Moral Education through Governance

a study of the United States and United Kingdom


    Education is an arm of the government, and is under political control. Governmental control is defined through constitutions, laws and regulations.

    Whereas in the United States the responsibility for education rests with each individual state, in the United Kingdom there is a National Curriculum Council. Education has become more centralized, so that each country's educational agenda is in addition to the national curriculum.

    The purpose of this study was to examine recent governmental action regarding moral education.


    There seems to be no one word which captures the nuances of the topic.
In the United States moral education refers to the broad concept of right and wrong. However, for some morality refers cultural standards (Robb).

    Values education is another term often used. It has been argued that values are what you get in a discount store. Values may have nothing to do with morality. For example, jewelry is valued and considered a valuable. The word values implies changing worth.

    The term traditional values has been used to reflect those traits which have been considered valuable throughout history.

    The term virtues suggests there are traits which have constant worth. However, the connotation of "virtues" in the United States implies something old fashioned.

    Ethics is another term which also has limitations. Ethics describe duties and obligations which are systematized, often into a code. Classes in ethics tend to focus on moral reasoning.

    A term which is being rejuvenated in the United States is character education. Character is "a reliable inner disposition to respond to situations in a morally good way. It refers to the moral qualities and ethical standards which make up the inner nature of a person. Character might be termed the moral personality. Behavior is a product of character. Character education holds to the premise that civilization has a common core of shared values, referred to as universal values or public values. These universal values are rational, objectively valid, universally accepted qualities, actions and ideals to which people of all civilized nations, creeds, races, socio-economic status and ethnicity ascribe. There is a unifying morality, necessary for the preservation of society. Moreover all social institutions are obligated to teach these universal values to children. Character education arose as a reaction against Values Clarification, which pre-supposes that all values are personal. Perhaps these character traits or virtues should be called universal principles or cornerstones.

The Problem
    Since education is government controlled, and since there is a character education movement building, how is the government becoming involved in addressing character education?

    State Departments of Education in the United States and United Kingdom.

    A letter was sent to the Department of Education in each of the fifty states in the U.S. asking about special projects, legislative initiatives, curriculum, regulations, standards, policies, programs, teacher preparation and in-service training in the area of character education.

    Published information was collected from the United Kingdom. An interview was conducted with officials in education in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    There were nineteen respondants in the United States: eighteen states and Puerto Rico. Information was gathered from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

Three models emerged in the United States:

    No state level activity
    Four states responded that there are no state initiatives in character education: Kansas, Texas, Minnesota, and Alaska. (Probably many of the thirty-one states which did not respond to the survey are in this category).

    The states with no state-level activity may have made a conscious decision that character education should be at the local level as a grass roots endeavor. For example, even though Texas has no state-wide plan, Dallas has begun a city-wide character education program.

    The advantage of this model is that character education is by local choice rather than state mandate. Those involved in it are committed teachers and districts.

    The disadvantage is that educators in these states may not become aware of character education. Dissemination of information is difficult. Funding usually follows policy initiatives, so there is probably very little funding for teachers and schools even though financial resources are needed for policy implementation and teacher training. In- service for teachers may become "preaching to the choir" or teaching the experts.

State encouragement
    Four states have enacted legislation to encourage character education. For example, 256.11C for Iowa states,

    It is the policy of the general assembly that Iowa's schools be the best and safest possible. To that end, each school is encouraged to instill the highest character and academic excellence in each student, in close cooperation with the student's parents, and with input from the community and educators.
Schools should make every effort, formally and informally, to stress character qualities that will maintain a safe and orderly learning environment, and that will ultimately equip students to be model citizens. These qualities include but are not limited to honesty, responsibility, respect and care for the person and property of others, self-discipline, understand of, respect for and obedience to law and citizenship, courage, initiative, commitment, and perseverance, kindness, compassion, service and loyalty, fairness, moderation and patience, and the dignity and necessity of hard work.

    Both Ohio and South Carolina have published resource guides for teachers who wish to teach character education. Kentucky has published an optional character education curriculum.

