History of Character Education



Approx. 436 BC - Approx. 338 BC

Greek rhetorician Isocrates expresses an educated person is one who demonstrates: accurate judgment, decency, goodness, honor, and good-nature.
(Edmonson, Tatman & Slate, 2009)


384 BC - 322 BC

Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato believed the true purpose of education was to train good and virtuous citizens who will contribute to society (Edmonson, Tatman & Slate, 2009).

Colonial Schools

Approx. 1700 - Approx. 1780

Colonial schools taught values based on Christian principles. In 1776, school textbooks were exclusively limited to morals and religious content (Mulkey, 1997).

Benjamin Franklin

1706 - 1790

One of our Founding Fathers, Franklin took a strong position regarding the need to teach morality in public schools. He pushed the need for morals to be taught within the context of history. He felt students needed to learn about character within themselves, their families, and their society (Watz, 2011).

Horace Mann

1796 - 1859

Horace Mann was known as an educational reformer. He was a strong supporter of universal education (education should be universal and free to all students in society). He felt that character should be a pivotal element of public education, and teachers need to be educated on how to teach morality. One of the surprising parts of Mann's philosophy, is that he felt females should be educated especially in character to benefit children (Watz, 2011).

William Holmes McGuffey

1800 - 1873

McGuffey was a college president who knew that morality was crucial to education. Values and education were inseparable in his mind, and character education would be reflected in the health and happiness of American society. McGuffey, pushed using literature to help teach important societal values and visualize morality examples (Watz, 2011).

John Dewey

1859 - 1952

John Dewey believed that the child's moral character should develop naturally in the school environment. He criticized the separate acquisitions of knowledge and character growth (Mulkey, 1997).

Bible Free Classrooms


In 1870, free tax supported schools banned Bibles from public classrooms. This led to arguments over whether moral training can be implemented without religious instruction (Mulkey, 1997).



The Young Mens Christian Association was brought to the US. This was available to middle class youth, and seemed to develop mental, physical, social and religious aspects of American Youth (Watz, 2011).



The Boy Scouts of America was implemented based on 12 scout laws, which were character traits. They aimed to provide a step by step system for middle class youth directing them to be morally sound (Watz, 2011).

Social Studies Curriculum


New York scrutinized the Social Studies curriculum in public schools, and research was conducted. Results suggested that Social Studies content should include values components.

Christian School Movement

Approx. 1960 - Approx. 1980

In public education, moral education was at a historic low due to prioritized academics (Edmonson, Tatman, & Slate, 2009). Christian schools proposed to offer an education pushing character and religious instruction, which led to a spike in enrollment. This brought the need for character education back to the forefront of public education (Watz, 2011).

Academic Emphasis

1960 - 1970

Academics were pushed to the forefront of education, and character education fell behind. Instead of any curriculum, emphasis was placed on the teacher as a sole moral authority (Edmonson, Tatman, & Slate, 2009).

Character Education Curriculum


The Character Education Institute of San Antonio began developing the 'Character Education Curriculum'. This was the first curriculum for character education that was widely implemented in schools across the US of at least 60,000 schools (Mulkey, 1997).

President Reagan

1981 - 1989

President Reagan expressed the importance of developing character in schools. Raised awareness and money to support character education in public schools (Watz, 2011).

President Clinton

1993 - 2001

President Clinton discussed the importance of character education, and brought it to the forefront of education by tripling the funding allotted to it in public schools (Watz, 2011).

President Bush

2001 - 2009

President George W. Bush asked Congress to again triple the money allotted to character education (Watz, 2011).

Stand Alone Character Curriculum


Presently, education pushes stand alone character curriculums such as CharacterCounts!, Heartwood Program, Center for the 4th and 5th R's, etc. (Watz, 2011).