Michael J. Kerrigan

Character Education

Mark Levin in Rediscovering Americanism concluded with a call to action.

            Nonetheless, those of us whose eyes are open, whatever our numbers, have a moral obligation to try to rouse our fellow citizens to take a sober and critical look at the decaying societal conditions, from which truthful conclusions can be drawn and perhaps improvements made. I understand the daunting task, given the powerful tide against which we must swim and the condemnations and mockeries from those who fear such inquiries and wish to escape them. Yet there is neither virtue nor benefit in denial or self-censorship.

Hillsdale College is one institution today that has responded to the moral obligation Levin seeks.

            Freedom. One nation in all human history was built on that bedrock- ours. A republic of… Continue reading


We have already learned there are few university advanced degree character only programs. Not surprisingly there seem to be even fewer journals dedicated to character research. Here is what we have found.

Marvin Berkowitz of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, edits the Journal of Character Education and there was a journal at the USAFA on character and leadership. I am not certain if it still is operating. There are few other journals with this focus.

Journal of Positive Psychology, and International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology publish research related to character and virtues. I don’t know them well (and they may not be good), but there is also a Journal of Character and Leadership Integration, a Journal of Character Education, and a Journal of Research in Character Education. Please see:





In a recent post I asked why character education research has fallen so far behind leadership research, studies and programs. Curious about this gap, I asked Rich Lerner and several other academics questions, the answers to the first follows, while other answers will follow in future posts.

Are there University advanced degree character (only) programs?

I’m sure you are familiar with Penn’s Masters in Positive Psychology program.  There are a few business schools that have also been developing leadership programs that leverage positive psychology, which of course taps into virtue and character but is not exactly what you are asking.




At the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Marvin Berkowitz and his colleagues offer a Ph.D. in Educational Psych in which a student can make his or her major focus character education. In addition, his program offers a M.Ed. in Education… Continue reading

Recently, I have written about leadership as a growth industry, leadership failures, the quality of leadership scholarship and lessons learned from successful leaders. Some of the scholarship does address those leaders who embrace character traits such as humility, self-discipline and other virtues (i.e. Servant and Authentic Leadership.)

However, I am struck by the fact that character seems subordinate to leadership (Is Leadership Subordinate To Character?) Rich Lerner one of the foremost experts on character, argues that character development/character education is superordinate to leadership development. (Character Development is the Foundation for Leadership Development.)

While character education may or may not be subordinate to leadership development I am curious why character building has fallen so far behind. Curious about this gap, I asked Rich and several other academics five questions, the answers to which follow in future posts.

1. Are there University advanced degree character (only) programs?
2. Are there academic journals… Continue reading


There was broad consensus at the Philadelphia meeting that we need increased communication about character. The goal to create a cohesive campaign promoting character development will require that key supporters, including researchers and practitioners, stop working in silos and transparently communicate. The multidisciplinary nature of character development points to the need for a common language and foundation for measuring the basis of change.


A viable commercial product will reflect understanding of how to apply character research to educational and developmental settings, and will involve the contribution from a range of fields such as psychology, sociology, education, and economics. This coalescing of disciplines includes promoting a holistic, contextualized perspective of character and the identification of universals in character virtue development. A commercial product reflecting this holism will be one that is useful across various contexts.


Understanding how character develops also requires attention to the experiences of young people… Continue reading

Just as companies like Apache, Red Hat and others make their living selling instruction and paid support but the lines of free code become available to the user only through support and guidance; might scholars create character content to the public for free but the character coaches charge for interpretation of that content? The character content could be easily downloaded for free from the character wiki site while a cadre of character coaches would man a help desk offering real time character guidance services crafted to the needs of the individual consumer.

What the character content means to the consumer and how to use it (i.e. character user manual) this personalization requires an ongoing conversation between the coach and the student?


After reading The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly I have been thinking whether many of the 12 technological trends that Kelly believes will shape our future, might also shape character education and character building. For example, might the character community cooperate to create a platform like the iPhone and write an encyclopedia, as is done with Wikipedia? The aim would be for the character community to engineer a system where self-directed peers take responsibility for critical processes and difficult decisions, such as sorting out priorities are decided by all participants.

The next several posts will be based on applying several of Kevin Kelly’s twelve trends to building character in America. With feedback from readers of The Character Building Project, we might very well begin to harness the sharing of the character crowd.


What if, for the first time in human history, the sphere of social networking and other 21st century digital tools like deep learning algorithms, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, self-tracking, etc. could steadily turn character education into collaborative action rather than a specialty of the academic elites?

What if we tap the open commons of the web where the audience (as is the case of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) and the users do most of the work?

Our vision would be to network all character literature interlinking character into a wiki like platform. Unlike libraries of old which were restricted to the elite, this library or character platform could be truly democratic.

Rather than having the content of character building being produced in a top down way by academic elites and large institutions, what if, much of the progress in character building could be manufactured in a bottoms up… Continue reading


The protests of the 1960s led to a fall of many established American values such as; respect for authority and rules, sexual restraint, hard work and patriotism. We now live in a time of moral relativism so it is not surprising a recent Gallup poll reports most Americans (72%) continue to believe the state of moral values in the U.S. is “getting worse,” while 22% say it is “getting better.” Large majorities have said the state of moral values in the U.S. is declining since Gallup started asking this question annually in 2002.

The Character Building Project’s mission is to engage the character community; social scientists, parents, politicians and lay people searching for solutions to the problems of decaying morals and declining civility. Some see the solution of character education from the perspective the traditional virtues centered approach, others a cognitive development approach, while others from a… Continue reading


Over morning coffee my wife and I often discuss the news, the state of our country, the economy, religion and politics. Sadly, we are troubled by whether the future for our children and grandchildren will be as bright as it was for us. We wonder why today Americans treat each other so shabbily and if the social contract of our time has now been completely shredded?

The America of today does not resemble the America we grew up in. I have watched the moral fiber of this country dissolve and witnessed the death of character in my lifetime. In recent decades we have seen the virtual disintegration of the traditional family and the decay of moral education and cultural institutions. It has happened like the tarnishing of a brass candlestick – imperceptible from one day to the next, but corroded over a span of fifty years.

For many of us,… Continue reading


Because our country is facing a character crisis on many fronts, a goal of the Character Building Project is to reclaim the study of character. Rather than leave the notion of moral development to the high priests of academe, we would like to learn your definition of character. Your responses help us in rescuing the concept of character. To stimulate your comments consider the following:


Character is destiny. Heraclitus

More knowledge may be gained of a man’s real character by a short conversation with one of his servants than from a formal and studied narrative. Samuel Johnson

No man is free who is not a master of himself. Epictetus

The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out. Lord Macaulay

We become what we are as persons by the decisions that we ourselves make. Aristotle

The dispositions… Continue reading

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