    The advantage of encouraging rather than mandating the character education program is that teachers and schools systems are given resources, and choice about using them. However, there must be some form of enticement for teachers and schools to use the resources. Iowa has allocated $50,000 for pilot programs. Financial support for staff development and in-service training is essential. Most schools districts have allocated money for staff development and in-service, but the administrator or staff development coordinator approves or disapproves professional development plans. Teachers have reported that their requests to attend staff development in character education were denied. Professional development plans are often coordinated with district initatives.

State mandated character education
    Eight states have passed recent legislation or policies requiring character education.
In Indiana Section 1.IC20-10.1-4-4.5 has added a new section listing "good citizenship instruction" stressing the nature and importance of being honest and truthful, respecting authority, respecting the property of others, always doing one's personal best, not stealing, possessing the skills necessary to live peaceably in society and not resorting to violence to sette disputes, taking personal responsibility for obligations to family and community, taking personal responsibility for earning alivelihood, treating others the way one would want to be treated, respecting the national flag, the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Indiana, respecting one's parents and home, respecting one's self and respecting the rights of others to have their own views and religious beliefs. The Indiana department of education shall develop a comprehensive plan of good citizenship instruction. An emergency is declared for this act.

    In the State of Maine Laws Relating to Public Schools Title 20.1221 refers to Teaching of virtue and morality. Instructors of youth in public or private institutions shall use their best endeavors to impress on the minds of the children and youth committed to their care and instruction the principles of morality and justice and a sacred regard for truth; love of country, humanity and a universal benevolence; the great principles of humanity as illustrated by kindness to birds and animals and regard for all factors which contribut to the well-being of man; industry and frugality; chastity, moderation and temperance; and all other virtues which ornament human society; and to lead those under their care, as their ages and capacities admit, into a particular understanding of the tendency of such virtues to preserve and perfect a republican constitution, secure the blessings of liberty and to promote future happiness.

    The State of Washington legislative rule RCW 28A.150.210 describes the Basic Education Act--Goal.
The goal of the Basic Education Act for the schools of the state of Washington shall be to provide students with the opportunity to become responsible citizens, to contribute to their own economic well-being and to that of their families and communities, and to enjoy productive and satisfying lives.

    RCW28A.150.211 Values and traits recognized. The legislature also recognizes that certain basic values and character traits are essential to individual liberty, fulfillment and happiness. Local communities have the responsibility for determining how these values and character traits are learned as determined by consensus at the local level. These values and traits include the importance of:
(1) honesty, integrity and trust
(2) respect for self and others
(3) responsibility for personal actions and commitments
(4) self-discipline and moderation
(5) diligence and a positive work ethic
(6) respect for law and authority
(7) healthy and positive behavior
(8) family as the basis of society (September 1, 1994)

    Oregon has had a character education law on the books since 1929. ORS 336.067 states
(1) In public schools special emphasis shall be given to instruction in:

    (a) honesty, morality, courtesy, obedience to law, respect for the national flag, the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Oregon, respect for parents and the home, the dignity and necessity of honest labor and other lessons which tend to promote and develop an upright and desirable citizenry.

    (b) respect for all humans, regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, age, sex or handicaps. Acknowledgment of the dignity and worth of individuals and groups and their participative roles in society.

    (c) humane treatment of animals

    (d) the effects of tobacco, alcohol, drugs and controlled substances upon the human system.

(2) The State Superintendent of Public Instruction shall prepare an outline with suggestions which will best accomplish the purpose of this section, and shall incorporate the outline in the courses of study for all public schools.

    In November 1991 the State Board of Education in Oregon adopted the following statewide policy regarding character education in Oregon's public schools:
Schools share responsibility with the home, religious institutions and community agencies for the development of positive character traits in young people.

    The Board supports the development in the schools of strong interdisciplinary character education programs designed to foster positive character traits in students. Schools should develop such programs with representative community participation.

