The ultimate goal of all education is character. Every detail of school experience makes a contribution, for good or ill, to the character and personality of each pupil. Since the development of character is part of all education it should be the first consideration of every teacher. Moral education cannot be fully successful if it is thought of as a subject to be taught within specified periods of the timetable. It should rather be a pervading emphasis throughout all the life and work of the school. Even though not always expressed to the pupils, the character objective must be constantly present in the teacher's mind.

Character education finds its goal in the realization of two great ideals, social welfare and individual development. These are complementary. Conduct which contributes to the good of others affords the only real means for personal growth, and, conversely, the realization of the innate capacities of the individual contributes to the total quality of the life-group. To be an effective guide in the development of character the teacher, therefore, must have not only a broad social point of view, but a sensitiveness to the latent possibilities of children.

The development of sound moral character involves:-

  1. Knowledge of what is right; awareness of moral principles, and so far as possible the reasons for them. This is the intellectual foundation.
  2. Right attitudes and desires; an appreciation of the qualities of good character in self and in others. In this the emotions play a large part.
  3. Habits of right conduct.

Character is reflected in habitual action. What one is is indicated by what one does. Nevertheless, true character has roots deeper than habit. Right attitudes and ideals furnish the motive force for right action and the centre around which the habits of life are integrated. Ideals, in turn, depend on knowledge and reason if they are to be flexible and adapted to a changing world. Knowledge alone is not sufficient, nor is a pious wish or intention, if it is not implemented by right action. On the other hand, mere habituation can never result in genuine character. In short, pupils should have the opportunity to understand why some actions are good and others bad; they should be helped to develop favourable emotional attitudes toward right doing; and they should be given abundant opportunity to practise good conduct in a wide variety of situations.

While each of the phases of character education should continue to receive attention in the junior high school, pupils are at this stage particularly in need of discussion of their own problems of conduct so that they may grow in understanding of the moral principles involved.

In the senior high school discussion of problems of character should become more thorough. Pupils should be encouraged to think independently, to examine all sides of a question, to seek adequate rational grounds for their opinions, and to organize their thinking in terms of broad moral principles. At this stage ideals tend to become stable and character relatively fixed. It is desirable that the pupil's ideals should grow out of his own experience and reasoning. Group discussion has an increasingly important place in these yeas. While there is still need for the sympathetic encouragement of an understanding teacher, this discussion should be left very largely in the hands of the group itself.

Worthy ideals and attitudes develop partly from an understanding of moral principles and partly from the satisfaction that accompanies right conduct. As the pupil progresses through the years of the junior and senior high schools, his conduct normally becomes more rational an the consciousness of the value of genuine achievement gradually outweighs the satisfaction of artificial rewards. In the junior high school, marks, credits, and badges are still effective in motivating behaviour; they are, however, at best but temporary expedients to tide over periods of special difficulty, and if the desire for the reward remains as the dominating motive it will be a hindrance rather than a help to right attitudes and sound character. During the senior high school years, as the purposes of life become effective, the satisfaction of achievement becomes the chief source of motivation. Pupils should be taught to regard examination marks, not as ends in themselves, but as more or less valid indications of genuine educational results in relation to their own aims and abilities.

In every school and in every class there are countless opportunities for the exercise of desirable traits. In the development of character there is no substitute for consistent right conduct. When actions fail to measure up to knowledge and intention, the foundation of morality is destroyed. During the high school years lifetime habits of thought and action are being established. It is vital that the school environment should favour the best possible habits of work, of thought, of play, and of general conduct. Where the programme of the school is suited to the age and needs of the pupil, little external pressure should be required to supplement the motivation of serious purpose and group sentiment. It is the function of the school to provide significant tasks in a setting favourable to success, to provide the means for desirable types of recreation, and judicious and sympathetic direction. Under these conditions the maximum results in enduring habits will be assured.


It is not assumed that the objectives of character education can be stated with finality, nor that any list can be all-inclusive. At best the following statement is intended to suggest a point of view and to emphasize certain aims of special importance. While necessarily expressed in general terms, these objectives are sufficiently definite to guide the teacher's thinking, and to form a basis for judging the actual results of education.

