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Character and Public Policy

Character and Public Policy: Educating for an Ethical Life, University of Birmingham, December 14–15, 2012

The first annual conference of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham.

Distinguished speakers included Professor Marvin Berkowitz, Professor Kristján Kristjánsson, Professor Heather Widdows, Professor Lord Richard Layard, Professor William Damon, Professor James Hunter and Professor Howard Gardner.

The programme is available to view here.

Abstracts and papers presented at the conference can be found below:


Jason Baehr - Educating for Intellectual Virtues

Educating for Intellectual Virtues

Recent literature on character education has identified three distinct conceptions of personal character that correspond to three potentially different approaches to character education: civic character, moral character, and performance character. In this paper, I explain and defend the importance of a fourth conception that corresponds to a unique and promising approach to character education.

With the advent of “virtue epistemology” in the mid-1990s, philosophers have recently demarcated a sphere of personal character with special relevance to thinking and learning. This is the sphere of intellectual character. A person’s intellectual character refers to her overall psychological orientation (beliefs, attitudes, feelings, dispositions, etc.) toward distinctively cognitive or epistemic “goods” like knowledge, truth, and understanding. “Intellectual virtues” are excellences of intellectual character. They include traits like curiosity, wonder, attentiveness, open-mindedness, intellectual carefulness, intellectual thoroughness, intellectual rigor, and intellectual humility. In short, intellectual virtues are the character traits of an excellent thinker or learner.

Intellectual character is distinct from civic character and moral character. The idea of “performance character” seems to have arisen in part as a way of getting at the domain of intellectual character. However, performance character is both broader and narrower than intellectual character. I explore the differences between these different ways of thinking about character and identify some advantages of an approach to character education that gives special attention to growth in intellectual virtues. 

Wolfgang Althof - The Relationship between Character and Citizenship Education

The Relationship between Character and Citizenship Education

Democracy can never be taken for granted. Democrats don’t grow on trees. Any democratic society must concern itself with raising good citizens.  This begins in childhood, and schools are critical to this process.  The interrelations and roles of educating for character (character education, moral education) and educating for citizenship (citizenship education, civic education) are explored, largely in a North American context.  It is argued that citizenship education necessarily entails character and moral formation, but this integration is hindered by negative stereotyping between the two fields. In addition, negative stereotyping between the fields of moral education and character education further complicates attempts at synthesis.  Through explorations of each of these domains and their similarities and differences, it is concluded that the role of schools in fostering the development of moral citizens in democratic societies necessitates focus on moral development, broader moral and related character development, teaching of civics and development of citizenship skills and dispositions. The overlap and the differences between character and citizenship education are discussed in terms of place in the curriculum, developmental goals, focus (skills and dispositions), pedagogy (instructional strategies), and educational timing. What is ultimately needed is a synthesis of philosophies, methods, and goals based on solid empirical and theoretical research.  Then, and only then, can we optimally design schools and school programs that foster good people and good citizens.

Julian Baggini - Character: Through Thick and Thin

Character: Through Thick and Thin

Concerns about making character formation a strand of public policy centre around both doubts about the empirical basis of such policies and the appropriate role of government in shaping and directing private life. To address both sets of concerns it is helpful to think of two key aspects of character in terms of their "thickness". First, research in psychology has suggested that many aspects of character are highly variable according to situation. We can call these "thin" character traits are opposed to "thick" traits which are more robust. Second, some of the aspects of character being advocated as the appropriate object of public policy are based on capabilities and are normatively "thin", in that they are not tied to any specific substantive conception of the good life. Some character traits, however, are normatively "thick", and so their promotion would be tied to a substantive ideal. In both cases, thick and thin are matters of degree and there is not sharp distinction between the two. Nevertheless, the distinction is important and I will argue that a basic liberal position is that state policy should, in both respects, be as thin as possible, and I will attempt to sketch a means of determining what this is. 

