Teaching Character Through the Curriculum

Teaching character through the curriculum: Using the ethically rich content of academic subjects as vehicles for values teaching.

Key Ideas

  1. Character education isn't a separate subject; rather it can be taught through any subject.
  2. The highest purpose of the curriculum is moral: to help students develop a sense of what is noble and good and worth striving for in life. The curriculum should help students think about the most fundamental human questions: How should I live my life? What goals are worth pursuing? What qualities in human beings are admirable and worth emulating? What brings about human fulfillment and what does not?


  1. The teacher's task is to ask, "What are the intersections between the curriculum I wish to cover and the values I wish to teach?" A science teacher can emphasize the importance of precise and truthful reporting of data; a social studies teacher can examine prejudice and discrimination, etc.
  2. Ed Wynne and Kevin Ryan, in their article "Curriculum as a Moral Educator," argue that the curriculum, especially history and literature, can foster young people's emotional attraction to goodness. It can help them learn to love good people and good ideals. It does this by enabling them to:
    • Develop an intellectual and emotional understanding of the lives and motivations of good and evil people
    • Acquire a strong sense of justice and compassion and of greed and cruelty by studying literary and historical figures
    • Be emotionally attracted by some lives and repelled by others
    • Develop a storehouse of moral examples to guide them
    • See the truth of certain "moral facts of life" by seeing them borne out in the lives of literature's and history's heroes and villains. Such moral facts of life include:
      1. Human kindness is essential to a fully functioning society.
      2. We owe a special love to our parents and families.
      3. Honesty and trust are vital in human relationships.
      4. We are obliged to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
      5. Generosity of spirit, not selfishness, brings happiness.