Issue 3: January 2012

Letter from the Director

Dear All, 

2012 promises to be an important year for the Center. We already have several exciting programs being planned including an early January conference on bullying and a symposium with our Japanese partners from Reitaku University to share what we have learned in writing a book that compares Japanese and American Virtues, Happiness and Virtue: Beyond East and West Toward a New Global Responsibility, in April. We will announce the date and time shortly.

Starting in January, Carl Hobert, the Founding Director of Axis of Hope  will join the BU faculty as a clinical instructor working out of the Center to help teachers learn how to address issues of global conflict in their courses while helping students learn conflict resolution skills. He will continue providing workshops for public and independent schools in which he uses his case method approach to help participants become more engaged global citizens. In addition he will be teaching his well-received course, Educating Global Citizens, each semester.

Most exciting, we are very pleased to announce that Professor Stephan Ellenwood has agreed to serve a three year term as Faculty Director of the CCSR starting July 1, 2012. Dr. Ellenwood is stepping down as Chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction after 30 years of service in this position. Being a founding member of the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character, he is an excellent choice to help us develop the Center for Character and Social Responsibility. To support this transition, a graduate of the BU School of Education has created a challenge grant to support the salary of the Director. We will be sending more information on this opportunity to you in a separate mailing.

2011 will go down in history as a year in which ordinary people took steps to change their world from Tunisia to Mexico. We see this as demonstrating the combination of character and social responsibility that it takes to have civil and just societies. We appreciate the work that each of you do each day to prepare to next generation to develop their character in order to take on their role as responsible citizens. Please let us know the ways in which we can support you in this extremely valuable work.


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

Leaders in Education

Interview with Dr. Mary McCarthy

Dr. Mary Hansberry McCarthy is the principal of the Hubert Kindergarten Center and the Director of Character Education and Service-Learning in Hudson Public Schools, MA. Hudson has been a National School of Character through the Character Education Partnership (CEP) since 2001. Mary is a member of the Hudson Character Education Committee working in conjunction with Boston University’s Center for Character and Social Responsibility (CCSR) to designate schools as Massachusetts Schools of Character and to qualify schools to be considered as National Schools of Character. Mary led her district’s work in organizing a committee of over 40 members who designed the district’s anti-bullying plan. She has presented and published on character education and service-learning including co-authoring a chapter in the Educators’ Guide to Emotional Intelligence and Academic Achievement.

“Character development is intrinsic to the basic educational process and connected to the moral responsibility we have as educators,” Dr. Mary McCarthy espoused. She continues to say that it is our [educators] obligation to weave these principles into our basic curriculum rather than considering them as something extra. Anti-bullying initiatives are calling us to make this more explicit. We are being pushed to consider what we are doing to address bullying and how we are incorporating anti-bullying practices into classrooms and schools.

McCarthy defines character education as students’ social, emotional, ethical and civic development. Anti-bullying initiatives fall under the umbrella of character education. Most research based anti-bullying programs address the development of empathy. McCarthy acknowledges that not all children are innately empathetic. Therefore these programs encourage students to think beyond themselves, connect with others and ultimately better understand themselves.

McCarthy feels that districts cannot be blamed for the rise in bullying, nor can districts be criticized for students who are less empathetic or socially prepared for the real world. Many state and federal agencies have pushed teachers to focus on standardized tests that have unfortunately contributed to some character education falling by the wayside. But McCarthy reminds us that, “public schools were founded to produce educated citizens. This encompasses an understanding of social justice and civic engagement in addition to the core subjects.”

McCarthy utilizes service learning as a vehicle to incorporate character development into academia. Through experiential learning students apply their academic skills and reinforce their knowledge by giving back to the community and reflecting on the world around them.

McCarthy designed the course “Community Service-Learning: You can Change the World” as part of the Virtual High School ( The entire course is online and although there is no face-to-face interaction, students from around the world (including but not limited to the US, Thailand and Venezuela) communicate and connect on a multitude of levels. Students begin the course by watching podcasts created by Dr. Mary McCarthy and reading up on the theory of service-learning. Students then take the lead by designing their own service-learning programs.