I. The Development of knowledge and Understanding.

  1. An understanding of the social nature of moral character and conduct.
    1. A realization of one's dependence upon others and an understanding of how organized society makes possible civilized living.
    2. An understanding of the necessity for co-operation toward the common good.
    3. An appreciation of our social inheritance, especially of the fact that our present material advantages and our cultural possessions are the result of the self- sacrificing effort of those who have lived before us.
    4. A realization of our social responsibility toward those who are to follow us, in the protection of property, the conservation of natural resources, the perpetuation of fine customs and ideals, and in the making of our own contribution to human progress.
    5. An understanding of the fact that good acts are those which result in the greatest satisfaction to the largest number over the longest period of time.
    6. An understanding of the value of good health and its relation to wholesome living, including a knowledge of the basic principles of mental health.
  2. The development of sound moral judgement.
    1. Knowledge of what is generally accepted as right or wrong in particular situations frequently recurring in every-day life.
    2. Understanding of the reasons why certain acts are considered right and others wrong.
    3. The ability to picture vividly the good and evil consequences to self and others of any contemplated action.
    4. An appreciation of relative moral values.

II. The Development of Right Attitudes, Desires, Purposes.

  1. Adherence in thought, word, and deed, to high moral standards.
  2. Faith in good causes and respect for all that is good.
  3. A feeling of obligation to render service to other individuals as well as to social groups, such as the home, the school, the community. A willing acceptance of personal responsibility.
  4. The development of socially valuable purposes and enthusiasm for their realization. In the senior high school the adoption of relatively settled goals of life, and enthusiasm for their achievement.
  5. A determination to achieve the best of which one is capable.
  6. A disposition to recognize the merits of others and to tolerate their opinions and actions.
  7. An attitude of appreciation and gratitude towards others for benefits received, and of consideration for the comfort and happiness of all.
  8. Open-mindedness, or the disposition to modify one's attitudes and ways of living in harmony with new truths and new experiences.
  9. Worthy ambition in life and the disposition to think of the choice of vocation in terms of ability and aptitude as well as of service to society.
  10. An appreciation of the significance of education not only as preparatory for life, but as indispensable to intellectual and moral growth throughout life.
  11. (For Senior High chiefly.) Attitudes needed for adequate social adjustments to the various aspects of adult life, such as vocation, leisure, family, community, and state.

III. The Formation of Desirable Patterns of Conduct.

  1. The direction of one's life with a decreasing amount of supervision and an increasing amount of inner control based upon intelligent purpose.
  2. Habits of good workmanship and pride in successful achievement.
  3. The habit of co-operating willingly with others and of deriving satisfaction therefrom.
  4. Habitual acts of justice, fair play, honesty, truthfulness, ennobled by moral thoughtfulness.
  5. Habitual acts of courtesy and good manners, cheerful service to others; appreciation of services received.
  6. The habit of acting courageously in defence of right, and of acting generously toward the younger and weaker.
  7. Good habits favourable to physical and mental health.
  8. Freedom from unnecessary emotional conflicts and disturbances.
  9. The habit of meeting temptation resolutely, directing energy into wholesome channels and inhibiting undesirable impulses.
  10. Habits of thrift in the use time and energy as well as of money.


The Growth of character cannot be separated in practice from the educative process as a whole. Every factor in the school contributes in some measure to the formation of character. If the school is to reach its maximum effectiveness in the development of character, it must adopt a clear-cut policy to this end which will co-ordinate its entire work. The following are some of the more important factors which should contribute definitely to worthy character:-

  1. The principal.
  2. The teacher.
  3. School and class organization and management.
  4. The curriculum.
  5. Methods of teaching.
  6. Pupil activities.
  7. Discipline.
  8. Pupil guidance.
  9. Relations with the homes and other social agencies.
  10. School Spirit.

The Principal.

The principal is the leader of the school. His personality affects the whole institution and plays a large part in determining its moral, as well as its intellectual atmosphere. By a firm but kindly administration he is able establish the conditions necessary for uninterrupted, conscientious endeavour. By wise democratic leadership he can guide his staff in working out a unified philosophy of education and in making it function in the school. In this way he will be instrumental in drawing out all the personal resources of his teachers for the good of the pupils. The best development of character in each child will be his paramount aim. He is the leading moral force in the school.

The Teacher.

The teacher's influence upon the character of his pupils is likewise far-reaching. It is not something which can be assumed or laid aside at will. It is exerted not only through the instruction he gives and the things the pupils do under his direction, but even more by the kind of person he is and the example he sets. His interests, his hobbies, and his appreciations may arouse in pupils similar interests and ambitions which may become dominant in their lives. While it is not desirable that the teacher should pose to his pupils as a model, nevertheless in the fundamentals of character he should be all that he expects his pupils to become. He should have a social point of view, respect toward pupil personality, and desire to assist in bringing the life of each to its fullest realization.

School and Class Organization and Management.

The way a school is organized and conducted affects the character of the pupils. In a well-managed school the education of the children takes precedence over convenience of administration. The arrangement of the time-table, the assignment of duties to teachers, and the school regulations should ensure the best contacts between teachers and pupils and the least friction from mechanical routine. However large or small the school, it should be possible to develop a programme, well-varied, business-like, and interesting, wherein excessive pressure or stimulation are unnecessary and where clear thinking, quiet enjoyment, and deliberate, responsible action are the rule. The organization should ensure that teachers know their pupils intimately both within the class-room and outside it.