Marvin Berkowitz - Educating for a just and caring democratic society

Educating for a just and caring democratic society: Foundations of effective school reform

Heroclitus said that “character is destiny,” a claim that has been echoed through the ensuing millennia. No society can be ethical, just, or caring without citizens who share those values and virtues. The challenge then is how to maximize the likelihood that such characteristics (moral character and other supportive characteristics) will flourish among the citizens of a society. In democracies, this goal is even more critical, for the citizens of a democracy are the democracy. Research on child development and educational psychology, among other disciplines, has much to offer in the design of schools that optimally foster character development. PRIME is a model of five foundational characteristics of schools that support the flourishing of youth, both academically and developmentally. Such schools Prioritize the goal of child development, especially character development. They strategically and intentionally nurture positive Relationships among all stakeholders. They avoid the use of extrinsic motivators and promote Instrinsic motivation to act ethically toward oneself, toward others, and in support of the common good. The adults in schools Model the values and character they wish to see develop in students/pupils. Such schools embrace a pedagogy of Empowerment, inviting and respecting the voices of all stakeholders to democratize schools and classrooms. Ultimately the successful focus on PRIME depends on school leaders who take responsibility for nurturing a positive adult school culture. Only then do students become the ethical democratic citizens that our societies require.

Karen Bohlin - Gratitude

Gratitude

From ancient to contemporary times gratitude has been linked to happiness. “It is not the man who has too little,” Seneca wrote, “but the man who craves more, that is poor.” Albert W. Clarke (1916 – 1944), the professional English football player, later put it this way, “In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” While not listed as a virtue in his Nicomachean Ethics, gratitude meets Aristotle’s requirements for a moral virtue. In the same way that courage lies on a mean between recklessness and cowardice, gratitude lies on a mean between taking goods for granted, feeling entitled to them, and seeking to ingratiate oneself obsequiously. Positive psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough have conducted empirical research suggesting gratitude as a leading indicator of happiness and overall health. Often referred to as a positive emotion, the word “thanks,” however, comes from the Old English, thanc, which means “thought, gratitude” and the Latin tongere, which means to know. In other words, gratitude involves knowledge as well as feeling. This paper aims to provide a conceptual framework with practical examples illustrating the connection between gratitude and human flourishing. What is the relationship between gratitude and happiness? What are the dispositions of gratitude, and what do they look like? How do we develop gratitude, especially in the face of want, adversity and dashed expectations? These are just some of the questions this essay sets out to examine.

James Burns - The Impact of Character-based Education

The Impact of Character-based Education: Exploring the Effects of Curricular Redesign in Faith-based Higher education

In studies on the value of higher education, a frequent yet troublesome finding of some scholars is that recent graduates lack a “dimension of personal character, especially qualities that allow people to work well with others and contribute to the good on multiple levels.” Faith-based universities share in a unique way UNESCO’s special commitment to “transcend mere economic considerations and incorporate deeper dimensions of morality and spirituality” in young people. University professors are particularly well poised to develop student character as undergraduates are evolving in their conceptualization of responsibility to others, morality, and integrity. This paper proposes a pilot program to study and promote character development in undergraduates at a Jesuit, Catholic institution which is guided by a mission to foster “the rigorous intellectual development and the religious, ethical, and personal formation of its students in order to prepare them for citizenship, service, and leadership in a global society.” The pilot program seeks to enhance the influence faculty have as exemplars of student character development. A series of cross-disciplinary courses will be examined and the faculty of these courses will be mentored in integrating the virtues of intellectual integrity, commitment to social contribution, and moral courage through discipline-specific instruction congruent with BC’s Mission. The findings will provide a research database to assist in developing promising practices in this arena. In addition, public policy implications related to the above mentioned virtues will be discussed.

