What's Happening in Character Education?

Marvin Berkowitz

Recent Posts

Leaving Your Ex(trinsics)

Posted by Marvin Berkowitz on Thu, Nov 10, 2016 @ 09:11 AM


“Leaving Your Ex(trinsics)” is the title of Chapter 6 in my book You Can’t Teach Through a Rat, and the one I most frequently recommend to educators, because the issue of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation seems the most nagging and intractable issue that educators in general and character educators in particular struggle with.  There are multiple reasons to struggle with this issue.  On the positive side: (1) it is the point of Character.org’s 7th principle in their 11 Principles of Effective Character Education (which is used to evaluate schools nationally for excellence in character education, namely Schools of Character); (2) it is after all the point of character education; that is, getting kids to internalize core values so they become part of who they are and take them wherever they go in life; and (3) it works.

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Topics: intrinsic motivation

My Son is Not My Dog

Posted by Marvin Berkowitz on Tue, Nov 24, 2015 @ 08:11 AM

By Marvin Berkowitz, Ph.D.

It was early in my career when I first had to confront the idea of how we think about kids. As an undergraduate at the University of Buffalo over 40 years ago, I took Willis Overton’s developmental psychology class, which focused on a chapter he was writing with Hayne Reese on what they called “models of man.” It essentially explored the assumptions about fundamental human nature implicit in the leading psychological theories of the day. And it starkly contrasted a behaviorist (mechanistic) approach from a constructivist (organismic) approach. The former sees the person as a recipient of external inputs (experience) that accrue molecularly. People are not initiators of interactions nor interpreters of experience, merely the passive recipients of and responders to what the world does to us. And development happens smoothly as these bits of experience add up, much like the formation of a stalactite in a cave. It is largely a mechanical cause and effect process. The great thinkers in this tradition are B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov.

Quite differently, the constructivist approach sees the child as an innate meaning maker. Even the newborn infant interprets experience. And initiates interactions with the world simply to help make sense of it. We develop not in straight lines but in spurts and steps and in stages that may be more different in kind than in amount. We are innate scientists trying to make sense of a complex world. The great thinker in this tradition is Jean Piaget.

So which are we? What is our true nature?

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Topics: intrinsic motivation, PBIS

You Got A Case

Posted by Marvin Berkowitz on Tue, Jan 3, 2012 @ 16:01 PM

by Marvin Berkowitz, of the University of Missouri's Center for Character & Citizenship

I was recently asked how to convince people that character education actually works. The cynicism, skepticism, and conservativism out there often astounds me. Amy Johnston, the award-winning principal of 2008 National School of Character Francis Howell Middle School (St. Charles, MO), expresses the same frustration.

As the character education pioneer in her district, she often presents a comparison of her school’s academic and character data as compared with the other four middle schools in her district. Even early in her character education journey, she started to see her school pull away from the other four in both areas.

When other educators noticed the results she was getting, they began to ask for her secrets. She answered “character education.” To which they typically replied “No. Really. What did it?” So she would explain how she used character education to rethink and reform her school and would describe the specific initiatives she enacted, like looped, multi-aged “homerooms” and a collaboratively-generated set of four core values with a corresponding rubric crafted in part by students. And they would shake their heads and walk away seemingly disappointed. So she laments “they see the data, I tell them what we did, and they don’t believe it. What more can I do?”

Amy’s frustration mirrors the frustration of many educators who believe in character education and base their beliefs on hard data. I hear all too often that “there is no research on character education.” Well that is patently inaccurate.

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Topics: CEPLeaders, Character Education News, Forum Speakers, what works in education