    In July 1993 the State Board of Education adopted an administrative rules to include character education as an element of a standard education in Oregon's public schools:

(4) Character Education. Character Education is the process of helping students develop and practice the core ethical values that our diverse society shares and holds important. These values include but are not limited to, respect, responsibility, caring, trustworthiness, justice and fairness, and civic virtue and citizenship.(OAR581-21-200)

    Character education was added to the curriculum content requirements in 1994:
(26) The study of the core ethical values which our society shares and holds important, including but not limited to respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, caring, honesty, justice and fairness, and citizenship and civic involvement.

    Oregon also published a series of nine guiding beliefs about character education.
New Hampshire has a policy regarding character education. The policy resulted in three prongs for implementation:

    The third rule is in the Minimum standards for public school approval where a standard states that
Each local school board shall adopt and implement written policies relative to character and citizenship. The policy relative to character and citizenship development shall include those elements of character and citizenship to be incorporated in courses of study and/or instilled by example in a caring educational environment. The policy shall be developed in consultation with school staff, administration, parents and other representatives of the community. Basic elements of character and citizenship shall include self-discipline, self-respect and self-control; pursuant to Part II Article 83, NH Constitution: humanity, benevolence, truth and honesty with self and others; fairness, integrity, justice, respect, courtesy and human worth, responsibility to oneself and others, community service, and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

    The Code of Virginia states that "the entire scheme of instruction in the public schools shall emphasize moral education through lessons given by teachers and imparted by appropriate reading selections."

    The California Education Code Section 44806 states:
    Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism and a true comprehension of the rights, duties and dignity of American citizenship, including kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity and falsehood and to instruct them in manners and morals and the principles of a free government.

    Educational Responsibilities of School Personnel, adopted in 1993, states:
School personnel must foster in students an understanding of the moral values that form the foundation of American society. The American heritage and laws reflect a common core of personal and social morality, Habits that reveal a commitment to moral values include telling the truth, being trustworthy and respecting the opinions of others. Moral people affirm the worth and dignity of others in their attitudes and actions. They take responsibility for their decisions and for the consequences of those decisions. Moral people also value freedom of conscience and respect the freedom of conscience of others. They have a capacity for self-evaluation and are willing to admit error and alterviews. Morally committed people hold and express their own moral convictions and beliefs and respect the diverse views of other individuals and groups.

    California provides a manual for every teacher in the State. In that manual are listed the following character. Each is defined and schools practices for promoting the trait are included: truth, justice, patriotism, self-esteem, integrity, empathy, exemplary conduct, moral interaction and ethical reflection, respect for the family and other groups, respect for property, reliability, and respect for law.

Content area Curriculum
    Some states have included character or values education in a specific content area curriculum. For example, West Virginia refers to values education in social studies, health, English, the arts and sciences. Louisiana includes it in the Social Studies Curricular Goals, "acquiring knowledge about the relationships between human beings and social environments, understanding some of the effects of these relationships, and making value judgements about the consequences of these relationships," "acquiring knowledge about decision-making processes", "knowledge about conflict and the impact it has on individual and group relationships, making value judgments about these relationships", "appraising judgments and values," "examining one's own beliefs and values and their relationship to behavior." Maine and Vermont have each identified a Common Core of Learning. Vermont's Common Core refers to character education in the following manner:
        makes informed ethical decisions based on personal beliefs and values
        develops productive and satisfing relationships with others
        social responsibility
        respect for self and others
        finds alternatives to violent behavior
        responds to challenges with courage, integrity and honesty
        accepts responsibility
        interacts respectfully
        demonstrates dependability, productivity, leadership, initiative and integrity

    Kentucky has developed six goals for students. The fifth and sixth goals are self sufficient and responsible group member. These themes are meant to develop character.

    Puerto Rico includes character education in its School Health Program under the control and prevention of violence. Virginia has a Responsible Students Program.

Standards for Teacher Certification

    New Hampshire uses a competency based model for teacher certification. One of the competencies which each applicant for teacher certification must meet is "knowledge and understanding of character and citizenship". This means that college and universities which have state-approved teacher preparation programs must show they are providing course work to meet this standard.

