- LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0052
- LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0052
The story of character education is a complex one, deeply involved with the intellectual, cultural, and institutional narratives of particular historical contexts. Some argue character does not exist; others claim character is (or should be) the cardinal concern of central societal institutions such as schooling. In general, character education or moral education is a field of endeavor that attempts to produce the kinds of persons who pursue the goods toward which a culture is directed. Character education broadly defined can claim a long history, beginning perhaps in ancient Greece some 2,800 years ago when middling farmers took responsibility for handing down—through hard work and freedom—a cultivated piece of private property to their next generations and fostered a culture from which arose a polis dedicated to the flourishing of as many citizens as possible. Character is a Greek word connoting features deeply etched. Though character has usually been considered to be more social in its constitution—reflecting the ideas, institutions, and individuals who constitute a moral culture—it has in modernity come to be considered as almost exclusively psychological in nature, reflecting the personal choices, brain functioning, preferences, and/or “values” of autonomous individuals. However, one cannot separate philosophical anthropology or epistemology from character formation. Acknowledged or not, such assumptions define the ends toward which character education is aimed. What are goods one ought to pursue with one’s life? How can one be worthy of such goods? Why are others worth treating with respect in a society? Answering these questions with educational efforts is problematized by the shifting sources of character—formerly religious texts, commonly revered stories, symbols, practices and ideas—no longer shared in societies within which relations are made increasingly complex by the interaction of multiple cultures. Many character curricula exist today, taking such diverse approaches as the instilling of moral habits, learning of decision-making techniques, practice of service, creation of caring communities, clarification of one’s values, inculcation through public policy fiat, reading of religious texts and catechisms, exercise of social democratic practices and the like. This sprawling field will surely continue to grow. The integration of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience have yet to deeply exert influence. Similarly, globalization is leading to cosmopolitan ideas of character and citizenship that are relatively recent avenues of exploration, and countries continue to wrestle with how to educate for character within increasingly multicultural societies where moral education is contested.
Overviews of character education vary widely in their scope and perspective. Three encyclopedia articles offer short summaries: Ryan 2002 is more inclusive than Hotter and Narvaez 2009, while Huitt and Vessels 2003 is more expansive historically. The book-length Arthur 2003 is more comprehensive with reference to geography and academic disciplines. Many emphasize thoroughly psychological approaches to character education, and Peterson and Seligman 2004 complement the deficit-focused model with positive psychology. Doris 2002 argues against the existence of character altogether while situating the polemic in the context of moral psychology. Offering a strong critique of psychological approaches, Hunter 2000 articulates an interdisciplinary perspective on the cultural conditions necessary to foster good character: particularity that fosters discipline, attachment and autonomy. The ideas and practices summarized here occur in a long intellectual history and are especially influenced by modern and late modern notions of identity, which Taylor 1989 masterfully explores.
Arthur, James. 2003. Education with character: The moral economy of schooling. London and New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
The leading British character education researcher provides nearly comprehensive background and history of character education in primary and secondary schooling: excellent introductory resource that offers much bibliography for the reader’s deeper research.
Doris, John M. 2002. Lack of character: Personality and moral behavior. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Overview of moral psychology and character in a book that argues that character relies on a conception, “globalism,” that entails untenable arguments, Doris contends, regarding consistency of behavior, stability of traits and evaluative integration that would make one trait predictive of similar ones. Hence character does not exist.
Hotter, Anthony C., and Darcia Narvaez. 2009. Moral development and education. In Encyclopedia of the life course and human development. Vol. 1. Edited by Deborah Carr, 312–316. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.
Provides a brief overview; emphasis is mostly on developmental psychological approaches to character, especially Piaget, Kohlberg, and their intellectual descendants.
Huitt, William G., and Gordon G. Vessels. 2003. Character development. In Encyclopedia of education. 2d ed. Vol. 1. Edited by James W. Guthrie, 259–263. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
Brief overview of character education, including history (from 1640), current curricula, and outlook for character in schools.
Hunter, James Davison. 2000. The death of character: Moral education in an age without good and evil. New York: Basic Books.
Gives a thorough overview of the dominant approaches to character education and notes their aims, pedagogies, and results. The book also very helpfully articulates the often inexplicit philosophical and sociological underpinnings of modern and late-modern character education.
Peterson, Christopher, and Martin E. P. Seligman. 2004. Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
A taxonomy of traditional and progressive strengths and/or virtues in six groups: wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Working within the framework of positive psychology, scholars chose twenty-five separate strengths and summarized consensual definitions, research, bibliographies, and developmental techniques for each.
Ryan, Kevin. 2002. Moral education. In Encyclopedia of education. 2d ed. Vol. 5. Edited by James W. Guthrie, 1683–1688. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
One of the foremost researchers in the field gives a concise history of moral and character education, explains a few of the approaches (infusionist, service learning, value of the month), notes concern about the influence of religion but the hope, in his view, that “character” offers over “moral” to overcome such worries.
Taylor, Charles. 1989. Sources of the self: The making of modern identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.
