Citizenship and Moral Education

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Thomas Lickona believes that character education and moral values first began to deteriorate during the 20th century, when people began to put more of an emphasis on personal rights and freedoms, rather than on core virtues and moral responsibility in society. Now, it has become the expectation that schools be the ones to teach and instill morals and values into the children of our society. Parents are claiming to be overworked and burnt out, families are falling apart, and nobody is left to instill values—except the schools and their teachers. I strongly believe that parents should be acting as the main moral compass for their children. They should be acting, speaking, and behaving in way that instills in their offspring the desire to be good and do good. However, this is not happening in today’s society as it used to. As Russell Kirk puts it: “In no previous age have family influence…and good early habits been so broken in upon by outside force as in our own time” (Kirk, 1987). Until recently, parents conveyed virtue by example and principle. Now, it is increasingly being put in the hands of schools to emanate good moral character.

Some believe that values are “caught, not taught.” A value or behavior that is caught has been viewed as the way to act and behave, and a child can learn the value or behavior from seeing them lived through the people who practice them. It is engrained in the actions of a person and is viewed by a young child as the way to behave. A value that is taught is told to a child when we tell a child to “do this” or “do that” instead of modeling them for our children. What does this mean for moral education in our schools? Can we teach values if they are not being instilled in a child’s family life and home so that they can be caught? What if what is being caught at home conflicts with the values being taught in the school? How can we be sure our students are learning the values that we, as educators, want them to have so that they can be successful members of society?

Citizenship in the classroom can be viewed as five values: honesty, compassion, respect, responsibility, and courage. To “teach” good citizenship and instill values in my students, a bit of role-playing might be necessary so that students can “catch” good moral values by seeing them in action. The authors of Models of Teaching describe role-playing as a way of “helping our students study values… It explores how values drive behavior and raises student consciousness about the role of values in their lives and those of others” (Joyce, p. 258). The goal is to help students analyze social situations while exploring feelings, attitudes, and values so that students can learn decent and democratic ways of dealing with certain situations—a method that can help build citizenship. One way for students to role-play and explore citizenship is the activity “The Homework Truth,” where students are given a real-life situation pertaining to the topic of “What should you do” when you come to school knowing you didn’t do your homework? Other role-playing topics and situations that can help demonstrate values, so that children can see them and practice them, include “What should you do when…”

  • You are standing in a long line and see your friend standing in line near the front. Do you cut the line?
  • Your friend shows you her audition for the school play and you don’t feel that it is very good. Should you tell her the truth?
  • You see other kids making fun of an elderly couple. Do you say something to your friends?
  • How do you react to someone in public who has a hearing, sight, or learning impairment and is might be struggling with a task?
  • You accidentally ruined a classroom book. Do you tell the teacher or put it back on the shelf and pretend you didn’t do it?
  • At recess, you see students playing unfairly during your game of kickball. Do you tell an adult or talk to the students about their actions?

In my classroom of eighteen vibrant third-graders, I hold some character values with high regard. Classroom jobs teach students responsibility for themselves and others. Compassion is shown when we have a prospective student visit our classroom for the day, and I assign a student to be their buddy and friend to play with them and include them in activities, and lead them through our day to make the visitor feel welcome. Honesty is encouraged and respected so that students can feel comfortable about being honest that they forgot their homework, or admit that they weren’t paying attention or that they don’t understand the lesson or assignment. Responsibility is learned when they write their homework in their planner and put their homework folder in their backpack. Courage is learned when I encourage them to stand up to someone who has been unfair. These values are not told to my students and I do not have a chart posted in the room telling them, “Be honest. Be compassionate. Be respectful. Be responsible. Be courageous.” It is practiced, and it is demonstrated, in the best way that I can, through my own actions and words. But I shouldn’t have to do it alone; I fully believe that moral education should be rooted in family life and the home, or, as Russell Kirk puts is: “The recovery of virtue in America depends in great part upon the… family” (Kirk, 1987).



Hopkins, G. (2015). Education World. “Teaching Good Citizenship’s Five Themes.” Retrieved from:

Joyce, B., Weil M., & Calhoun, E. (2014). Models of Teaching. 9th Ed. Allyn & Bacon.

Kirk, R. (1987). “Can Virtue Be Taught?” The Wise Men Know What Wicked Things are Written in the Sky. 

Lickona, T. (November 1993). The Return of Character Education. Educational Leadership, Volume 51, No. 3, pages 6-11. Retrieved from:

This entry was posted in 1 Expectations, 5 Learning Environment, 7 Families and Community and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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