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Moral and Character Development . Gordon Vessels and William Huitt. Last revised: March 2005. Interest in Moral Character. 1600s to 1935—seen as central issues by parents, school, community 1935 to 1970—decline for a variety of complex reasons

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moral and character development

Moral and Character Development

Gordon Vessels and William Huitt

Last revised: March 2005

interest in moral character
Interest in Moral Character
  • 1600s to 1935—seen as central issues by parents, school, community
  • 1935 to 1970—decline for a variety of complex reasons
  • 1980s to present—renewed interest, often ranking ahead of academics
moral character defined
Moral Character Defined
  • Evaluative orientation that distinguishes good and bad and prescribes good
  • Sense of obligation toward standards of a social collective
  • Sense of responsibility for acting out of concern for others
  • Concern for the rights of others
  • Commitment to honesty in interpersonal relationships
  • State of mind that causes negative emotional reactions to immoral acts.

* Damon, W. (1988). Moral child: Nurturing children’s natural moral growth. New York: Free Press.

components of moral character
Components of Moral Character
  • Moral behavior (prosocial, sharing, donating to charity, telling the truth)
  • Moral values (believe in moral goods)
  • Moral emotion (guilt, empathy, compassion)
  • Moral reasoning (about right and wrong)
  • Moral identity (morality as an aspect self-image)
  • Moral personality (enduring tendency to act with honesty, altruism, responsibility
  • “Metamoral” characteristics meaning they make morality possible even though they are not inherently moral

Berkowitz, M. (2002). The science ofcharacter education. In W. Damon (Ed.), Bringing in a new era in character education (43-63). Stanford, CA: Hoover Institute Press.

model of moral character

Moral Identity










Moral Identity

Moral Identity




Model of Moral Character
theories of moral character development
Theories of Moral Character Development
  • External/Social (behaviorists and sociologists): view morality as a product of external imposition in the form of consequences and/or the intentional transmission of social rules and norms;
  • Internal (nativists and sociobiologists): focus on genetic and maturational influences;
  • Interactional
    • Instinctual--psychoanalytic, psychosocial, and socio-analytic theories that view human nature as instinctual, undeveloped, and in need of control or socialization;
    • Maturational--cognitive- and affective-developmental theories and social-learning theories that view human nature as good;
  • Personality/Identity: includes theories that find virtue rooted in personality and personal identity.

Impacting Moral Character

  • Attempt to impact both individual and context
  • Individual
    • Knowledge and reasoning
    • Empathy and values
    • Intentions, commitments and choices
    • Behavior

Impacting Moral Character

  • Attempt to impact both individual and context
  • Context
    • Classroom, school, family, community
    • Caring, compassionate, empathetic environment
    • Strong, intimate relationships with others

Impacting Moral Character

  • Any effort works best when implemented at the school level
  • General approaches
    • Character Quotes—thought of the day
    • Virtue, Value of the Week or Month
    • Lesson plans with embedded moral character issues
    • Modify lesson format to emphasize selected virtues, values, or attributes
    • Service learning
selecting values virtues attributes
Selecting Values, Virtues & Attributes
  • Have parents and teachers (and possibly students) complete survey
    • valuessurvey2.doc
  • Select 3 to 5 on which to focus

Thought For The Day

Read a quotation and reflect on it in terms of

  • What does it mean (what is the main concept or principle)?
  • Why is this concept or principle important?
  • How would this concept or principle be implemented (how would it impact behavior)?
  • How will you know if you have been successful or unsuccessful in implementing the concept or principle?

Thought For The Day

Sources of quotations


Thought For The Day

  • The respect for the rights of others is peace.
    • Benito Juárez (President of Mexico)
  • You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.
    • Abraham Lincoln (U. S. President)
  • A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.
    • Nelson Mandela (South African Prime Minister)

Embedding Character In Academic Lessons

  • Georgia Learning Connections
  • Becoming A Brilliant Star
    • Character/chared_index.html
  • Character Education (Jerrie Cheek, KSU)
    • chared.htm

Modify Lesson Plan Format

  • Bernstein’s Artful Learning
  • Active Learning Practices for Schools
  • 4MAT

Service Learning

  • Process whereby students learn and develop academic and social skills as well as moral character through active participation in organized service experiences that actually meet community needs*
  • Learn and Serve provides resource to implement service learning projects

* Champion, F. (1999). Service learning. Educational Psychology Interactive.Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved May 2004, from


Service Learning

Essential phases

  • Preparation
    • Assess community needs
    • Identify academic and character objectives
  • Action
    • Develop academic and character skills
    • Implement service learning program
  • Reflection
    • Done continuously throughout program both independently (thinking, writing) and in groups (discussing, presenting)
    • Students must be involved in assessment and evaluation
  • Demonstration/recognition
    • Share learning with others
    • Receive recognition from other students, teachers, parents and community

* Burns, L. (1998). Make sure it's service learning, not just community service. Education Digest, 64(2), 38-41.


Service Learning

Definition of Community

  • In early childhood and early elementary, community may be classroom or family
  • In later elementary, community could additionally be school or neighborhood
  • In middle and high school, can expand notion of community to city, state, world

Increased Responsibility

  • Moves from adult to student as child becomes a pre-youth and then a youth

Principles of Effective Character Education*

  • Promote core ethical values as the basis of good character.
  • Define character comprehensively to include thinking, feeling, and behavior.
  • Use a comprehensive, intentional, proactive, and effective approach to character development.
  • Create a caring school community.
  • Provide students opportunities for moral action.

* Lickona, T., Schaps, E., & Lewis, C. (2000). Eleven principles of effective character education. Washington, DC: Character Education Partnership (CEP). Retrieved May 2004, from


Principles of Effective Character Education*

  • Have meaningful and challenging academic curricula that respects learners, develops moral character, and helps them to succeed.
  • Develop students’ intrinsic motivation.
  • Have educational professionals who exemplify core values and maintain a moral community.
  • Foster shared moral leadership for educators and students.
  • Engage parents and community members as full partners.
  • Evaluate school character, student character, and adults as character educators.