Virtues should trump values in character education

  • October 10, 2008
 {sidebar id=2}TORONTO - Catholic school programs on character development should focus on virtues instead of values, says a new document by the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The August paper by the OCCB’s Education Commission led by Alexandria-Cornwall Bishop Paul Andre Durocher, entitled Character Development and the Virtuous Life, said a focus on virtues “helps us re-acquire a valuable concept in our tradition, compels us to recognize God’s role in the character development of our students and helps us focus on specific habits that foster and protect the freedoms to which we are called.”

The bishops’ document is aimed at all partners in Catholic education.

The Ontario Ministry of Education’s $2-million Character Development Initiative seeks to integrate a holistic approach to developing the moral character and behaviour of students, and recognizes the role of morality in the growth of children and teachers in a publicly-funded school system.

The Ontario bishops said the program, which was launched in 2006, has “no place for God” and should be adapted if it is to be used in Catholic schools.

This values-based education is not rooted in the Catholic tradition but on a movement which developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s seeking to introduce a psychology and therapy-based approach into the classroom, according to the OCCB.

The Ontario bishops also said this approach “left a vacuum in the educational world which made it difficult to address pressing issues of the 1990s: growing violence in schools, alarming rates of teenaged pregnancy, drug addiction and drop-outs, a seeming loss of a common vision of good citizenship.”

Marianne Mazzorato, superintendent of programs at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, said the board’s character education program reflects the bishops’ virtues-based approach. While character education was already in place before the provincial program, the new initiative has helped expand the resources for the board’s virtues-based strategy, she said.

The board’s program is rooted in the Gospel, highlighting the virtues of faith, empathy, conscience, hope and self-control, according to Mazzorato, adding that these virtues are also incorporated into the schools’ curricula and liturgies.

“It’s been able to give a voice to the work we’re doing in creating safe, caring and inclusive communities,” she said.

According to Mazzorato, the program’s success is seen in higher student scores on provincial tests and a decrease in student expulsions and detentions. Elementary school suspensions fell from 1,365 to 1,011 and high school suspensions fell from 3,891 to 3,096 over the last two years. Meanwhile, high school expulsions decreased from 67 to 41 and elementary school expulsions from two to one during the same time period.

The Ontario bishops’ document also said while character education has already been part of moral education in Catholic schools, it’s still important for them to consider taking part in the provincial project.

Two of the eight character development resources teams established by the Ontario Ministry of Education are assigned to Catholic boards.

The ministry said its values-based approach seeks to ensure safe schools and improve students’ grades.

Brian Evoy, president of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education, told The Register from Ottawa that character education isn’t a new idea.

“We can witness that when non-Catholics want to send their kids to Catholic schools, it’s because they know (Catholic schools) have strong moral values,” he said.

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