The system of examinations and marketing should encourage the best achievement of each pupil without over-emphasis upon competition. This can be accomplished, not by discarding examinations, but by using them with discrimination and interpreting the results in terms of growth without undue stress on arbitrary standards and ranking. It is the function of the school to set tasks appropriate to the varying abilities of its pupils and to judge the results accordingly. Competitive marking should be used with discretion. If this is done, conscientious, well-directed effort, even by the dullest pupil, should result in a measure of success and satisfaction, rather than in the sense of failure and discouragement which results when such a pupil competes with those of greater ability. In adjusting work to individual needs and evaluating accomplishment, the school should think of permanent effects upon character and must accept responsibility for the results of treatment that is unfair to the pupil in relation to his ability and effort. There is a similar responsibility to cultivate desirable character traits in the ablest pupils by giving them tasks to challenge their abilities and by estimating their accomplishment accordingly.

The organization of the school should make provision for pupil activity and self- direction in carrying out purposes accepted by the pupils themselves. Such activities should involve individual responsibility and organized effort. In the early part of the junior high school period pupils are to be given training in the organization and conduct of group activities upon democratic lines. Under suitable guidance they have thus the means of expressing corporate opinion and of managing affairs which fall within their proper sphere, thus co-operating with the principal and his staff in the administration of the school. In the senior high school this co-operation will be upon a more mature level and will place greater responsibility upon the pupils.


The subjects of the curriculum may influence character in at least three ways:-

  1. By contributing directly to knowledge, attitudes, and ideals, as in health, citizenship, and literary and artistic appreciation.
  2. By arousing new interests which may become influential in later life.
  3. By yielding as by-products such qualities as thoroughness, persistence in the face of difficulty, and the satisfaction of mastery.

During the junior and senior high school course, all the subjects should contribute to respect for truth and the disposition to make reason based upon established facts the chief guide to behaviour. Pupils should learn to distinguish scientific evidence from superstition and hearsay. They should learn to face problems resolutely, to be diligent in the search for facts, to regard solutions as tentative only, pending further evidence, and to act with confidence on the basis of assured findings. Not only should these traits be cultivated within the limits of particular subjects, but each teacher should do his utmost to extent their application to the whole range of life. In short, intellectual thoroughness and honesty should be a major contribution of the school curriculum to character.

As the aims affecting character appropriate to each subject are included in the section of the Programme of Studies devoted to it, it will be sufficient at this point to mention by way of illustration a few of the more important.

Health and Physical Education.

Health and physical education should contribute directly to wholesome living and fine character by giving an understanding of the principles of health, by making physical and mental efficiency an ideal, and by initiating desirable habits. In particular the physical education programme should contribute to such qualities of good sportsmanship as courage, self-confidence, fairness, co-operation, and generosity to the defeated. It should also go far in establishing a desirable balance between the recreational and occupational aspects of life. Mental hygiene is the responsibility of the whole school and particularly of those teachers especially concerned with guidance. In so far as it is influenced by physical condition it is the special responsibility of the teachers of health. Physical education can make an important contribution to mental health by providing a natural setting for wholesome socialized activity involving the whole person. (See "Mental Hygiene" in the course in Health.)


English Literature offers unusually rich opportunities for character-training. It is the one subject in the curriculum which draws its materials from the whole range of human experience. Through literature the pupil discovers varied philosophies of life as well as examples of noble character. As a form of art, literature contributes to aesthetic enjoyment. It offers to the appreciative reader not only a vivid world of enjoyable experience for leisure-time, but also unlimited possibilities of enriching and ennobling life.

Social Studies.

As the name implies, the social studies aim to give the pupil an understanding of life in our present-day world. It is self-evident that a socialized outlook is indispensable for good citizenship. Such an outlook can be adequate only to the extent that it is based upon an open-minded study of the relationships which have existed in the past and which now exist in the social and economic fabric. The social studies introduce the student to the great personalities who have made life richer through music, art, science, religion, and statecraft. Through the social studies, appreciation of other peoples and races is developed, and racial prejudice may be reduced. A world point of view is developed and a consciousness of the interdependence of nations. There is also gained a knowledge and understanding of those forces which are destructive of social and economic well-being. The student thus may learn to interpret the disturbing factors in human and international relations and to cultivate and cherish those forces which tend towards the harmony and peace. Through the study of civics the student becomes aware of the duties and responsibilities of a good citizen, gains a knowledge of the law and respect for it and the rights of others, and by virtue of these understandings he is directed along the road to good citizenship.


