Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgement, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues

Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgement, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues

by Thomas Lickona
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Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgement, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues by Thomas Lickona

Award-winning psychologist and educator Thomas Lickona offers more than one hundred practical strategies that parents and schools have used to help kids build strong personal character as the foundation for a purposeful, productive, and fulfilling life.

Succeeding in life takes character, and Lickona shows how irresponsible and destructive behavior can invariably be traced to the absence of good character and its ten essential qualities: wisdom, justice, fortitude, self-control, love, a positive attitude, hard work, integrity, gratitude, and humility.

The culmination of a lifetime’s work in character education from one the preeminent psychologists of our time, this landmark book gives us the tools we need to raise respectful and responsible children, create safe and effective schools, and build the caring and decent society in which we all want to live.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743245074
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: 02/03/2004
Edition description: Original
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 769,405
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.43(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Thomas Lickona is a developmental psychologist and professor of education at the State University of New York at Cortland, where he directs the Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (respect and responsibility). The recipient of the Sandy Lifetime Achievement Award from the Character Education Partnership, he is the author of Educating for Character, which has been called "the bible of the character education movement."

Read an Excerpt


Portraits of character touch something deep in the human heart. In the award-winning Civil War documentary by Ken Burns, one of the most commented on and moving moments was the reading of a letter written by a Union soldier, Major Sullivan Ballou, to his wife, Sarah, a week before his death at the Battle of Bull Run:

My very dear Sarah,

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt....

Sarah, my love for you is deathless...and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long....I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me — perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name.

Here was a humble man, a courageous man, who loved his family and loved his country and, spurred on by high ideals, did his duty as he saw it without complaining. Tom Brokaw, interviewing veterans of World War II in his best-selling book The Greatest Generation was struck by many of the same qualities. September 11 produced abundant examples of unassuming heroism and sacrificial generosity.

We are moved by these stories of character because they show us human beings at their best. They reveal our capacity for goodness. They challenge us to be more than we might otherwise be. And they renew our faith in every child's potential to grow into a person of character.

As we begin a new century, we have a sharper sense of how much character matters. We need good character to lead purposeful, productive, and fulfilling lives. We need character to have strong and stable families. We need character to have safe, caring, and effective schools. We need character to build a civil, decent, and just society.

We are troubled, however, by the unraveling of the moral fabric of our society. In a recent national poll, nearly three of four American adults said that they believe that people in general lead less honest and moral lives than they used to.1 Says a high school teacher, "Kids today are more cynical than ever about the lack of honesty they see in the adult world."

We're troubled by all the ways societal moral decline is reflected, as it inevitably is, in the attitudes and behavior of our children. We're troubled by the precocious sexual behavior of the young. We're troubled by the bad language that comes out of the mouths of even elementary school children. We're troubled by the breakdown of the family and the growing numbers of parents who seem to let their children do and watch what they please. We're troubled by a ubiquitous media culture that grows more violent and vulgar by the day.

How can we renew our moral culture?

Children are 25 percent of the population but 100 percent of the future. If we wish to renew society, we must raise up a generation of children who have strong moral character. And if we wish to do that, we have two responsibilities: first, to model good character in our own lives, and second, to intentionally foster character development in our young.

Happily, an effort to do this is under way. For more than a decade, there has been a resurgence of character education in our nation's schools. It can be seen in a spate of character education books and curricular materials; in federal funding for character education and character education mandates in more than two-thirds of the states; in the emergence of national advocacy groups such as the Character Education Partnership and the Character Counts! Coalition; in the new Journal of Research in Character Education, the National Schools of Character awards competition, and reports on how to prepare future teachers to be character educators; and in an explosion of grassroots character education initiatives.

Character education is welcomed by parents who need support for the hard work of raising good children in a hostile moral environment; welcomed by teachers who went into teaching hoping to make a difference in the kind of person a child becomes and are demoralized to be in a school that gives up teaching right from wrong; and welcomed by all of us who are saddened by the decline in values as basic as common courtesy that we once took for granted. Effective character education in our schools is something all of us have a stake in, not just educators and parents, but everyone who cares about a decent society.

The premise of the character education movement is that the disturbing behaviors that bombard us daily — violence, greed, corruption, incivility, drug abuse, sexual immorality, and a poor work ethic — have a common core: the absence of good character. Educating for character, unlike piecemeal reforms, goes beneath the symptoms to the root of these problems. It therefore offers the best hope of improvement in all these areas.

