Character education scholar receives Kuhmerker Career Award

Marvin Berkowitz, professor of education at UMSL

Marvin Berkowitz, the Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor of Education at UMSL, received the 2013 Kuhmerker Career Award from the Association for Moral Education. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Whether he’s telling a funny story, offering words of encouragement, providing expert guidance or just giving a much-needed hug, Marvin Berkowitz embodies the very purpose of his work.

In recognition of his more than 40 years of research and education, Berkowitz was honored last week with the 2013 Kuhmerker Career Award from the Association for Moral Education.

“It truly is an honor to be recognized for my work by my intellectual family,” said Berkowitz, the Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor of Education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

The Kuhmerker Career Award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding, long-term contributions to both the Association for Moral Education and to the field of moral development. In 2010, he also received The Good Work Award from the Association for Moral Education, recognizing his Leadership Academy in Character Education as an outstanding example of moral educational practice.

Berkowitz recently discussed his career with UMSL Daily.

How did you first become involved with character education?

My early work was on moral dialogue, which was cutting edge work and is still be used today, by taking a look at what people were doing to promote positive development through transactive dialogue. But I started becoming more interested in more applied areas and slowly got more and more involved in schools. So for the last 15 years or so, I’ve been focused on character education and how to effectively change schools for the better, so they support quality learning and foster positive development.

You’ve accomplished so much in the last 40 years, but what is it you still want to achieve?

I would like to take some of this work to scale. Take some of the more powerful pieces we are doing and replicate them on a larger level. We are expanding LACE in more areas, but I would like to be able to get it into more regions. Also, I’d like to get the word out more about what works and what is effective. Many educators have good intentions but not the best practices. I want to give them those tools. Also, we are adding additional academic programs and starting to become the place that trains at the doctoral level in character education. I hope to continue this and to expand the programs even more.

How has character education in schools changed over the last 10 years?

We have a much greater knowledge of what character education is. In fact, our center has recently received three large grants to create an online database of all the resources available for character education. The key is getting the top leadership in schools and districts to make it a priority. That will drive the train. We need adults to model it, not just teach it.

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An internationally known scholar, Berkowitz has trained thousands of educators on the character education best practices and the tools needed to effectively change school environments. He co-founded the Center for Character and Citizenship in the College of Education at UMSL with Wolfgang Althof, the Teresa M. Fischer Endowed Professor of Citizenship Education, in 2006. Through the center, he offers the Leadership Academy for Character Education, a training program for administrators and educators to learn how to optimally foster the development of character in students while still supporting high quality academic instruction. Over the past decade, nearly 40 local schools and districts led by LACE graduates have been recognized nationally for excellence, which is approximately 1 in 4 of all schools so recognized across the US.

Berkowitz is the only person who has received both the Kuhmerker Career Award from the Association for Moral Education and the  Sanford N. McDonnell Award for Lifetime Achievement in Character Education from the Character Education Partnership.

In addition to running the leadership academy, Berkowitz has written more than 100 articles, book chapters and reports on character education and the leadership academy, including his 2012 book, “You Can’t Teach Through a Rat and Other Epiphanies for Educators.”

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