Character in Context: Informing Character Education Programming
The Positive Youth Development (PYD) perspective is a strength-based conceptualization of youth. It highlights the importance of mutually beneficial relationships between youth and their environment to develop the “Five Cs”, key assets that include character. Character has long been a subject of programming due to its focus on helping children lead moral, empathic, and prosocial lives. There are, however, many limitations in character research, including poorly operationalized definitions of character; a failure to examine the developmental and broader social context in which character exists; and a lack of evaluation of more practical character programming. The goal of this dissertation was to address these gaps in knowledge and inform the character education programming literature. The first study examined the relationships among age, gender, the school social context, and character. Moral character was negatively associated with grade, and being a girl was positively associated with moral character. The relationships between positive peer interactions at school and character (fairness, integrity) were stronger among students who reported low initial moral character when positive peer interactions was high. In the second study, the Build Character: Build Success Program, a character education program, was evaluated over six months to examine its effects on character behaviours, victimization, and school climate. No program effects were found for students in grades 1 to 3, but a slight decrease in victimization in one experimental school was found for students in grades 4 to 8. This lack of general program effects may be due to the short-term nature of the intervention, which may not have been long enough to result in measurable behaviour change. Implementation data indicated that teachers did not teach all program elements, which also may have influenced the results of the program evaluation. The present dissertation contributes to knowledge about character and its programming by: introducing new measures to operationalize character, discovering developmental patterns in character in school-aged children, highlighting gender differences in character, examining character within its broad social context, and evaluating short-term character education programming.