It is unthinkable that long and concentrated application to the study of any subject should leave the character and the personality of the student unchanged. Whether or not desirable traits of character will result from the study of mathematics in high schools will depend very largely upon the aims adopted and the methods used. Mathematics may be treated as an example of rigorous, impersonal logic and as an opportunity for concentration and perseverance. These qualities may be extended to other fields of life if teachers and pupils take the trouble to make the application. Similarly, the whole experience of mathematics, including a knowledge of its contribution to scientific and technological progress, may result in an appreciation of the quantitative relationships of things which will lead to a changed view of the universe. Whether or not it will have this desirable result depends upon the philosophical outlook of the teacher and on his method of treatment of the subject. There are great possibilities for the development of character in this group of subjects which have been realized only too rarely. On the other hand, when mathematics is regarded as a dull grind for examinations, the results upon character are questionable.

The Sciences.

No other subject equals the sciences in the possibility of giving an appreciation of the value of facts and their interrelationships and also of the diligence and care necessary for their discovery and understanding. Moreover, the methods of physical sciences have given the world a new attitude toward the study of social relationships. The habit of looking for causal connections and basing one's actions upon them should be one of the contributions of science to character. The science subjects may be made to produce general improvement habits of observation, inquiry, of reasoned judgement, and respect for the expert in any field. Knowledge of the chief principles of the different sciences equips the student for understanding of himself and of the world. The lives of the great scientists are an inspiration to high endeavour.

Foreign Languages.

Probably the most important contribution to character of the study of a foreign language are those that concern the appreciation of the contribution of other peoples. Through the study of language pupils may be brought into touch with their customs, literature, art, and other achievements. Such acquaintance promotes tolerance and respect and breaks down anti-foreign prejudice.


Music awakens the emotional life in a healthful, abundant, and varied manner. It provides a wholesome means of expression not only of the emotional experience, but of the imagination and reason as well. The socializing powers of music are marked. It enables the individual to identify himself with the group and dominates the group itself.


Character-building has always been ascribed to the study of art. Whatever one's view of the function of art, the study of aesthetic relationships provides a highly desirable interest and has unlimited possibilities of making ordinary things more significant. It is to be expected that art teachers also will find abundant connections between their subject and noble living.

The Technical Subjects and Home Economics.

These subjects may modify character by inculcating respect for materials, for workmanship, and honest labour. From the experience in shops and laboratories should come increased appreciation of common objects and the work performed by others in producing them. Good habits of work may be extended to other fields if the ideal of good work is developed. Creative abilities may be stimulated and useful skills developed which will result in permanent interests and hobbies. In home economics there is opportunity for the growth of those traits of character which tend toward successful home-making.


Because of the importance of temperance as a factor in character, it should be given special attention. The term should be interpreted as implying moderation and self-control in all behaviour. A sound attitude toward temperance should be based upon scientific knowledge. Pupils should be taught to take an interest in the findings of science and to interpret the facts without prejudice or emotion. True temperance implies that one's personal attitudes and ideals are in harmony with (1) established facts, and (2) an adequate philosophy of life, and that his actual conduct is governed by these attitudes and ideals. The school will have made its best contribution not only to temperance in the use of alcohol, but also in other equally important matters if it succeeds in establishing these patterns of character.

Sex Education.

There is a general agreement that there is urgent need for the proper kind of sex education. However, the whole matter is so beset with difficulties that no rigid curriculum prescription at the present time could achieve satisfactory results. The junior and senior high schools should go as far in providing sex instruction as public opinion, the wishes of the parents, and the qualifications of the teachers will permit. A great deal can be done in connection with other subjects to provide a wholesome background of information and attitudes. Elementary and general science should give the basis of a scientific understanding of life and reproduction in the plant and animal kingdoms. Health and physical education approach the subject from the side of hygiene and deportment in games and athletics. The social studies and home economics should contribute to desirable social attitudes, especially in relation to home life and good manners. Opportunities for further work often occur in extra-curricular groups.

There are four main approaches to sex education: (1) through the regular work of curriculum, as indicated above; (2) through individual counselling; (3) through discussion in voluntary groups; and (4) through parent education.

The following principles are now recognized as valid in sex education. When definite sex instruction is given, boys and girls should be in separate groups and each instructed by a teacher of the same sex. Only those teachers should undertake the work who are accurately informed, sympathetic in attitude, and yet able to discuss matters in an objective way. It is wise to secure the consent of parents before including pupils in groups for sex instruction.

