Colin's Sandbox

Character Education in the 21st Century

by on Feb.03, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship

The Different Communities in Which We Live

In Digital Community, Digital Citizen, Ohler (2010) maintains that there are three communities in which we now live:  local, global, and digital.  I interpret the revised ISTE Standards for Teachers (2010) a little differently, in that we really engage in two different communities (local vs. global) but interface these two communities a little differently.  For our local communities, interaction is done both in-person and over a digital media, while globally our interaction with communities is overwhelmingly digital.  It’s a small distinction but to my interpretation the distinction feels more natural and leads to a more unified sense of self between time I spend in engaging with the world in a digital form vs. time I spend engaging with others in-person.

A Call for Renewing Character Education

Ohler (2010, p.189) describes a shift away from character education in the 1960’s as a result of several factors: “the civil rights movement, personalism, secularism, and the pressure to separate church and state”.  The biggest driving factor cited?  Access to television.  All of a sudden the teacher was no longer the sole voice influencing a student’s view of many subjects.  The teacher began to serve in the role of moral facilitator or “moral clarifier”  (Ohler, 2010).  Accepting that the rise of prominence of the Internet into education as well as its rapidly expanding pervasiveness has proven to be the single biggest disruption to our education system of the day then the time seems ripe to reengage character education in the classroom.  Even though I don’t agree fully that issues of digital citizenship require us to look differently upon behavior in real or virtual reality, a concept expressed as “camp two” of Ohler’s Two Camps video, it is apparent to me that a renewed attention is needed when approaching character education, and that the issue of a person’s digital presence needs to be a very large portion of that effort.

Looking at Mission Statements, Mantras, and the How They Are Defined

My interactions this week with the Digital Citizenship community dealt often with the difference between morals and expectations both online as well as in-person, and the potential need to update our mantras, mottos, and mission statements accordingly to reflect this new evolving media over which so much of our learning is occurring, both teachers and students.  There were understandably some who wondered if taking the time to carefully craft these statements was useful or effective in the real world.  I assert two things as a challenge: overhaul the mission statements with local and global values in mind, and bring all parties into the discussion of character education.

First, if the mission statements or mantra of an organization is too broad to have real application, such as “helping students achieve academic success” (who decides what academic success is?),  or “supporting our students” (supporting them in what ways?), then they should be scrapped or possibly refined to be more meaningful.  For instance, the second statement could be refined to say, “Supporting students define and reach their learning goals”, so as to define the roll of the teacher and institution as one which helps students identify their learning interests and develop learning habits and methods that can be used to attain them.

Secondly, perhaps most important, is that the conversation about character education needs to involve all parties.  The benefits  here:

  • Demonstrating that an institution cares about the students’ point of view will hopefully help buy-in from that population.
  • The means by which they preferentially access information about their learning is important research data for teachers and can serve to guide content delivery.
  • The process of a guided conversation concerning morals and conventions with students serves to educate them with the realities of a school’s obligations to local, state, and federal standards and laws.

The Teenage Brain

Recent research (Berns, 2010, Jensen, 2008) is shining new light on the differences between the adult and teenage brain.  Two big takeaways here: the teenager appears to be an adult, but the brain is further along in development, typically maturing in the early 20’s; and secondly, the last portion of the brain to develop is the prefrontal cortex (the “new brain”), which functions as a moderator to impulsive actions from the amygdala (the “old brain”).  The ease, reach, and longevity of communication made possible by social media and the Internet mandate that we help students develop their judgement as early as possible.

Going Forward

Therefore, going forward I recommend that we as educators proceed along two fronts: the first is involving students at a very young age with social media avenues that allow for students to engage with their peers and which are walled off from the outside world.  Many students and teachers use Edmodo for this.  The second push is to bring students (or their representatives) into the ongoing discussion of digital issues as a facet of character education.


Ohler, Jason B. (2010).  Digital community, digital citizen.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

International Society for Technology in Education (2008). ISTE standards for teachers.  Retrieved from:

Berns, Greg. (2009).  Growing up: The teenage brain.  Accessed on Feb. 1, 2014, from

Jensen, Frances E. (2008).  The teenage brain part 1.  Access on Feb. 1, 2014, from

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