Safe Cities and Character Education

Character education is an umbrella term loosely used to describe the teaching of children in a manner that will help them develop variously as moral, civic, good, mannered, behaved, non-bullying, healthy, critical, successful, traditional, compliant or socially acceptable beings. Concepts that now and in the past have fallen under this term include social and emotional learning, moral reasoning and cognitive development, life skills education, health education, violence prevention, critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and conflict resolution and mediation. Many of these are now considered failed programs, i.e. "religious education", "moral education", "values clarification".

Today, there are dozens of character education programs in, and vying for adoption by, schools and businesses. Some are commercial, some non-profit and many are uniquely devised by states, districts and schools, themselves. A common approach of these programs is to provide a list of principles, pillars, values or virtues, which are memorized or around which themed activities are planned. It is commonly claimed that the values included in any particular list are universally recognized. However, there is no agreement among the competing programs on core values (e.g., honesty, stewardship, kindness, generosity, courage, freedom, justice, equality, and respect) or even how many to list. There is also no common or standard means for assessing, implementing or evaluating programs.


"Character" is one of those overarching concepts that are the subject of disciplines from philosophy to theology, from psychology to sociology—with many competing and conflicting theories.

Character as it relates to character education most often refers to how 'good' a person is. In other words, a person who exhibits personal qualities like those a society considers desirable might be considered to have good character—and developing such personal qualities is often seen as a purpose of education. However, the various proponents of character education are far from agreement as to what "good" is, or what qualities are desirable. Compounding this problem is that there is no scientific definition of character. Because such a concept blends personality and behavioural components, scientists have long since abandoned use of the term "character" and, instead, use the term psychological motivators to measure the behavioural predispositions of individuals. With no clinically defined meaning, there is virtually no way to measure if an individual has a deficit of character, or if a school program can improve it.

The various terms in the lists of values that character education programs propose—even those few found in common among some programs—suffer from vague definitions. This makes the need and effectiveness of character education problematic to measure.

Issues and controversies

Scientific studies

October 2010, the largest federal study yet found that school wide Character Education programs don’t produce any improvements in student behaviour or academic performance.

A 2010 report released under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education also found that the vast majority of character education programs have failed to prove their effectiveness. Previous and current research on the subject fails to find one peer-reviewed study demonstrating any scientifically validated need for or result from character education programs. Typically, support is attested to by referring to "correlations" (e.g., grades, number of disciplinary referrals, subjective opinion, etc.).

Functional and ideological problems:

1) An assumption that "character" is deficient in some or all children

2) Lack of agreement on what constitutes effectiveness

3) Lack of evidence that it does what it claims

4) A conflict between what good characters is and the way that character education proposes to teach it

5) Differing standards in methods and objectives. Differing standards for assessing need and evaluating results. Some attempts have been made.

6) Supportive "studies" that overwhelmingly rely on subjective feedback (usually surveys) from vested participants

7) Programs instituted towards ideological and/or religious ends

8) The pervasive problem of confusing morality with social conformity

9) There are few if any common goals among character education programs. The dissensions in the list of values among character education programs, itself, constitutes a major criticism that there is anything to character education that is either fundamental or universally relevant to students or society.

10) It might be said that there is agreement in as much as what values do not find inclusion on lists of core values. Not found, even though they are fundamental to the success of modern democratic societies, are such noted values as independence, inventiveness, curiosity, critical thinking, scepticism, and even moderation. "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!" the famous saying by Ms. Frizzle on the much celebrated TV show, The Magic School Bus, embodies values that would be antithetical to those found on today’s character education lists.

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