When pupil's questions, from childhood on, are answered truthfully and frankly, sex does not assume an air of mystery and morbid interest. Ideally the school should recognize this and should provide instruction as the boys and girls grow ready for it in the normal course of psychological and sociological development. On the one hand it is unwise to accelerate this development by raising problems too soon, yet on the other hand instruction ought to be given sufficiently early to prevent unfortunate habits and mental attitudes. It would seem better to form small groups for the purpose with due regard to maturity than to attempt to use ordinary class groupings.

"In general, more attention should be given to psychological factors of attitudes, feelings, habits, appreciations, and enjoyments, and to the sociological factors of personal relations, group standards, and institutional progress; relatively less concern should be accorded physiological elements…. The emphasis should be relatively little on disease, deterioration, and disgrace; relatively much on the positive values of comradeship, love, and family life."*

*Character Education, Tenth Yearbook, Department of Superintendence, National Education Association, 1932, p.196.

Social Relations.

The junior and senior high school should continue the work of the elementary school in training the pupils in good manners. (See Bulletin II. Of the Programme of Studies for the Elementary Schools.) This should consist in part of information as to what is accepted as good social behaviour and in part of habitual observance of common courtesies. The guidance personnel and the home economics department can give information on social conventions appropriate to more or less formal occasions and also supervise deportment connected with the social events of the school. The physical education department will naturally take the lead in establishing the courtesies of good- sportsmanship, while the whole staff should accept responsibility for including good manners in the class-room, corridors, and on the playground.

At this stage pupils should be made aware that good manners are an expression of thoughtfulness and courtesy and facilitate social relationships. Teachers should realize that, whether they wish it or not, they are examples to their pupils. Care in observing the proprieties will go far to establish an attitude of sincerity and mutual confidence.

It is unnecessary at this stage to prescribe the details which should receive attention; nevertheless, special emphasis should be placed upon proper standards:--

  1. In receiving visitors to the school or class-room.
  2. When guests of another school, either individually or as a group.
  3. On the playing-field or in the gymnasium, whether as a player or spectator.
  4. On the street, in street-car or bus.
  5. At the telephone.
  6. In the presence of parents, adults, and especially elderly persons.
  7. At class parties and social functions where the pleasure and welfare of the whole group is the aim.

Teaching Methods

Methods of teaching are closely bound up with the administration of the class and of the entire school. Those methods which call for a large amount of initiative by the pupils and varied activity not only produce the best learning results, but the greatest development of character. Such methods call for a natural atmosphere in the class-room with a great deal of physical movement instead of restraint. All of the approved present- day methods, such as socialization, individual self-help plans, the use of projects, should be considered in relation to their moral effect on the pupils collectively and individually.

Pupil Activities

The activities of pupils, apart from the regular class-room work, have an important bearing upon character. They provide mental and physical occupation and develop the habit not only of being always busy, but of initiating and developing interesting things to do. Thus they serve not so much to occupy leisure as to eliminate the temptation of idleness. A varied programme of activities provides an outlet for special talents and leads to the habit of self-evaluation. The motivation of self-imposed tasks imposes a desirable kind of discipline. Inasmuch as most school activities are carried on in groups, there is training in social efficiency. The experience of co-operating under a flexible organization assists the adolescence in his change from an individual to a social outlook. It is important in this connection that pupils be given as much opportunity as possible to exercise initiative and self-direction. The activities organized under the Guidance programme offer ample opportunity for the realization of these desirable goals.


The way in which matters of discipline are dealt with has a great influence upon the character of the pupils. The first aim should be to prevent disciplinary cases from arising. When the work is interesting and adjusted to the ability of the pupils and the social atmosphere of the room is congenial, difficulties are not of frequent occurrence. Good- discipline depends upon the encouraging and sympathetic attitude of the teacher and also upon his good humour and self-control.

When disciplinary cases arise, the contribution to character will depend upon discovering the cause, placing responsibility on the pupil for the solution of the difficulty, and recognition of his attempt to improve. The judicious teacher will deal with the pupil individually and will think in terms of the change to be brought about in him rather than in terms of punishment.

Pupil Guidance

The guidance of the pupils in educational, vocational, and personal matters is an indispensable function of every junior and senior high school and has a vital connection with the development of character. Sympathetic advice and direction are needed by all pupils, not only those who become problem cases. Even where specialists are employed as counsellors, teachers must play a large part in guidance. The counsellor is especially qualified by training and experience and should be provided with time to deal with individual cases. The teacher's responsibility is increased rather than diminished by this special help. The counsellor heads the guidance programme under the supervision of the principal, co-ordinates the efforts of the teachers, and, where needed, secures expert advice from psychologists, psychiatrists, welfare workers, and the school medical department. Both the counsellor and the teacher should have an understanding of problems of mental health and be able to clear up many difficulties arising from physical, sexual, social, educational, financial, or domestic maladjustments. Much of the work of guidance will be done in groups during the time allotted in the time-table for that purpose (see Guidance Syllabus) ; the remainder will be done by individual interview and indirectly through the various contributing agencies such as Student Council, clubs, home-room, and the like.