Character education, of course, is not only the responsibility of schools. It is the shared duty of all those who touch the values and lives of the young, starting with families and extending to faith communities, youth organizations, business, government, and even the media. The hope for the future is that we can come together in common cause: to elevate the character of our children, our own character as adults, and ultimately the character of our culture.

At the heart of effective character education is a strong partnership between parents and schools. The family is the first school of virtue. It is where we learn about love. It is where we learn about commitment, sacrifice, and faith in something larger than ourselves. The family lays down the moral foundation on which all other social institutions build.

Parents, if they make the effort, can remain formative influences even during the challenging adolescent years. Building a Better Teenager, a 2002 research report based on hundreds of studies, concludes that the most academically motivated and morally responsible teens — and the ones least likely to engage in risky behaviors — are those who enjoy warm and involved relationships with their parents and whose parents set clear expectations and monitor their activities in age-appropriate ways.

For the past nine years, our Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (respect and responsibility) at the State University of New York at Cortland has worked with schools and parents to promote the development of good character. We publish a Fourth and Fifth Rs newsletter ( spotlighting character education success stories and run the Summer Institute in Character Education, which trains teachers, counselors, administrators, and other educators from across the country.

Character education, we always emphasize, is not a new idea. Down through history, all over the world, education has had two great goals: to help students become smart and to help them become good. They need character for both. They need character strengths such as a strong work ethic, self-discipline, and perseverance in order to succeed in school and succeed in life. They need character qualities such as respect and responsibility in order to have positive interpersonal relationships and live in community. At the beginning of our republic, the Founders argued that a democracy — government by the people — could not thrive without virtuous citizens, ones who understood and honored democracy's moral underpinnings: respect for individual rights, voluntary compliance with the law, participation in public life, and concern for the common good. For most of our nation's history, character education was at the center of the school's mission.

Unlike the nondirective and often relativistic values education of the recent past — which encouraged students to "make your own decision" without grounding them in the content of character — character education is the deliberate effort to cultivate virtue. The school stands for qualities of character such as hard work, respect, and responsibility. It promotes these through every phase of school life, from the example of adults to the handling of discipline to the content of the curriculum.

What is the content of character that we should try to model and teach in school, at home, and in our communities? In this book, I set forth ten essential virtues that are affirmed by nearly all philosophical, cultural, and religious traditions: wisdom, justice, fortitude, self-control, love, a positive attitude, hard work, integrity, gratitude, and humility. Part 1 explains these ten essential virtues and the way character profoundly affects the quality of our individual and collective lives.

Part 2 shows how parents can raise children of character and how schools can help parents fulfill their primary role as children's first and most powerful moral teachers.

Part 3 shows how all classroom teachers, regardless of subject matter, can create a learning community that fosters responsible work and moral behavior.

Part 4 shows how any school can become a school of character. Here and throughout the book, I report on exemplary elementary, middle, and high schools, many of which have won national recognition for excellence in character education. These schools have reaped the rewards of fewer discipline problems and higher academic performance by putting character first.

Part 5 shows how to involve an entire community in promoting good character.

Character education, to be sure, can be done ineffectively, as little more than slogans, banners, and adults' urging kids to be good. But schools that do character education well — in a way that transforms the school culture, the daily experience of students and staff — create an environment in which diligent effort, mutual respect, and service to others are the rule rather than the exception. A growing body of character education research (see, for example, What Works in Character Education, documents these positive outcomes. Hal Urban, an award-winning high school history teacher, a character education speaker, and the author of Life's Greatest Lessons, shares his firsthand observations:

I've had the good fortune to visit schools all over the country that have character education programs in place. The first word that pops into my mind when I visit them is "clean." I seen clean campuses and buildings, hear clean language, and see kids dressed cleanly and neatly. I also see courtesy being practiced by everyone — students, teachers, administrators, custodians, and cafeteria workers. Most important, I see teaching and learning going on in an atmosphere that is caring, positive, and productive.

At the end of a unit on slavery, a fifth-grade boy in New Hampshire said, "We think slavery was bad, but what are people going to say about us in a hundred years?" Most of us would be likely to agree that our contemporary society faces serious social-moral problems and that these problems have deep roots and require systemic solutions. Many of us are also now coming to recognize the link between public life and private character — that it is not possible to develop a virtuous society unless we develop virtue in the hearts, minds, and souls of individual human beings. Families, schools, and communities can and must each do their part in creating a culture of character by raising children of character. Indeed, the health of our nation in the century ahead depends on how seriously all of us commit to this calling.

Copyright © 2004 by Thomas Lickona

Table of Contents



Part One — Why Character Matters

Chapter 1: Why Character Matters

The Right Stuff

The Content of Our Character

Ten Essential Virtues

The Two Sides of Character

What Is the Current Condition of Our Character?

