Greater Boston Education Reports

Character Education

Teacher and students at the Parlin School in Everett: And let's read "Character" together. "I would have all young persons taught to respect themselves, the citizenship, and rights of others and all sacred things. To be healthy, industrious ..."

John Carroll: The concept of character education is built into the Parlin School in Everett, where it's been the foundation of the curriculum since 1933, Principal William Harrington says.

William Harrington, Principal: Our philosophy is stated right out front and right out front students will be responsible for their own actions. In school, outside of school, responsibility for their appearance, for their homework, how they treat other people.

Student: What I chose for character is industrious. How I display character in my life is by working hard. I work hard by trying hard in school and to make my parents proud of me.

JC: Students in this English class at the Parlin School have character education integrated into their lessons every day. Seventh-grade English teacher Michelle Kelly says the positive effects of character ed are clearly visible.

Michelle Kelly, Teacher: When it's incorporated into my classroom and I remind them what it's like to be a good person to make the right decision, to be involved in the community you can see the children change and want to be a better person.

JC: Kelly says the cultural and media climate children face these days makes character education all the more necessary.

Michelle Kelly: When I graduated from college and did my student teaching they didn't have shows like South Park, the MTV video awards weren't as risqué as they are today, and I think a lot of times television is used as a babysitter for some children at home. So character education yes, definitely, needs to be incorporated into my lessons in order to improve that life.

JC: But some critics say that character education is just another name for teaching morality and has no business in a public-school curriculum. Janine Bempechat of the Harvard Graduate School of Education says in many cases the criticism is misguided.

Janine Bempechat: It is a realistic objection but I would urge critics to have a good look at exactly what it is schools are trying to communicate because I don't believe that it's morality the way we think of it.

JC: What does concern Bempechat, however, is making character education a separate part of the school curriculum.

Janine Bempechat: I think that whatever it is that we call character education should be integrated into the curriculum, should be part and parcel of what we teach children throughout the day and not a separate course.

JC: Parlin school principal Harrington says critics of character education are missing the point.

William Harrington:We're not moralizing, we're just stepping away from that and saying, if you really want to be a good person, here's the way you do it.