In smaller high schools and in elementary schools with the "8-4" plan of organization, there will not ordinarily be a specialist in guidance. The principal will, therefore, have to assume this responsibility and share it with his teachers. In the smaller schools it is much easier to have intimate knowledge of pupils both in and out of school. To this extent the problem of guidance is simplified. On the other hand, pupils are no less in need of wise guidance than in the large centres.

It is especially important that those responsible for guidance should not overlook the pupil who exhibits negative characteristics. Very often the one who attracts least notice is most in need of help. The boy or girl who is constantly on the boarder-line of failure, or who is dominated at home by aggressive, if well-meaning, parents, or who is especially conscious of some constitutional handicap, frequently becomes a case of mental and character maladjustment. Judicious treatment which removes the cause and restores self-confidence may work an entire restoration of normal personality and pave the way for wholesome growth of character.

(See "Mental Hygiene" in the course in Health.)

Relations with the Home and other Social Agencies.

If education is to result in worthy character it is essential that the school and the home shall not work at cross purposes. This implies mutual knowledge and understanding. Parent-teacher organizations are a step in the right direction, but they cannot take the place of direct contacts established through the initiative of the school. While it is necessary that the staff work in harmony with the principal in this matter, it is also necessary for each teacher to accept his full share of responsibility. It is essential that he possess knowledge of the circumstances and attitude of the home as well as the ability and interests of the pupil. Thus there is imperative need for frequent personal contacts with parents, to interpret the aims of the school and the pupil's accomplishment.

The high school in its work of social guidance should endeavour to co-operate with other agencies in the community which carry on parallel or supplementary work. In general it should adopt the attitude of service to the community.

School Spirit.

The "tone" of a school, in the long run, reflects the outlook and ideals of its staff. Whether it be a small rural high school or a large urban institution, the head sets the standard. Proper esprit de corps rest upon mutual confidence and respect between teachers and principal and between pupils and teacher. The good school is marked not so much by perfect order as by a desire to co-operate and a sharing of responsibility in its work and play. There is always room for practical democracy without interference with the teacher's responsibility for direction and control. Within the limits it is more productive of sound character for pupils to exercise self-direction, even at the risk of making mistakes, than it is to depend upon autocratic control. Every principal and every teacher has to find for himself through experience and study the best balance between teacher control and pupil self-direction. While it is the teacher's duty to lead and inspire, and when necessary to command, the pupils should be given the greatest possible share in making the school a good one. In this way judgement, initiative, and leadership are developed.


In spite of the importance of character education and the amount of study that has been devoted to it, there is little certainty as to the best methods to be used. In general there are two modes of approach: ?

  1. By beginning with a consideration of the ideal, virtue, or trait to be developed and then making applications to conduct.
  2. By the beginning with the settings out of which the trait is supposed to emerge and working toward the generalized ideal or virtue.

For a long time the opinion prevailed that the former method is of little value, even though it has been constantly used by teachers and others. Recently, however, many plans for character education have made the abstract ideals their starting point. After all, the two methods are closely interrelated and the wise teacher will make use of a combination of them. Whatever the point of departure, two things are essential: (1) that the instruction be related directly to the pupils' conduct, and (2) that it involve conscious generalizations in the form of principles and ideals.

The danger in the discussion of abstract virtues is that it will be meaningless because unrelated to the child's experience. This method lends itself to "preaching" rather than action and may easily degenerate into a series of formal lessons. If anything is retained it is a verbal formula whose application is but vaguely understood. When care is taken to link up the quality or ideal with the pupils' lives, much of the objection to this method disappears.

The latter approach has the advantage of being specific. It ensures a clear practical understanding of the actual case and lends itself to immediate accomplishment. Educational theory in recent times has emphasized the specific nature of learning. As a foundation this is entirely legitimate. The danger lies in leaving particular instances in isolation, with the result that they are never consolidated into a scheme of values in the pupil's mind. Conduct can become intelligent only to the extent that experience is organized. The incidental approach depends on the chance occurrence of situations requiring treatment. These may arise in an order that bears no relation to successful organization. Only by introducing imaginary cases can a teacher provide in a suitable array of examples to build up a general conception. If this is done without destroying the feeling of reality, the method may be highly successful.

At all events, however the actual lessons are presented, a large part of training in character will occur incidentally as problems arise in connection with the life and work of the school. Realizing the supreme importance of this phase of education, teachers should not permit the demands of subject-matter to crowd out attention to problems of character. At times the discussion should take place when the problem arises; at others, it is wiser to postpone it until there has been time for reflection and for the emotions to subside.