David Carr - Problems and Pitfalls of Moral Character Education through Imaginative Literature

Problems and Pitfalls of Moral Character Education through Imaginative Literature

The mid-twentieth century revival of virtue ethics prompted something of a ‘Copernican revolution’ in modern moral philosophy. The neo-Aristotelian critique of exclusive modern focus on the rational or cognitive aspects of moral experience and conduct effectively ensured that moral philosophers could no longer afford to ignore such aspects and constituents of moral experience and conduct as motive, desire, emotion, personal and social circumstance and character. This, in turn, opened up the prospect of approaches to moral education extending beyond (as in the work of Kohlberg) the consideration of abstract and artificially constructed moral dilemmas. Thus, the modern virtue ethical philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, has argued (much in the spirit of Aristotle’s Poetics) that insofar as human agents understand themselves as characters in stories, the great narratives (legends, myths, histories, poetry and fiction) of human literary inheritance may be the best -- if not the only serious -- route to human understanding of moral life. Indeed, such stories and narratives seem to be valued by both Aristotle and MacIntyre with particular respect to the education of human feeling and emotion as an important constitutive of moral character. On the general assumption that stories and narrative have such a potentially large part to play in moral and emotional education, this paper sets out to distinguish some different conceptions of literature-based moral and character education, but also to explore some of their associated problems and pitfalls.

James Conroy - Do the Andalusian Caliphates offer a good model for intervultural citizenship?

Do the Andalusian Caliphates offer a good model for intervultural citizenship?

This paper has its origins in a family visit in 2011 to the Alhambra palace in Granada where I purchased a copy of Maria Rosa Menocal’s study of the Caliphates and Taifas of early medieval Al- Andalus. Entitled ‘Ornament of the World’. This entertaining history made an impassioned case for considering Al-Andalus as a representative of an alternative, more ethical and interculturally sensitive, culture to the dominant European (Frankish) cultures. Desirous of finding a way through the morass of contemporary education that might enhance individual and collective solidarity across conflicted ideologies it is tempting to become besotted by the halcyon ideal of an ancient way of life that might provide signposts or metaphors as a resource for thinking about multicultural education. This paper explores the rhetorical claims and myths we tell ourselves and asks if such an approach is justified on the grounds that it might produce a more cohesive citizenry. In order to test the claim I juxtapose the (EU) Toledo principles on the treatment of world religions with some ethnographic work I have been conducting across the UK on religious education and multiculturalism. In doing so I point to some ethical limitations in the creation of pedagogic myths, flaws in our current approach and signpost an alternative educational trajectory based on a more robust claim about the need for moral self-examination.

William Damon - Profiles of Virtue in Public Life

Profiles of Virtue in Public Life

Recent studies in psychology and economics emphasize the role of emotions, intuitions, social pressures, and self-interest in determining everyday moral choices. As a consequence, the prevailing view of moral behavior in the popular media has become reductionist, deterministic, and relativistic, leading to a growing cynicism in the public perception of human nature. But this recent trend in social science research offers only a partial glimpse into the moral sense, one that is distorted by methodological and conceptual limitations and ignores the motivational power of ideals and moral virtues.

This presentation discusses a just-completed study of seven public leaders who spanned the 20th century, and who pursued moral causes ranging from world peace to social justice and human rights. The presentation uses these cases to illustrate how some people consistently make choices guided by their moral convictions. Not only do the seven cases demonstrate the existence of conviction-driven choices, they also show how every person can learn to rise above emotions and pressures in order to follow his or her conscience.

To address the question of how, the presentation focuses on the workings of three virtues: inner truthfulness, humility, and faith. All seven leaders employed these particular virtues in their quests to take on great moral challenges and to persevere in the face of daunting obstacles.

The seven public leaders represent a tiny fraction of people who are motivated by ideals and virtues when they make key life choices. As representatives of this far larger population, the seven illustrate ways that people can draw on the best within themselves in their social behavior. This kind of moral commitment is an essential element of the psychology of our species, and it is available to everyone through education and character development.