    Kentucky lists the standards for pre-service teachers as well:
        mutually respectful classroom interaction in a caring manner
        self control and self discipline
        responsibility to self and others
        cooperative learning
        guides students to express, examine and explain alternative responses and their associated      consequences relative to moral, ethical or social issues
        interpersonal/team membership
        responsible caring behavior
        demonstrates tolerance to alternative perspectives and options and encourages contributions from school and community resources
           demonstrates sensitivity to differences in abilities, modes of contribution and social and cultural background

In Ohio standards for teachers include:

    helps students to feel valued and helps them learn to respect each other
    expression and use of democratic principles in the classroom
    climate of openness, mutual respect, support and inquiry

Washington requires that pre-service teachers study values in public schools.

In New Hampshire teachers apply for re-certification every three years. They must document 50 clock hours of education, and 5 of those hours must be in character and citizenship.

United Kingdom

    In the Education Reform Act of 1988 it was stated that there should be a school policy regarding values education. It also stated that the teacher is a moral agent, and that schools teach values.
The 1992 Schools Act stated that schools should "promote the spiritual, moral, mental, physical and cultural development."

    The definition of "moral development refers to pupils' knowledge, understanding, intentions, attitudes and behavior in relation to what is right or wrong." Students should "explore the place of reason in ethical matters and as autonomous moral agents acquire value-systems which are their own (rather than simply transmitted by others and accepted uncritically)...If teachers do not take a clear and consistent stand on questions of morality, schools can lack the necessary strengths of a strong ethos and tone, with damaging effects.

    The National Curriculum Council offers a list of moral issues:

    School values should include telling the truth, keeping promises, respecting the rights and property of others, acting considerately towards others, helping those less fortunate and weaker than ourselves, taking personal responsibility for one's actions, self-discipline. School values should reject bullying, cheating, deceit, cruelty, irresponsibility and dishonesty.

    The Framework states that each school should declare its own stance through a Code of Practice. "All schools will be required to produce a clear statement of their policy in relation to moral development of pupils... Schools and governing bodies which have not already done so need to clarify the school's policy in these areas and the set of core values which define the school's approach." "Pupils should be able to move from the taught morality which is characteristic of the very young, and an essential pre-requisite of moral development, to a position where their values and judgements spring from internal sources and allow them to be mature, autonomous, decision-taking and responsible individuals."

    The Framework includes the following:
        knowledge of the language and ideas of morality and increasingly how these differ
        understanding of the nature and purpose of moral discussion, with the desire to persuade, combined with respect for and listening to others viewpoints
        the disposition to act and behave in accordance with such values, including the skills of making   moral decisions and forming moral judgements.
        personal values in relation to the self, with reference to such aspects as self-awareness, self-        confidence, self-esteem, self-control, self-reliance, self-respect, self-discipline, responsibility, relationships with others with reference to such qualities as tolerance, respect for persons and property, truthfulness, compassion, cooperativeness, sensitivity, love; local, nation and world issues with reference to such issues as the individual and the community, rights, duties and responsibilities, war and peace, human rights, exploitation and aid, medical ethics, environmental issues, equal opportunities (sex, race, disability, class).

There are four elements of moral education, according to a NCC Discussion Paper:
    The will to behave morally as a point of principle.
    Knowledge of the codes and conventions of conduct agreed by society.
    Knowledge and understanding of the criteria put forward as a basis for making respoinsible judgements on moral issues.
    The ability to make judgements on moral issues.

Morally educated school leavers should be able to:
    distinguish between right and wrong.
    articulate their own attitudes and values.
    take responsibility for their own actions.
    recognise the moral dimention to situations.
    understand the long and short-term consequences of their actions for themselves and others
    develop for themselves a set of socially acceptable values and principles, and set guidelines to govern their own behavior
    recognise that their values and attidues may have to change over time.
    behave consistently in accordance with their principles.