Breathtaking in its scope and range, the book traces changes in human identity from “porous selves” to “buffered selves” detached from the world through instrumental reason, developing toward exclusive humanism; Taylor highlights the accompanying stances toward the self that set the stage for contemporary character education approaches.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Academic Achievement
- Academic Audit for Universities
- Academic Freedom and Tenure in the United States
- Action Research in Education
- Adjuncts in Higher Education in the United States
- Administrator Preparation
- Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Courses
- African American Racial Identity and Learning
- Alternative Schools
- American Indian Education
- Art Education
- Assessing School Leader Effectiveness
- Assessment, Behavioral
- Assessment, Educational
- Assessment in Early Childhood Education
- Athletics, College
- Beginning-Teacher Induction
- Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
- Blended Learning
- Case Study in Education Research
- Changing Professional and Academic Identities
- Character Education
- Children’s and Young Adult Literature
- Children's Beliefs about Intelligence
- Children's Rights in Early Childhood Education
- Classroom Management
- College Admissions in the United States
- Community Relations
- Comparative Education
- Computer-Based Testing
- Counseling in Schools
- Critical Race Theory
- Crossborder and Transnational Higher Education
- Culturally Responsive Leadership
- Culturally Responsive Pedagogies
- Culturally Responsive Teacher Education in the United Stat...
- Curriculum Design
- Data Collection in Educational Research
- Data-driven Decision Making in the United States
- Deaf Education
- Desegregation and Integration
- Development, Moral
- Digital Age Teacher, The
- Distance Learning
- Distributed Leadership
- Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in Denmark
- Early Childhood Education and Development in Mexico
- Early Childhood Education in Australia
- Early Childhood Education in China
- Early Childhood Education in Europe
- Early Childhood Education in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Early Childhood Education in Sweden
- Early Childhood Education Pedagogy
- Early Childhood Education Policy
- Early Childhood Education, The Arts in
- Early Childhood Mathematics
- Early Childhood Teacher Education
- Early Childhood Teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand
- Early Years Professionalism and Professionalization Polici...
- Economics of Education
- Education For Children with Autism
- Education Leadership, Empirical Perspectives in
- Education Reform and School Change
- Educational Statistics for Longitudinal Research
- Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
- Epistemic Beliefs
- Ethics and Education
- Ethics of Teaching
- Ethnic Studies
- Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention
- Family and Community Partnerships in Education
- Family Day Care
- Federal Government Programs and Issues
- Finance, Education
- Financial Aid
- Formative Assessment
- Gender and Achievement
- Gifted Education
- Global Mindedness and Global Citizenship Education
- Global University Rankings
- Governance, Education
- Grounded Theory
- Higher Education and Globalization
- Higher Education and the Developing World
- Higher Education Governance
- Higher Education in China
- Higher Education in the United States, Historical Evolutio...
- Higher Education, International Issues in
- Higher Education Policy
- Higher Education Research
- Higher Education Student Assessment
- High-stakes Testing
- History of Education in the United States
- Inclusive Education
- Indigenous Education in a Global Context
- Inservice Teacher Education
- Integrating Art across the Curriculum
- Intensive Interventions for Children and Adolescents with ...
- Intersectionality and Education
- Knowledge Development in Early Childhood
- Leadership Development, Coaching and Feedback for
- Leadership Training
- Learning Difficulties
- Learning, Lifelong
- Learning, Multimedia
- Legal Matters and Education Law
- LGBT Youth in Schools
- Linguistic Diversity
- Linguistically Inclusive Pedagogy
- Literacy Development and Language Acquisition
- Literacy, Multiple Documents
- Literature Reviews
- Mathematics Instruction and Interventions for Students wit...
- Mathematics Teacher Education
- Measurement in Education in the United States
- Meta-Analysis and Research Synthesis in Education
- Methodologies for Conducting Education Research
- Mindfulness, Learning, and Education
- Mixed Methods Research
- Multivariate Research Methodology
- Museums, Education, and Curriculum
- Music Education
- Narrative Research in Education
- Numeracy Education
- Online Education
- Pedagogy of Teacher Education, A
- Performance Objectives and Measurement
- Performance-based Research Assessment in Higher Education
- Performance-based Research Funding
- Phenomenology in Educational Research
- Philosophy of Education
- Physical Education
- Politics of Education
- Portable Technology for Special Education
- Pre-Service Teacher Education
- Problem Solving
- Professional Development
- Professional Learning Communities
- Program Evaluation
- Programs and Services for Students with Emotional or Behav...
- Psychology Learning and Teaching
- Psychometric Issues in the Assessment of English Language ...
- Qualitative Data Analysis Techniques
- Qualitative Research Design
- Quantitative Research Designs in Educational Research
- Race and Affirmative Action in Higher Education
- Reading Education
- Refugee and New Immigrant Learners
- Religion in Elementary and Secondary Education in the Unit...
- Researcher Development and Skills Training within the Cont...
- Response to Intervention
- Restorative Practices
- School Accreditation
- School Choice
- School Culture
- School Improvement through Inclusive Education
- School Reform
- Schools, Private and Independent
- School-Wide Positive Behavior Support
- Science Education
- Secondary to Postsecondary Transition Issues
- Self-Regulated Learning
- Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices
- Severe Disabilities
- Single Salary Schedule
- Single-sex Education
- Single-Subject Research Design
- Social Context of Education
- Social Justice
- Social Network Analysis
- Social Pedagogy
- Social Science and Education Research
- Social Studies Education
- Sociology of Education
- Statistical Assumptions
- Student Assignment Policy
- Student Engagement in Tertiary Education
- Student Participation
- Student Voice in Teacher Development
- Teacher Evaluation and Teacher Effectiveness
- Teacher Preparation
- Teacher Training and Development
- Teacher Unions and Associations
- Teaching Critical Thinking
- Technology Education in Early Childhood
- Technology, Educational
- The Bologna Process
- The Regulation of Standards in Higher Education
- Theories of Educational Leadership
- Tracking and Detracking
- Transitions in Early Childhood Education
- University Faculty Roles and Responsibilities in the Unite...
- Vocational and Technical Education
- Women's and Gender Studies