Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


School of Education


This study investigated the changing definitions of moral education that have been implemented in public schools form the colonial times to the present, eventually leading to the development of character education. For almost a century, education has slowly deemphasized traditional approaches that teach morality, ethics, and character.

Teaching of morals in the colonial and early national period of American history was characterized by a command morality rooted in Protestant and Puritan values. Later, industrial urbanization led to the need for universal schooling. The common school era encouraged more specific, duty-related ethical guidelines. Morals were still heavily grounded in religion, yet related to a common good. Progressive thought ushered in civic duty, functional independence and individuality as a form of moral expression. This encouraged a sense of democracy and patriotism while slowly introducing pluralism. By the late 20th Century, traditional values and religious views became increasingly becoming privatized and minimized in schools. This resulted in a need for morals or guidance not linked to religion but focused on global traits and values common to everyone. Recent decades have encouraged values formation, human development theories, and character education programs as alternative methods to urge the teaching of morals and character in education.

America has commented on a crisis of ethics and values in numerous venues; education needs to occur not just for academic excellence but also for character. Research has shown that the best results involving character education occur when clear expectations are echoed in the home, school, and community environments. When there is unity of method and clear communication of expectations, children are encouraged to explore ethics in an encouraging and safe environment, meeting universal standards for decency and character.

Character education is a vital part of humanity and should be included in educational coursework. Currently, the United States Government has allowed each state decide how and when to implement character education. For decades, it has been left to each state, each district, then each school to decide how and when character education methods are implemented. Frequently this has resulted in vague and poorly executed plans for character education.

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