    The greatest difference between moral education in the United Kingdom and the United States is that in the United Kingdom moral and religious education are treated as one subject. "Moral education in schools has traditionally been associated with religious education. One reason for this is that all reglions stress the importance of morality and give guidance in the form of general principles, codes or rules. In the UK it is often argued that the Christian ethic is at the basis of our laws and moral values... it is also possible to show moral concern and commitment without necessarily basing these on a relgious view of life." (Curriculum Framework, Scottish Office Education Department, 1992). A survey of parents found that 80% wanted religious moral education in schools, as opposed to non-religious moral education. There is a blending of religious and moral. In the United States Supreme Court decisions since the 1960s have systematically stripped religion from the public schools. Therefore moral education must be kept separate from religion.


    The Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum (SCCC) has defined five core values: appreciation of learning, respect and caring for self, respect and caring for others, a sense of belonging and social responsibility. Each of these core values has been defined and has three to six clarifying check points.

    There is a Values in Education Strategy Group which offers seminars, workshops, conferences, resources to aid schools and case studies exemplifying good practice in Scottish schools.

    The priorities of the SCCC are:
    To promote an awareness and understanding of the importance of values in education.
    To offer advice and support for headteachers and teachers in developing positive school climate and ethos.
    To assist schools in the processes of clarifying their values systems. To develop support materials on processes and procedures to help in this process.
    To offer advice and support in the development and implementation of strategies likely to lead to the effective translation of these values systems into practice.
    To promote an awareness of the important link between effective learning and teaching and values. To develop materials to encourage such learning/teaching to take place.

The SCCC recommend the following strategies:
    1. That they should consciously seek to make their values more explicit.
    2. That they should engage in a process of preparing a statement of values appropriate to the community of the school.
    3. That they should seek to make practices congruent with these values.
    4.That they should keep values issues and statements under continuous critical view.

Northern Ireland

    Northern Ireland developed a Curriculum (educational themes) Order in 1992. One of the six themes is Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU). It is defined as "fostering self-respect, respect for others and the improvement of relationships between people of differing cultural traditions." There are four objectives:
        1. Fostering respect for self and others and building relationships.
        2. Understanding conflict.
        3. Interdependence.
        4. Cultural traditions.

    The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order of 1989 stated that the schools must promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, intellectual and physical development of pupils. Suggested universally accepted values are: the value of human life, treating other people with respect, not causing hurt or pain, tolerance, fairness, keeping promises and telling the truth. Moral reasoning is taught so students will make responsible choices by recognising moral issues, clarifying values and beliefs, making choices and decisions, interpreting the thoughts, feelings and actions of others, predicting the consequences of action and acting in a moral way.

    Within the Religious Education curriculum are three major areas, one being morality. Morality is further defined as respect for self, others, God, the environment;, love, life knowing and accepting one's self, relationships, making decisions. There are objectives and examples of activities for each Key Stage (grade level) in the religious education curriculum written by the Northern Ireland Curriculum Council (NICC).


    Although the curriculum is holistic and not compartmentalised, the personal, moral and spiritual are included under Religious Education.

    The shared values listed in the Educational Culture in Clwyd are: equal worth, equal opportunities, excellence, education of the whole person, high expectations, caring schools and colleges, commitment and professionalism.

    The Local Authority is responsible for seeing that education promotes moral development.
"The caring ethos of Clwyd, with its emphasis on the individual, on person and social development, and on the community should be a vital characteristic of the curriculum. Autonomy and responsibility should be encouraged from within a happy and secure environment, leading to high expectations of each individual and a high profile for guidance and counseling."

    The entitlements listed are: home, individual needs, community, equal opportunities, special needs, cultural diversity, bilingualism, and Welsh context.

    Students ages 11 to 16 receive one to two hours a week of religious education. There is little or no teacher training for moral education (David Black).


    In England personal and social education are taught as well as religious education. According to curriculum guidelines students should be taught to "question, reason, develop their own value system and make responsible decisions."
The primary subject matter for discussing moral issues is History and English.


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