Issue #1 | April 2011

Dear Character Education Community, 

There are two competing forces in American education today with regards to civic and character education. On one hand, the growing emphasis on high stakes tests ‘incentivizes’ schools to focus their efforts exclusively (or at least primarily) on the subjects such as English and Mathematics upon which they are being evaluated. As a result, many other crucial areas of study– civic and character education among them– are often pushed to the side. On the other hand, there is a growing interest in community service learning at the primary, secondary, and university level. Nearly 50% of current high school students report having participated in community service in the past year, and the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act signed into law by President Obama this past year calls for a dramatic expansion of the AmeriCorps program. Three of the high performing charter schools in the Roxbury area in Boston have curricula that focuses on character development-an ingredient that these schools believe to be an important factor in their success.

It is hard to pick up a newspaper, a journal, or turn on the news (via internet, radio, or television) without seeing evidence of the need for character education. Whether it is the misuse of information gained over the internet, the bullying of others over reasons of perceived difference, or the willingness to take advantage of others for financial gain, we see the failure of moral vision.

We also see evidence of hope. We see the increase of service learning programs in schools. We see large numbers of college seniors who are turning to service opportunities for their post-college plans that range from working on health and nutrition in the developing world to teaching in historically disadvantaged communities in the United States.

These contrasting realities are precisely why we need a Center at which these issues are discussed and to  which seeks to facilitate the development of practices in schools focused on character and social responsibility. We, at the School of Education at Boston University are deeply committed to this process.

We have decided to create the Center for Character & Social Responsibility. The mission of this Center will be to support the professional development of individuals and institutions which seek to expand their awareness, knowledge, and skills in the areas of character development and social responsibility consistent with principles of healthy personal development. To start, this Center will focus on the building of a professional learning community that is dedicated to supporting the infusion of character education and the development of social responsibility into the curriculum and practices of schools.

There are two ways in which the Center will engage in this process. The first is that it will continue to hold the Annual Spring Conference in which this community can meet to discuss and share ways in which they introduce students to character education and social responsibility. The second is to create an online version of the Center’s newsletter Character that will serve as an outlet for educators and scholars who want to share their ideas about character and social responsibility. We are delighted to announce that the SED Character and Ethics Club will serve as the editors of the newsletter so that this important work will be a student run activity. The inaugural issue will be sent later in the month.  

In addition to the yearly conference and the newsletter, there are other ways in which we are involved in the broad areas of character and social responsibility. Just this year, Professor Scott Seider co-sponsored a conference here at Boston University for university faculty offering majors, minors and certificates in community service learning. He has also recently joined the editorial board of the Journal of Research in Character Education and the advisory board of the Spencer Foundation’s New Civics Initiative. Professor Dan Davis is carrying on the engaged history program “We the People” which seeks to promote the civic competence of elementary and secondary students. Professor Doug Zook is working with sedGreen which has become a university model for encouraging a sustainability consciousness and relevant changes in behavior to create a culture of sustainability.

Dean Hardin Coleman
Director of the Center for Character & Social Responsibility  
Boston University School of Education