Character education and social justice

Given the increasing emphasis on character education in youth work, see this critique by Gary Walsh.

curriculum for equity

by Gary Walsh

As character educationcontinues to gain influence in educational policy in the UK and elsewhere, it becomes more and more important to ensure it receives adequate critique. Having worked in the field of character education and studied the research base for a number of years, I have concluded that the legitimacy of traditional approaches to character education should be critically examined from a social justice perspective. The purpose of this post is to explain why I think this is the case. In doing so I hope this proves a useful point of reflection for any interested practitioners or researchers.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues make the grand and enticing claim that character is “the basis for human and societal flourishing“. This is somewhat alluring because it sounds empowering and inclusive: the implicit promise is that we can all flourish no matter who we are.

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  1. I think there is a danger of presenting the choice as binary, either we have character development or political education when in fact society needs both to develop,.

    Also whilst I have been a member one of the oldest Character development organisations has never instilled gratitude or humility as its core values which are based around;

    been trusted





    self respect and respect for others

    and care for possessions and property

    Qualities I would argue would increase an activists effectiveness rather than inhibit it.

    Whether we like it or not 93% of young people are in an unfair competition for control of the communities resources with 7% of their peers who have benefited from a highly effective regime of confidence building and self presentation often enabling them to be selected on the basis of their confidence rather than their competence.

  2. Tony – loads to think about as a result of your response. I wonder if you might be interested in being involved in some sort of seminar on character education. Not sure if you looked at my rant about measuring personal and social development, which contains the following:

    My comment on neutrality takes me to a final point regarding the idea of character itself. The pioneers of youth work, the likes of George Williams, Lily Montagu and Baden-Powell, , would warm to its re-emergence, confident in their concern to nurture young men and women of good Christian or Jewish character. Explicitly they engaged without embarrassment with two inextricably interrelated questions, which, if we are similarly honest, we cannot escape:

    In what sort of society do we wish to live? What are its characteristics?
    And, depending on our answer, what sort of characters, do we think, are best suited to either the maintenance of what is or the creation of something yet to be?


    Best Wishes

    • Hi Tony

      Bit busy this term could probably fit in a seminar during Winter term depending on how my results are. Not sure what I have to offer but happy to help.

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