Some teen-agers may think learning about kindness, cleanliness and generosity is hokey.
But discussing character traits at school is not hokey to Katie Copeland.
“I love character education,” said Katie, 15, a sophomore in Jefferson County in Alabama. “It teaches you about yourself and helps you work well with others.”
It’s a good thing Katie likes character education. She and her classmates across Alabama are required by the state Legislature to learn about character traits for 10 minutes each day.
For decades, character education has been included in teachers’ lesson plans, though it was not always called character education and was usually not a required subject.
In the 1990s, with an increase in school violence, officials looked at ways to stop students from choosing violence. In 1995, Alabama legislators selected 25 character traits they believed made a good citizen and required all schools teach those traits. Among the traits are cheerfulness, loyalty, respect, sportsmanship and punctuality.
Critics of character education say these traits should be taught at home and that moral issues should not be taught at school.
Stephanie Bell, a state Board of Education member, said she disagreed with the Legislature’s mandating the issue, which came after the state board already had adopted a requirement for character education. When it first was started, she got some complaints that schools’ attention to the law “was very minimal,” such as when a definition of a character trait was given during a school’s announcements period.
But Katie’s mother, Karen Copeland, said she is grateful that schools teach character education. Although Katie received many character lessons at home, and even won second place for Jefferson County’s Character Education Month essay contest in 1999, there are many students at school who don’t hear at home how to have good character, Karen Copeland said.
When and how schools address character traits each day is not outlined in the state’s law. Many schools read a word of the week during the morning’s announcements and others leave it up to teachers to integrate lessons into the classes.
There’s no such thing as hearing too much about character education, said Robert Holmes Jr., an Alabama Power Co. executive and member of the national organization Character Counts.
“I don’t think those words are strong enough,” said Mr. Holmes. “It’s my philosophy that we should not separate learning values with learning skills.”
Mr. Holmes has held several in-service sessions with Jefferson County teachers to stress the importance of including character lessons in classes.
“Many teachers think it’s just one more thing to have to do,” Mr. Holmes said. “But it’s one more thing that they ought to do.”