Thursday, November 12, 2009

Integration of Ethics as the Foundation of Character Education

In an earlier post I presented the Honor House metaphor. That is, Honor at Calvert can be understood in terms of building a house. A solid foundation must be laid, scaffolding must be set up for the walls, and then bricks and mortar create the structure. At Calvert, the foundation is ethics education, the six "E's" providing support to faculty is the scaffolding, and seizing the teachable moments are the bricks and mortars of the Honor House.

Today, I'd like to delve into the conceptual foundation of Honor at Calvert: ethic integration. Typically, a cornerstone is the symbolic starting point of any "monumental building." In this case there is one cornerstone, curriculum integration, which is the figurative starting point, but our Honor House has three other cornerstones which are essential to our foundation: physical space, tradition, and the Dean's office.

The gold standard of character education is to have ethics interwoven into the curriculum of the school. This means having concrete and pointed application of ethic discussion in the lesson/unit plans. This could manifest itself in history as a paper on the ethics of historical decisions or prevailing philosophy, in English as a discussion of characters' motivation in literature, in science as a debate on the ethics of a scientific breakthrough and the ramifications for society, and in math as a project on the manipulation of data to serve some purpose.

These lesson plans, and this integration as a whole, will (and should) always be a work in progress. Educators should strive to link their curriculum to ethics because our students' future will necessitate a solid understanding of honor in their flat, global, and constantly shifting world.

Along with curriculum integration, we integrate honor into the lives of our students in three other ways. First, we have adapted the physical space of the school to reflect the values of the honor code: selfless servants, moral courage, and commitment. The beams in the hallways have the phrases painted across them to remind our students that honor does not end when they walk out of the classroom. Additionally, we post the Honor Code in every classroom.

Second, we have started various traditions attached to the Honor Code meant to ingrain the ideas of the code in our students. Every student must write the Honor Contract ( I have acted honorably) to any quiz or test. This physical act of giving one's word is another physical reminder that the Honor Code is real and meaningful: the student's word means something. We also have a Monday Ponderance during assembly each week to highlight some aspect of the Honor Code. Advisories often discuss these thoughts in their meetings each week. Finally, we created a community outreach curriculum which allows the students to put the Honor Code into practice.

Third, the Dean's office is charged with creating and maintaining a community program which accounts for all the "other" times (transition time, lunch/recess, study hall, after school, athletics). The key is to work with all the constituencies on creating a common language and keeping that message on point. The Dean's office is also responsible for setting a path for the community. A hugely important part of the Dean's role is leading reflection of the Honor Code and its application, so that our foundation can be the best possible for all involved.

The integration of ethics is ongoing at Calvert. While our work will never end, we can see the results in the type of students we send off to high school. They are confident, capable, and caring and a part of that is the result of developing the core values of the Honor Code at Calvert, which began with the foundation of ethic integration.


  1. This is a very thoughtful posting. I often wonder if these codes, of which I grew up with as well, often look at honor as something dealt with only with tests, relationships to others humans, and pratical relationships in a business world. I wonder what might happen if the teaching was expanded, as in some traditions, to honor every living thing.

    What might our young people do when they see someone removing a perfectly healthy tree, or leaking oil out on the road. Or if they asked themselves this question before they bought a t-shirt made in a faraway factory that travelled by petroleum based goods that did not honor the air we breath or the water we drink. I know we live in a world where we all do this almost without thinking, but what if we really started applying "the honor code" to all our actions and taught the same to our children?

  2. Anonymous,

    You are absolutely correct that we should apply honor to all situations as we see them, including the environmental issues you state above.

    I think we are seeing the rise of a generation which will be demanding this kind of accountability. "Green" business is growing, environmental awareness is at an all-time high, and sustainability is a headline worthy word.

    These are manifestations of a full scale application of honor in ALL actions, as you say. So while you seem to have the glass half empty tone, I would argue the glass is half full and getting closer to the top each day.