Kyra Inston: Utah shouldn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to character education

Parents should have the freedom to decide what educational approach aligns with their values and beliefs.

As we continue to debate the direction of K-12 education, it is important to recognize that there is more to preparing students for success than just teaching them how to read, write and do math. According to a recent Populace study, Americans agree that developing critical thinking and collaboration skills is just as important as these basic academic skills. Character education addresses this need.

Character education goes beyond teaching students how to ace a test or write a research paper. It is about preparing them for life beyond the classroom by developing the skills they need to navigate complex social situations, understand their emotions and build positive relationships with others. These are skills that can serve students well in college, trade school or the workforce.

But implementing effective character education in K-12 schools can be a challenge. There is a lack of consensus on what character education should include, which leads to a variety of approaches in its implementation. There are also debates about whether character education should be taught in a separate class, integrated into existing academic subjects or even taught at all.

Without a clear understanding of what character education should entail, it is challenging to develop effective programs that will benefit students in the long term.

This lack of consensus is a prime example of the problems that arise when the government takes control of education. In recent years, Utah has made character education a legally required component of education in K-12 schools. While the intention may be noble, this decision raises concerns for those who believe in individual liberty. When the government mandates character education, it infringes on parents’ rights to choose what and how their children learn.

All parents want their children to be good, honest, kind people. That is not the issue most people have with character education. Rather, the issue lies mostly with its implementation and emphasis within the school system. It should not be the government’s role to dictate what students learn or how they should behave. Instead, parents should have the freedom to decide what educational approach aligns with their values and beliefs. By mandating character education, the government is taking away that choice and imposing a one-size-fits-all approach on students. Schools and parents should have the liberty to decide for themselves whether to participate and how to approach character education, without government interference.

The debate surrounding character education often raises questions about its intended impact and potential unintended consequences. For instance, in discussions surrounding critical race theory (CRT) or LGBTQ issues, proponents argue that teaching these subjects in schools aims to promote inclusivity, empathy and anti-racism among students. However, opponents express concerns that such approaches may inadvertently alienate certain groups, specifically white children, rather than effectively addressing the underlying problems. This perspective highlights the need to critically evaluate the implementation and outcomes of character education initiatives.

Just this year Utah passed the Utah Fits All Scholarship. This innovative program empowers parents, among other things, to select schools offering character education aligned with their values, ensuring that students receive an education that respects their beliefs while addressing the complexities of character development.

Not all students are the same. Requiring a one-size-fits-all character education is not the right approach. An individualized approach to character education is a better solution. Schools and parents should find ways to meet the unique needs of students in both character and academic education.

(Kyra Inston)

Kyra Inston is a resident of Draper and has been a policy research intern at the Libertas Institute, focusing on education policy in the state. She graduated from George Washington University and is currently a graduate student at Johns Hopkins SAIS studying global risk.