A Case Study of Elementary Schoolchildren’s Perspectives on Character: An Exploration using a Children’s Rights Participatory Framework
Doctor of Philosophy
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There has been for educators of schoolchildren internationally a renewed interest in ‘character education’ (e.g., Brabeck & Rogers, 2000; Caspo 2001; Covell & Howe, 2001; Halstead & Pike, 2006; Hussar & Harris, 2010; Friday, 2004; Pamental, 2010). Since children’s voices are largely absent from such discussions, this qualitative case study involving grade six students explores, from the perspective of children: a) the nature of character generally, b) how ‘good character’, as defined by the children, develops; as well as c) children’s opinions in particular on the school’s role, if any, in character development. In addition, the research investigates the impact on children’s notions of good character and their feelings of empowerment when provided with an opportunity to engage in meaningful social action of their own design. Also considered are the implications of the findings for strategies in developing school character education initiatives that better respect and allow for children’s participation. The method used was that of semi-structured individual interview and focus group sessions. Some of the central findings relating to the children’s views on character and its development included the following: a) the child study participants articulated complex notions about character and its development. The children realized that situational factors could influence behaviour and that an individual’s behaviour does not always reflect consistency across situations despite any underlying basic character traits; b) the participants recognized the difficulty in assessing someone’s character and cautioned against hasty judgements inferred from behaviour; c) the children expressed the view that positive character traits (as perceived by them) are correlated with positive personal relationships and improved quality of life; d) the participants further held the view that people have different strengths and weakness and that tolerance and valuing individuality in oneself and others builds what they referred to as good character; and e) the children acknowledged that while biology/genetics may have something to do with character development, direct teaching, direct experiences and role modelling are also critical factors in character development.