/character/values is merely “half a loaf,” BUT IT IS HALF THE LOAF!  The other half loaf is practicing good habits (practical wisdom; the hand).  Constant activities (the hand) without the theoretical background (the head) do not make for student retention, the formation of good habits, etc.  

How can you have a social climate of respect if you have not discussed/reflected on what the virtue of respect is and then attempted to form good habits regarding that virtue — stumbling at times, but working toward the “aim” of respecting others and yourself?  What is conflict resolution without an understanding and practicing of the virtues of courage, self-control, justice, wisdom, and respect and responsibility?  How serious are classroom discussions and school projects when students study one virtue/value a month — never suspecting that in a single situation, one might be forced to see injustice and practice courage and responsibility to the best of one’s abilities and with the right intent?

Character education comes from teacher exemplars; character education comes from discussions/reflections within academic areas; character education comes from activities — the wisdom from doing those activities.  I think I understand Dr. Berkowitz’ idea when he says that “…it is more about the pedagogy than the content.”  But, how can you not teach the content of the virtues/values — at the same time you are empowering students to choose a service learning project; at the same time you are using cooperative learning (not merely a technique, but an opportunity to understand better the fundamental trait of “taking others seriously as persons — and yourself seriously”; at the same time you are connecting (relevance) with the students?

The content of the virtues/values (I like virtues and I like what Kevin Ryan says about the difference) is more than a booster shot or turbo-charge, the content is half the loaf.  You wouldn’t know that reading the school applications.  The loaf is 1/2 SEL and 1/2 strategies and activities.

I would like to hear more about why Dr. Berkowitz says that integration into the curriculum in prepared lessons is vastly overrated; what he means by “a novice school” (no in-service? no character curriculum or plan? no attention to the 11 Principles?).

I would suggest that the very fact that schools and other character groups do little to nothing to help teachers feel competent and confident about what the virtues (values) actually mean is a poor foundation for constantly and spontaneously addressing character in academic lessons (unless it is the value /Pillar of the month variety — whereby activities, not serious theoretical knowledge, reflection, and action are the norm).  

I would suggest that integration of character education in the daily curriculum and school life is currently more of a goal than a reality.