The Discourse of Character Education
Culture Wars in the Classroom
Routledge – 2005 – 416 pages
In this book Peter Smagorinsky and Joel Taxel analyze the ways in which the perennial issue of character education has been articulated in the United States, both historically and in the current character education movement that began in earnest in the 1990s.
The goal is to uncover the ideological nature of different conceptions of character education. The authors show how the current discourses are a continuation of discourse streams through which character education and the national purpose have been debated for hundreds of years, most recently in what are known as the Culture Wars--the intense, often passionate debates about morality, culture, and values carried out by politicians, religious groups, social policy foundations, and a wide range of political commentators and citizens, in which the various stakeholders have sought influence over a wide range of social and economic issues, including education.
The centerpiece is a discourse analysis of proposals funded by the United States Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI). Discourse profiles from sets of states that exhibit two distinct conceptions of character are examined and the documents from particular states are placed in dialogue with the OERI Request for Proposals. One profile reflects the dominant perspective promoted in the U.S., based on an authoritarian view in which young people are indoctrinated into the value system of presumably virtuous adults through didactic instruction. The other reflects the well-established yet currently marginal discourse emphasizing attention to the whole environment in which character is developed and enacted and in which reflection on morality, rather than didactic instruction in morality, is the primary instructional approach. By focusing on these two distinct regions and their conceptions of character, the authors situate the character education movement at the turn of the twenty-first century in the context of historical notions about the nature of character and regional conceptions regarding the nature of societal organization.
This enlightening volume is relevant to scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and students across the field of education, particularly those involved in character education, moral development, discourse analysis, history and cultural foundations of education, and related fields, and to the wider public interested in character education.
"Smagorinsky and Taxel's Discourse of Character Education raises interesting questions and opens provocative discussion about the current character education movement and of the actors within it."
"This book combines a helpful overview of character education, past and present, with a focused look at how federal funding opportunities have shaped the discourse, curriculum, and assessment of character education in the United States."
—Theory and Research
"Smagorinsky and Taxel have done a real service in conducting and reporting this study. It will surely encourage readers to think about what we are doing to our children and, perhaps, to seek a better, morally defensible way to educate."
From the Foreword
Contents: N. Noddings, Foreword. Preface. Part I: Framework for the Study. Introduction to the Project. The Study. Historical Framework. The Current State of Affairs. Theoretical Framework. Part II: The Discourses of Character Education. Discourses Shared in Both Regions. Discourses in Proposals From the Deep South. Discourses in Proposals From the Upper Midwest. Discourses of the OERI Request for Proposals. Part III: The Deep South: Didactic, Individualistic, Authoritarian Approaches to Character Education. Cultural Context of the Deep South. Ancillary Curricula of the Deep South. The Discourses of the Deep South's Conception of Character Education. The Deep South's Character Curriculum and Assessment of Character Growth. Part IV: The Upper Midwest: Community-Based, Reflective Approaches to Character Education. Cultural Context of the Upper Midwest. Ancillary Curricula of the Upper Midwest. The Discourses of the Upper Midwest's Conception of Character Education. The Upper Midwest's Character Curriculum and Assessment of Character Growth. Part V: Conclusion. Discussion. Toward a Reconsideration of the Character Curriculum.