Should Schools Teach Character

America’s schools are having a difficult time simply teaching students how to be proficient in reading, math and science. That’s why many schools completely ignore teaching basic character skills.

Most schools do not effectively teach behavioral skills and proper attitudes/manners like cooperating, being on time, making eye-contact, speaking persuasively, etc, argues Jay Mathews in an article in the Washington Post.

Some schools are trying to incorporate these basic skills into education, a practice known as character education; however, many schools are still ignoring them. Very few schools have actually made progress in character education, argues Mathews.

Mathews cited a study in social and emotional learning (SEL education) that trains students to act and think in positive ways. The study suggested that strong SEL education can create better student achievement. However, the data does not yet measure effects on students’ lives and work after high school graduation.

Students in social and emotional learning classes improved their test scores and grades by 11 percent, compared to similar students in standard classrooms without SEL education, according to the Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions study, by Joseph A. Durlak and Kriston B. Schellinger of Loyola University Chicago and Roger P. Weissberg, Allison B. Dymnicki and Rebecca D. Taylor of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The authors of the study determined that these results were significant. They also found that students in SEL education have better social skills, less emotional distress, less misbehavior (bullying or suspensions), more positive behavior and ultimately better attitudes. These effects continued for six months after the programs ended.

“SEL programs are successful at all educational levels (elementary, middle and high school) and in urban, suburban, and rural schools, although they have been studied least often in high schools and in rural areas,” reads the study, according to the Washington Post.

The authors stated the SEL education helps students become more confident in their learning, and thus try harder and rarely give up on more challenging concepts or classes. SEL education students are also self-motivated, setting high academic goals and constructing a personal, effective approach to learning.

Other studies are contradictory. One from the Institute of Education Sciences suggests that seven of the most popular SEL education programs did not produce significant social or academic gains.

Another study, the Child Development Report, suggested similar results, also stating that SEL education does not necessarily produce better attitudes and behavior.

SEL education produces better results in smaller classrooms, especially when a teacher takes on the approach for one class, according to Mathews. School-wide comprehensive programs are more complicated to implement, causing problems and limiting their positive effects.