It is very useful for the teacher to have a definite period when discussion of problems of conduct may conveniently find place. In high schools a home-room period will ordinarily be set aside for consideration of the problems and activities of the class. Moral questions need not invariably occupy this period, yet time should be available regularly for the discussion of problems of character and conduct when they arise.

It is not intended that there should be a formal or set programme of lessons in character, nor that these discussions should be though of as in a separate compartment either of the school programme or of the life of the pupil. Formal teaching of morals usually implies a false and limited understanding of the nature of moral behaviour. Morally desirable conduct is socially determined, not a set of categorical rules. We must seek to produce in youth, not a rigid conformity dependant on a traditional set of notions about right and wrong, but a flexible and progressive social attitude dependant upon insight into the essence of the institutional problems which surround us. It should be emphasized that if young people are to develop a rational basis for conduct, there must be time for deliberate individual and group thinking. Only thus can effective principles and ideals develop in their minds.

The following principles should guide the teacher in planning and carrying out education for the character:?

  1. It is necessary to realize that the chief aim of the high school is moral character, and that mastery of subject-matter is of secondary importance. A consistent effort should be made to carry out this point of view.
  2. The teacher should have in mind definite standards of conduct appropriate to the age of the pupils and should be consistent in maintaining these standards.
  3. The approval of the group is the most effective means of achieving the results desired.
  4. There should be ample opportunity for the discussion of problems in order to clarify situations and develop an understanding of the principles involved.
  5. Wherever possible, activities should be undertaken with a view to making good conduct habitual and satisfying. Self-expression should be encouraged and pupil initiative utilized to the utmost. Character education is no more a passive process than any other form of learning. The function of the teacher is to act as guide in this activity. The major emphasis should be upon doing good rather than upon being good.
  6. Success and achievement should be key-note of all pupil activities. The teacher should take care to cultivate a feeling of success in his pupils. Every child can and should succeed in the greater part of his undertakings if they are assigned in the full realization of his powers.
  7. It is desirable that pupils should recognize their own success and progress in the development of approved traits of character. This should not be carried to the extent of undesirable introspection or self-satisfaction. Rewards and marks of credit should be used with great discrimination lest pupils adopt certain modes of conduct merely to secure these advantages.
  8. The best method in developing responsibility in children is to give them responsibility. In short, moral qualities grow by practice.
  9. Teachers and administrators should respect the individuality of pupils, extending to them the same courtesy and thoughtfulness they are respected in return.
  10. The teacher should use all possible agencies for character education. Any form of moral training undertaken thoughtfully and sincerely will not be without good results. Only by experience will the teacher find the methods which best suit his personality and outlook.
  11. Special attention should be given to overcoming prejudice and other irrational attitudes. Ordinarily this can be done by appropriate methods of education and re- education. The sciences and the social studies are especially useful in developing an objective attitude towards problems and confidence in rational solutions.
  12. In the junior and senior high school permanent interests tend to become established which later dominate vocational and avocational life. This fact should be more fully appreciated and the development of desirable interests should be made a leading objective of each field of study.


From the foregoing discussion it will be noted that certain particular techniques have an important place in character education. A few of the most effective deserve further emphasis. The following summary is intended to be suggestive rather than exhaustive.

1. Group Discussion.

There is no surer way of cultivating a social point of view than by encouraging discussion by a class of problems affecting the whole group. The stimulation and critical reaction of many minds directed toward one problem are highly productive of thought. When conclusions are reached by the entire group, or at least by the great majority, a strong sentiment is established which is a most effective control over conduct.

In managing discussion there are certain principles which the teacher should observe carefully. To be effective it requires a real problem which is felt to be important by the members of the group. Mere expressions of opinion do not necessarily constitute discussion. The ideas expressed must, first of all, bear upon the problem; and, secondly, they must be the result of real thought on the part of the pupil. It is necessary for the teacher to be very judicious in the part he plays in the process. Without doing the thinking for the class, there are four functions, at least, that he should perform: (1) help to clarify and define the problem and hold the discussion to it; (2) direct attention to or, where necessary, actually furnish important data needed in order to reach a sound conclusion; (3) expose thoughtless and insincere remarks, point out errors in reasoning, and guide the thinking along logical lines; (4) confirm and re-emphasize the conclusion which the pupils have reached through their own thinking.

It should be clear that individual problems should be made the subject of discussion by a group only when the principle involved is one which concerns the entire group. The personal element should not be emphasized and the discussion should be directed to all members of the class rather than to the one whose behaviour gave the occasion for it. It is especially necessary with older pupils to avoid excessive self-consciousness and humiliation. Discussion should ordinarily have a positive turn, emphasizing what to do rather than what not to do.