2002 Report Card on American Youth Ethics

Character in the Face of Temptation: The Lost Wallet Experiment

What Motivates Honesty?

Character in the Face of Evil: The Rescuers Study

What Motivated Rescue?

The Roots of Caring

Character as Transformation of Moral Self

The Character of Our Democracy

Sex and Character

The National Character Education Movement

Part Two — Create Families of Character

Chapter 2: Raise Children of Character

Make Character Development a High Priority

Be an Authoritative Parent

Love Children

Teach by Example

Manage the Moral Environment

Use Direct Teaching to Form Conscience and Habits

Teach Good Judgment

Discipline Wisely

Solve Conflicts Fairly

Provide Opportunities to Practice the Virtues

Foster Spiritual Development

Chapter 3: Build a Strong Home-School Partnership

Affirm the Family as the Primary Character Educator

Expect Parents to Participate

Provide Incentives for Parent Participation

Provide Programs on Parenting — and Work to Increase the Turnout

Get the Program to the Parents

Assign "Family Homework"

Form Parent Peer Support Groups

Involve Parents in Planning the Character Education Program

Establish an Ongoing Forum for Parents

Form a Parents' Character Education Committee

Make a Moral Compact with Parents

Renew the Compact

Extend the Compact to Discipline

Extend the Compact to Sports and Other Co-curricular Activities

Extend the Compact to Combating the Effects of the Media

Be Responsive to Parental Complaints

Respect the Primacy of Parental Rights Regarding Sex Education

Increase the Flow of All Positive Communication Between School and Home

Let Parents Know What Work Is Expected and Send Home Regular Reports

Provide Family Support Centers and Community Schools

Chapter 4: Talk to Kids About Sex, Love, and Character

Sex and the Human Heart

A Sexually Toxic Environment

Be Clear About What Kids Need in Order to Avoid Premature Sex

Point Out the Positive Trends

Help Kids Understand Why Some Young People Get Sexually Involved

Talk About What Counts as "Sex"

Teach Kids Nonsexual Ways to Be Intimate

Offer a Vision

Talk About the Emotional Dangers of Uncommitted Sex

Discuss the Rewards of Waiting

Talk About Tough Issues

Implement Character-Based Sex Education in Schools

Part Three — Create Classrooms of Character

Chapter 5: Build Bonds and Model Character

Teach as if Relationships Matter

Use the Power of a Handshake

Get to Know Students as Individuals

Use Bonding to Improve Behavior

Use the Power of Example

Use a Self-Inventory to Focus on Role Modeling

Invite Guest Speakers Who Are Positive Role Models

What the Research Shows

Chapter 6: Teach Academics and Character at the Same Time

"If We Do Character Education, Will Academic Learning Improve?"

Name the Virtues Needed to Be a Good Student

Teach as if Purpose Matters

Teach as if Excellence Matters

Teach as if Integrity Matters

Teach as if Students Can Take Responsibility for Their Learning

Use an Instructional Process That Makes Character-Building Part of Every Lesson

Manage the Classroom So That Character Matters

Teach Curriculum Content as if Character Matters

Use a Schoolwide Curriculum That Teaches Moral and Intellectual Virtues

Structure Discussion as if Character Matters

Teach as if Truth Matters

Teach with a Commitment to Balance

Model Balance and Fairness in Dealing with Controversial Issues

Teach as if Justice Matters

Chapter 7: Practice Character-Based Discipline

Share the Agenda

Hold Students Accountable

Teach Principles of Responsibility

Involve Students in Generating the Rules

Teach the Golden Rule

Share the Plan with Parents
Practice Procedures

Use the Language of Virtue

Help Students Learn from Mistakes

Have Students Make a Behavior Improvement Plan

Discuss Why a Behavior Was Wrong

Use Time-out Effectively

Design Detention That Builds Character

Teach Restitution

Have Kids Help Each Other

Prepare for a "Guest Teacher"

Give a Difficult Child Responsibility

Design a "Tough Love" Program for Difficult Students

Chapter 8: Teach Manners

Get Kids to Think About Why Manners Matter

Teach the Hello-Good-bye Rule

Teach Alphabet Manners

Implement a Manners Curriculum

Chapter 9: Prevent Peer Cruelty and Promote Kindness

Begin with Character-Based Discipline

Create a Caring School Community

Implement an Effective Anti-Bullying Program

Get Students to Take Responsibility for Stopping Peer Cruelty

Build Classroom Community

Foster Friendship

Do "Anonymous Compliments"

