Character and Citizenship Education: A Coherence

Dr. Ashley Betkowski, Faculty, College of Education

students working in a group learning about character education

The world has changed dramatically with respect to cultural diversity, social media, technology, political engagements and the effects of the Coronavirus. Change is constant and something people of every society endure. The world needs good people who want to be a part of society, who want to drive social change and who want to make the world a better place.  

Character education, as well as citizenship education, are about teaching young people how to live this way. Thus, this blog will help define character and citizenship education and then explain how they are related to understand the needed combination of both for the fostering of “good people.”

Character Education

Character education (CE) is often considered synonymous with other names, such as values education, moral education and virtue education. One known model of CE is the Neo-Aristotelian framework, which includes developing and enhancing positive personal strengths, also known as virtues.1

Virtue literacy is a combination of virtue knowledge or understanding (the language and meanings), virtue perception (recognizing when virtues are needed in, or part of, situations), and virtue reasoning (discernment and deliberative action about virtues).

Virtue knowledge, then paired with teaching and modeling how to balance virtues when making moral decisions and aiming for the “good life,” aids students in exhibiting phronesis, or practical wisdom. Balancing the virtues and knowing when not to have an excess or too little of a virtue in a given situation is also known as the golden mean of virtues, which is needed to make good judgments.

Phronesis helps students:

  • Understand what decisions should be made.
  • Know which virtues should be employed and to what extent.
  • Learn how to respond when virtues conflict.
  • Understand how those decisions should contribute to a life worth living for individuals and society.

Educating students with a moral understanding of how to respond to situations for the betterment of themselves and society leads to human flourishing (reaching one’s potential).

Citizenship Education

As with CE, citizenship education (CZE) has also fluctuated over time and varies in definitions, causing much debate. Citizenship is concerned with developing a “good” or democratic citizen. To be a democratic citizen, one needs the knowledge (civics of government and politics), skills (critical thinking, problem solving and deliberation), and dispositions (virtues and serve-learning experiences) to contribute to society.2

Traditional CZE focuses on civic virtues that teach students democratic values of a good citizen, whereas developmental or progressive CZE focuses on developing abilities needed to participate in processes of democratic societies, such as decision making and social change.2

An integration of both approaches may develop good citizens by teaching civic virtues, civics of government and politics, and critical thinkers that use problem solving, discussion, debate, and service-learning experiences to become democratic citizens contributing to the betterment of society and advocates of social change in response to political disenfranchising.

Good Character: The Intersection of CE and CZE

Character education and citizenship education are interrelated and can be taught together to help develop flourishing individuals. A democracy is dependent on citizens aware of what citizenry is, what the good life is, the will to do good and be good.2

The first obvious connection is the teaching of civic virtues as part of CE. Both CE and CZE focus on developing virtues in individuals in aim of developing good people and/or good citizens. Virtues are required to develop individuals that lead a flourishing life; virtues are also important for the community because with virtuous actions, humans can live together harmoniously and productively.

Citizenship education aims to develop democratic citizens that contribute to society. To make contributions to society, one must understand how to make critical decisions, employ morality, and demonstrate justice.2 CZE and CE are inherently different because being a good person and a good citizen are not the same thing. However, actions required of citizens require moral, intellectual and civic virtues.3

An individual cannot flourish and live a good life without doing what is considered best for society and making morally right decisions for all. A flourishing life can only occur in a society with individuals of moral grounding, making the goal, flourishing, an institutional change rather than that of the individual. Within the Neo-Aristotelian approach, CE and CZE go beyond the instrumentalist approach to virtue and develop individuals that can use virtues to make morally right decisions and actions, which relates to good citizenship.

Furthering the interrelation of CE and CZE via virtue development, virtues are acquired through education and formation from family, society and life experiences. Using phronesis (which is part of the Neo-Aristotelian model) entails making the best decision for all, for the betterment of society and with the goal of flourishing; this component requires an individual with moral understanding and citizenship as part of a greater society.

The intellectual virtue, known as phronesis, is the virtue that enables individuals to know, desire and act with practical sense in situations where virtues collide.1

Phronesis is what sets Neo-Aristotelian CE and CZE apart from other models because it does not just develop moral conformists, it develops contributing citizens that learn to choose the right actions and emotions through a deliberative process.

What Does This Mean for Students' Learning?

Character education has exploded in the K-12 environment around the globe within the last 10 to 15 years. A focus on developing the whole child is increasingly more relevant in our societal state. It is a responsibility of educators to take part in the development of society’s youth and part of that includes fostering their development as a human being. Character education and citizenship education can be an avenue for such. The Neo-Aristotelian model is a grounding place to begin with a focus on virtue formation, virtue literacy and practical wisdom.

Learn how to teach character education and citizenship education through GCU's College of Education. All our degree programs help educators foster human flourishing in the classroom.


Retrieved from:

1Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues, Framework for Character Education in Schools in September 2021 

2 Howard, R.W., Berkowitz, M., and Schaeffer, E.F.Politics of Character Education, Educational Policy in September 2021 

3 Character Education and Citizenship Education: A Case of Cancerous Relationship, Philosophy of Education in September 2021 


Approved by the Canyon Center for Character Education school supervisor for the College of Education on Dec. 29, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.