Jeffrey Dill - The Character and Culture of American Families

The Character and Culture of American Families: Do Parents Need a Language of Virtue?

Much of the empirical literature on moral and character education is rooted in psychological perspectives and focuses on individual development. But the social context of character formation is equally important, and the family is a key cultural institution, or regulatory agency, that shapes the character of children. Drawing from an interview study of 101 parents of school-aged children in the United States, this paper explores the cultural context of character within the family. Parents in this sample believe that the world has changed drastically, even since their own childhoods, and they are aware of significant ruptures in the collective authority once shared by the adult generation in the task of raising the young. In spite of waning parental authority, parents still see their primary task as raising “good kids.” But as parents describe desired qualities for their children and their strategies for achieving them, their language focuses less on traditional notions of character and more on a therapeutic individualism that celebrates independence and emotional intimacy. And yet, upon deeper examination, this language does not appear to signify autonomous self-fulfillment, but rather an internalized moral code that enables the child to do the “right thing.” Parents thus employ the language of autonomy and independence, but their concern appears to be more traditional and disciplinary: to instill a certain kind of character and virtue in their children.

Kathryn Ecclestone - From emotional well-being to character building

From emotional well-being to character building: the dangers of a behavioural and dispositions-based approach in British educational policy

It is difficult to challenge a strong consensus in Britain that governments must intervene in a worsening crisis of emotional and psychological well-being and that schools are prime sites for doing so. Building directly on earlier concerns and corresponding interventions in educational settings, a shift from therapeutic approaches to emotional well-being to the recent revival of interest in character building is reinforced by a search for better measurement as part of broader government interest in new ideas from behavioural science. In this context, C. Wright Mills’ injunction that a ‘sociological imagination’ should illuminate the ways in which social change reflects changing images of the human subject is an important counter to depictions of well-being and character as a set of behaviours that can be taught and measured. The paper argues that these depictions are rooted in an underlying diminished view of emotionally vulnerable citizens that legitimise the imposition of psychological interventions. In response to moral and political questions about the nature of well-being and character and the conditions needed to develop them, the paper argues that philosophical ideas that aim to temper or reconcile those from psychology also need a sociological imagination.

Jean Gross - If … Kipling, character and schools

If … Kipling, character and schools 

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don't deal in lies, or being hated, don't give way to hating, and yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise…..

Taking Kipling’s well-known poem as its theme, this paper explores the different facets of character, from resilience to compassion to the ability to delay gratification and strive towards goals. It explores the work currently undertaken in UK schools to help children and young people develop these several aspects of character, illustrating how an explicit curricular focus on character development works in practice, and how whole-school systems can serve to reinforce the learning. It draws on a range of school-based approaches: SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning), PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies), Values-based education, Roots of Empathy, the Penn Resiliency Programme and UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools Award. The paper then examines the history of this work in the UK, from its roots in the last government’s concerns about pupil behaviour in schools, to a subsequent focus on broader issues of wellbeing. It explores current policy ambivalence about whether social and emotional development is or is not the proper province of education. Finally, it summarises available evidence of the impact of this work and critically evaluates its success in inculcating values and developing character.

John Haldane - The Virtues of Public Life and the Necessity of Philosophy

The Virtues of Public Life and the Necessity of Philosophy

Virtues are commonly characterised as settled habits of choice directed towards the good. This needs some refinement since such habits should be under the guidance of reason which raises one kind of question about the relations between fact and value. Equally challenging is the question of what 'good'. So far as personal choice is concerned one may refer to the values recognised by the individual, but where he or she is discharging a public role and the good in question is that of others, and perhaps also of all, further questions arise. One response is to retreat towards the management of preferences, or a notion of virtue as an executive power, but this is evasive and ineffective. We need them to consider what kind of virtues are appropriate to the conduct of life in circumstances of difference. The conclusion is that the teaching of virtue calls for the teaching of philosophy.