Implement Quality Cooperative Learning

Teach Empathy Through Children's Literature

Have Children with Disabilities Teach Their Peers

Use the Seven E's to Teach Caring

Use the Power of a Pledge

0 Have Kids Keep a Good Deeds Journal

Celebrate Kindness

Have Peers Recognize Peers

Use a Class Meeting to Discuss Bullying

Build Bonds Through Buddy Classes

Create "School Families"

Implement Advisory Groups

Create a Safe and Respectful School Bus

Chapter 10: Help Kids (and Adults) Take Responsibility for Building Their Own Characters

Teach Why Character Matters

Teach "Nobody Can Build Your Character for You"

Teach "We Create Our Character by the Choices We Make"

Study Persons of Character

Have Students Do Character Interviews

Have Students Assess Their Own Character

Teach Daily Goal Setting

Teach Kids to Make "Goal Strips"

Help Kids Connect the Virtues with Life

Assess "Levels of Responsibility"

Use Character Quotes to Help Kids Set Goals

Do a Goal-Setting Bulletin Board

Have Students Set 100 Goals

Have Students Develop a Portfolio

Have Students Write a Mission Statement

Enable Students to Reflect on Life's Largest Questions

Part Four — Create Schools of Character

Chapter 11: Make Your School a School of Character

Create a Touchstone

Have a Character-Based Motto
Seek the Principal's Support for Making Character a Priority

Form the Leadership Group(s)

Develop a Knowledge Base

Introduce the Concept of Character Education to the Entire Staff

Consider "What Sort of Persons Do We Want Our Students to Become?"

Consider "What Will Character Education Mean for Me?"

Consider "What Will Character Education Look Like If We Do It Schoolwide?"

Analyze the Moral and Intellectual Culture of the School

Choose Two Priorities for Improving the School Culture

Ask "Should We Commit to Becoming a School of Character?"

Plan a Quality Character Education Program

Choose an Organizing Strategy for Promoting the Virtues

Make Assessment Part of the Plan

Build a Strong Adult Community

Make Time for Character

Chapter 12: Involve Students in Creating a School of Character

Involve Students in Planning and Leading the Character Education Program

Use Class Meetings to Give Kids a Voice and Responsibility

Involve Students in Participatory Schoolwide Student Government

Provide Informal Opportunities for Student Input

Challenge Students to Mount a Schoolwide Campaign

Establish a Mentoring System

Establish a Character Club or Committee

Recognize Student Leadership

Part Five — Create Communities of Character

Chapter 13: Involve the Whole Community in Building Good Character

Strengthen the School-Community Partnership

Strengthen Families

Commit to Becoming a Community of Character

Create a Leadership Group

Give Everyone a Chance for Input

Identify the Target Virtues

Provide Leadership Training

Get Business Involved

Promote Community Awareness of Character

Integrate Character into All Community Programs

Create a Special Role for Police

Give Kids a Leadership Role

Recognize Good Character

Have Community Volunteers Teach Character in the Schools

Assess the Impact of a Community Character Initiative


Appendix: The Hilltop Elementary School Story



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Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgement, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first starting reading this book I was very excited. I enjoyed Lickona's discussion of ten essential virtues of good character - four from the ancient Greeks. I especially liked the discussion of the second virtue, Justice -- as 'respecting the rights of all persons.' Later, however, in the chapter entitled 'A Sexually Toxic Environment,' I realized Lickona may be biased about certain cultural issues. His discussion of abstinence as the 'only medically safe, emotionally healthy, and morally responsible choice' and masturbation as a 'habit' that 'can weaken the attraction between husband and wife and cause problems in their sexual relationship' seemed one- sided and certainly not respectful of our human right to privacy -- as Lickona indirectly refered to when he mentioned the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is also a discussion of homosexuality in which Lickona states, among other things, that people who have engaged in homosexual acts have higher rates of depression and anxiety. As my teenager remarked to me, those higher rates may be due to society's oppression of homosexuals, not homosexuals' sexual preferences -- an idea not mentioned in this book. In other chapters of Character Matters, Lickona presents practical and helpful suggestions to educators and families about how to teach a variety of virtues to children. My favorites were 'Practice Character-Based Discipline,' 'Teach Manners,' and 'Prevent Peer Cruelty and Promote Kindness.'
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Terrific book for anyone with children in their lives!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I agree with the review from Publisher's Weekly, it is well done. Regarding the Chapter on A Sexually Toxic Environment the author is not expressing bias but has the courage to tell the truth which is supported by both medical and psychological facts, not opinions or bias. There are absoute truths without which there would be no truth at all