Date of Award

Spring 2003

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Education (MSEd)

First Advisor

Frank Pignatelli


One of the major public debates in education today revolves around an area of study called character education. It is a debate that is politically, socially, emotionally and educationally charged. The question facing educators is whether children develop morally from a specific plan of study or from the examples given to them by adults in their environment. In an attempt to answer this question, this study focuses on the early childhood environment. It does so because young children in preschool must begin to formulate conceptions of rights, values and principles as it pertains to social conduct. They must learn to share, use their words, demonstrate respect, and self-regulate. This is accomplished in the early childhood environment not through a specific lesson plan but rather through a teacher's development of rules and procedures for social behavior. Over a seven-month period, three teachers and eight four-year-olds in a small preschool in New York City were interviewed and observed in the classroom environment. The data collected was analyzed against four essential characteristics teachers must establish in the classroom in order for moral development to occur. These include mutual respect/self-regulation, setting of high behavioral standards, adult role modeling of pro-social behavior and teacher/child discourse. The study concludes that it is not just the establishment of rules that helps young children to develop morally but rather a classroom environment where teachers demonstrate mutual respect, set high behavioral standards, role model pro-social behavior and constantly provide a meaningful dialogue around moral development issues. In essence, if society wants children to be morally good, then the adults in their lives must demonstrate what it is to be good.