2. Case Study.

The principle involved in case study is that every action has its roots in the past. Good conduct as well as bad is an outgrowth of the physical condition, the environment of home and neighbourhood, and the total past experience of the pupil both in the school and out. When difficulties arise it is the underlying cause that should be discovered and treated rather than the outward symptoms. In other words, the treatment should fit the pupil and not his act alone. The same misdemeanour may have an entirely different significance when committed by two different persons. That is why it is so futile to adopt fixed rules for dealing with specific faults. Successful treatment depends upon thorough knowledge of the case. Teachers should derive a lesson from established clinical practice and make a thorough study of the pupil, his background and history, before deciding upon any course of treatment. In the more difficult cases this will mean studying the home conditions and consulting the parents and others in the school and outside it who have knowledge of the pupil which might prove important. Ordinarily it is the part of wisdom to postpone conference with the pupil until the case has been thoroughly studied. No corrective steps should be taken until there has been time for careful consideration of the available facts and a reasoned decision as to the most promising kind of treatment. Careful notes should be kept of all the data secured and also of the course of treatment and its results.

3. Individual Conference.

Perhaps this is too formal a term for what should be just a friendly conversation. Not only is this the important last step in the study of the problem case, but it is also a most necessary part of the treatment. Only by talking the matter over sympathetically can teacher and pupil understand each other's point of view and co-operate in the effort to correct the fault.

Such conversations are very necessary for all the pupils, whether problem cases or not. The results in better understanding and more successful work more than repay the teacher for the time spent. With large classes it requires a definite effort and considerable sacrifice of time to hold these individual meetings. If they are to be profitable they require forethought and genuine interest on the part of the teacher. They should not be formal occasions, nor should they be a matter of curiosity to the rest of the class. The thoughtful teacher will discover plenty of inconspicuous reasons, apart altogether from discipline, for asking to see particular pupils by themselves.



Charters, W. W.; Smiley, D. F.; and Strang, R. M.: Sex Education, A Manual for Teachers (Macmillan, 1935).

Fishback, Elvin H.: Character Education in the Junior High School (D. C. Health & Co., 1928; Canadian Agent, Copp, Clark Co.).

Hartshorne, Hugh: Character in Human Relations (Scribner's, 1935)

Heaton, Kenneth L.: The Character Emphasis in Education (University of Chicago Press, 1933).

Magoun, F. A.: Problems in Human Engineering (Macmillan, 1932).

McKown, Harry C.: Character Education (McGraw-Hill, 1935).

Morgan, J. J.: The Psychology of Abnormal People (Longmans, Green, 1928).

Morgan, J. J.: The Psychology of the Unadjusted Child (Macmillan, 1924).

National Education Association, Department of Superintendence, Tenth Yearbook: Character Education (1932).

National Education Association, Department of Classroom Teachers, Seventh Year- book: The Classroom Teacher and Character Education (1932).

National Education Association, Research Bulletin: Education for Character. Part ?., The Social and Psychological Background, Vol. ???., No. 2, March, 1934; Part ??., Improving the School Program, Vol. ???., No. 3, May, 1934.

Powers, Francis F.: Character Training (A. S. Barnes, 1932).

Richmond, W. V.: The Adolescent Girl (Macmillan, 1925).

Richmond, W. V.: The Adolescent Boy (Macmillan, 1933).

Schaeffer, L. F.: The Psychology of Adjustment (Houghton, Mifflin, 1935).

Smithers, Elsie M.: Case Studies of Normal Adolescent Girls (Appleton-Century, 1933).

Symonds, P. M.: Mental Hygiene of the School Child (Macmillan, 1934).

Thom, D. A.: Normal Youth and Its Everyday Problems (Appleton-Century, 1932).

Thom, D. A.: Guiding the Adolescent (Appleton-Century, 1933).

Wallin, J. E. W.: Personality Maladjustments and Mental Hygiene (McGraw-Hill, 1935).


Fishback, Elvin H.: Character Building in Junior High School Grades (D. C. Health & Co.; Canadian agent, Copp, Clark).

Wheatley, William A., and Mallory, Royce R.: Building Character and Personality (Ginn, 1930).

Source: British Columbia. Department of Education. Programme of Study for the Senior High Schools of British Columbia: Bulletin I (1937), pp. 428-442.
Transcribed by Phyl Babichuk-Mowatt, Denise Charleston and Alison Lane, History 349, Malaspina University-College, March 2001

Introduction & Commentary by Phyl Babichuk-Mowatt, Denise Charleston and Alison Lane