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The common schools movement informed our 19th century educational practices with a sense of civic mission that left no school or college untouched. Not just the land grant colleges, but nearly every higher educational institution founded in the 18th and 19th centuries-religious as well as secular, private no lest than public-counted among its leading founding principles a dedication to training competent and responsible citizens. (¶ 4)

The precedent for a consensual concern for character and citizenry knowledge and practice would guide America’s educational goals, curricula, and pedagogies through the end of the sixth decade of the 20th century.

Nineteenth century

Education in the 1800s adhered to a direct approach incorporating student discipline, the teacher’s example, and the daily school curriculum (Lickona, 1993). Character educators enjoyed a consensus with curriculum utilizing the Bible as the source for both moral and religious instruction. Following controversies with Bible and doctrine choices, educators turned to McGuffey Readers that “retained many favorite Biblical stories but added poems, exhortations, and heroic tales” (Lickona, 1993, p. 6). Clarity of mission characterized textbooks of the 1800s. Levy (2000) noted:

Nineteenth-century textbooks were clear on civic virtues. They promoted love of country, love of God, duty to parents, thrift, honesty and hard work. These characteristics were designed to encourage youngsters to support the accumulation of property, the certainty of progress, and the perfection of the United States. Schoolbooks were meant to train the child’s character. (p. 14)

Noddings (2005) gave a historical context to education in the early 1800s by noting that, “Public schools in the United States – as well as schools across different societies and historical eras – were established as much for moral and social reasons as for academic instruction” (p. 10).

In Thomas Jefferson’s 1818 Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, the ‘objects of primary education’ included such qualities as, “morals, understanding of duties to neighbors and country, knowledge of rights, and intelligence and faithfulness in social relations” (Noddings, 2005, p. 10). In his Pedagogic Creed of 1897, Dewey understood that all education proceeded from individuals’ participation in the social consciousness of the race and that this unconscious education resulted in students also sharing in humanity’s collective intellectual and moral resources (Education, 1968, p. 373).

Twentieth century

The twentieth century saw educators implementing proactive steps to ensure character development. Early in the century, Krajewski and Bailey (1999) wrote that public education was not without moral and ethical guidance for: In 1918 the Commission on Reorganization of Secondary Education recommended seven Cardinal Principles: health, worthy home membership, command of fundamental academic skills, vocation, citizenship, worthy use of leisure time, and ethical character. The Commission members viewed the high school as an agency to advance all aspects of life. (p. 33)

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Source:  OpenStax, Character education: review, analysis, and relevance to educational leadership. OpenStax CNX. Sep 24, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11119/1.1
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