Students consider community needs in their area – the causes and possible solutions. Even after 8 years, McCarthy is always in awe of her students. She describes them as “realists in the sense that they look at real problems and do not push the responsibility of fixing it onto someone else.” However, they continue to display a sense of enthusiasm and a degree of idealism. Students may not be able to completely execute their programs during the course of the class, but they do grow as global citizens. They realize that even with their differences, they are all basically the same in terms of humanity. During the project presentations via power point, websites and podcasts students find that similar problems exist around the world, thus allowing them to work together and find common solutions.

This online course breaks down the ‘walls’ of schools and crosses borders. This same idea can happen within your school. McCarthy states that a whole school approach to character education is optimal but not required. The whole school approach creates a center with common core values, understanding and language. However, if a single teacher implements character education into daily routines and curriculum he/she may start seeing positive results. The success story of those students will spread and the ‘walls’ of that one classroom will start breaking down, ultimately creating an environment of teacher collaboration. Ideally, it will continue to expand making character education a part of the entire school instead of one isolated classroom.

McCarthy exclaims that, “the anti-bullying push does not give us an opportunity but rather a climate in which schools are obligated to respond. Educators may now be legally responsible to respond, but we have always been morally responsible to do everything we possibly can to create a safe and effective environment for all students to learn and grow [as scholars and citizens].”

From the Trenches

Family Reading Night: Creating a Real Connection Between Home and School by Laura Mullen

In the eleven years I have been an elementary teacher I have noticed a growing disconnect between home and school. It occurred to me that now more than ever we need to bring families and school together not build walls between them. So eight years ago I started hosting a family reading night. It has proven to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

The schedule for the family reading nights is given to families on the first day of school. The schedule includes dates, time, and themes for each month. The information on the first day of school gives families ample time to plan for each month’s reading night.

Family reading night starts with a special welcome on a big white board that we read together. This is something we do each morning in class and doing this at family reading night connects families to our everyday school routines. I then read a story related to the theme for the month. During the read aloud I model effective ways to read to children and then parents can use the same techniques at home. The evening concludes with a family activity also related to the theme and of course some healthy snacks.

The themes are related to the specific month with the emphasis on promoting good character and service learning. For example the November family reading night is called Food for Thought. I read a book called The Can Do Thanksgiving by Marion Hess Pomeranc, which is about a little girl following the path of her donated can to a soup kitchen. Families are asked, in advance, to bring a donation for our local food pantry. In exchange they can pick a book (which are on display at reading night) to bring home and keep.

The family reading nights are very popular and well attended. So popular in fact that I have previous students and their families come back and join my current students. It is a night when families can come and enjoy themselves without the anxiety so many parents feel when they visit school at other times (i.e. conferences).

In my family reading night survey this year (done at the end of the school year), most parent comments centered on a common theme-spending quality time with our families is most important and families appreciate feeling welcomed at school. The time I put into family reading night is well worth it because it brings families and school closer, helps families with literacy skills, and creates a real connection for the year.

About the writer: Laura Mullen is a kindergarten teacher at the Hubert Kindergarten Center and the Chairperson of the Hudson Character Education Committee working in conjunction with Boston University’s Center for Character and Social Responsibility (CCSR). This committee designates schools as Massachusetts Schools of Character and qualifies schools to be considered as National Schools of Character. Laura has been a recipient of the Massachusetts Service Learning Leader Award from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and was awarded a fellowship at Cal Poly Tech in Pomona California to study the works of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She has published an article for Boston University’s Center for Character and Social Responsibility on civic engagement for elementary students.

Book Corner

Help us compile a complete book list of the best short stories or novels for discussing core values and social responsibility in all classrooms. Visit our website for a K – 12 book list divided up by topic: citizenship, compassion, respect, self-mastery, courage, diligence, responsibility and truth. We need your help to update this list and ensure that it includes the best for our students. Please email your ideas and comments to  Happy Reading!