Meta-study findings result in call for much more character education in high school

OXFORD, England – The results of a meta-study presented at Oxford University in a speech by professor William Jeynes are causing researchers to take a second look at not only if character education should be a part of the school curriculum, but also when. His meta-analysis combining the results of 52 studies of character education, including over 225,000 students indicated that character education had the greatest impact on youth, when it took place in high school. William Jeynes, a Harvard graduate and Senior Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, notes, “The results are particularly intriguing, because the sparse number of character education school programs that there are, emphasize ‘getting them when they’re young.’ However, these results suggest that not only does character education have quite robust effects on student behavior and academic outcomes overall, but it also has an especially potent impact in high school.”

Jeynes continues by adding, “Although these results go against the tide of the current thought that character instruction should primarily take place when pupils are young, upon further examination, they really do make sense. Students begin the process of making some of the most important decisions of their lives when they are in high school. If there is ever a time in which they need moral guidance, this is the time period. When we raised our children, we often told them to make certain that they walk the straight and narrow particularly during high school, college, and young adulthood, because it is during this period that they will make some of the most important decisions of their lives.”

Jeynes offers some historical context to his findings by asserting, “The character education that is appropriate in our contemporary society is one that emphasizes the values that virtually all people value, unless they are in prison or a sociopath. These include honesty, sincerity, responsibility, love, and respect. We do not have to go into the real controversial issues.” Jeynes noted that “in the aftermath of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1963 that removed Bible and voluntary prayer from the public schools, an unintended consequence of their decisions was the defacto removal of character education as well. This is because when schools taught love, forgiveness, or the ‘golden rule,’ all it would take is one parent to complain that such teaching was Christianity to cause schools to retreat from teaching related to character, Naturally, although love and forgiveness are an integral part of Christianity, one can demonstrate each quality without being a Christian.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “to educate a man in mind and not morals is to educate a menace to society.” Martin Luther King asserted, “Intelligence plus character- that is the goal of true education.” The findings of the meta-study suggest that character education in the schools may yield some real benefits, particularly among high school adolescents who tend to need moral guidance so much.