Michael Hand - The cognitive aspect of moral education

The cognitive aspect of moral education

It is one thing to know what morality requires of us, another to be motivated to meet those requirements. Cases of individuals knowing quite well what they ought to do, but nevertheless failing to do it, are depressingly familiar. Indeed, these are precisely the cases in which we feel most justified in assigning moral blame: a person who knowingly offends against a moral standard is blameworthy in a way that she would not be if she were ignorant of the standard.

It is plain that moral educators must attend to moral motivation. They must cultivate in children and young people the sort of habits, desires, dispositions and inclinations that will move them to do what morality requires. This shaping of children’s souls, of their emotional and volitional selves, is a central focus of the work of the Jubilee Centre. We might call it the conative aspect of moral education.

It would be unfortunate, however, if attention to the conative aspect of moral education resulted in neglect of its cognitive aspect. Knowing the difference between right and wrong is not all there is to moral agency; but it is a necessary part of it. Children need to know what morality requires, what type of requirements these are, and how they are justified. The aim of the research project to be outlined in this session is to develop a theory of the cognitive aspect of moral education.

Edward Harcourt - Situationism, Attachment and Public Policy

Situationism, Attachment and Public Policy

If policy-focused discussions of character should ever take time out to examine their philosophical underpinnings, they should surely engage with situationism. For situationists have argued that cross-situationally stable character traits like honesty and courage either don’t exist at all or (less radically) are too rare to be explanatorily significant. But if that’s correct, aren’t policy initiatives which aim to address social problems by inculcating character traits doomed to failure?

The response to this challenge begins with evidence that policy initiatives that aim to inculcate character traits have not in fact been a failure. I then offer some theoretical considerations designed to explain how this can be so, even if situationist scepticism about Aristotelian virtues such as honesty and courage is true. The basic idea is that the traits relevant to explaining the success of character-focused policy initiatives are either more specific or more general than Aristotelian virtues. The more specific traits would include e.g. honesty to employees (as opposed to honesty to romantic partners), while the more general traits in focus in this paper are attachment dispositions (such as secure attachment). Though neither Aristotelian virtues (or vices) nor straightforwardly predictive of them, attachment dispositions do stand in interesting explanatory relations to some socially valuable but situationally specific traits – including, it is suggested, the ones which character-focused policy initiatives might be successful in fostering. The further questions of (i) how specific a trait needs to be to qualify as a character-trait, and (ii) how policy should focus on preserving as well as giving rise to the relevant traits, will also be addressed.

Helen Haste - Getting engaged with what really matters

Getting engaged with what really matters: effective routes to education?

There is little point haranguing the young for their moral (or civic) failings nor parading values or goals that we nostalgically believe informed previous generations. Steles in Ur and writings of classical Greece show us that such futile acts have a long history. We must start from where young people are, morally, with what concerns them, and with the tools that they use for caring about their world as well as the pressures, temptations and inspirations that inform the use of these tools. We also start from theories of morality, which are diverse. The Kantian model of morality as ‘cool reason’ dominated moral psychology, emphasizing development as increasingly complex understanding of moral principles and the consequences of action. Here, education focuses on promoting more complex reasoning. Recent developments echo Hume’s dispute with Kant about the immediacy of moral affect (such as compassion or disgust) in contrast to the slower reflection of reasoning. Current moral theory rhetoric tends to pit affect against reason but the next steps may be synthesis rather than polarity. As yet, little has been done to consider the logistics of educating moral affect, though civic education does take on board that civic responsibility requires affective engagement in an issue. Character education derives from Aristotelian virtues, enduring trait-like attributes of the person which combine ‘good’ emotion, ‘wise’ reason and the ego qualities for pursuing both. I will argue that character education can only be formulated adequately when the implicit assumptions about both reason and affect are unpacked, and particularly, when the cultural context in which virtues are fostered and enacted, and the tools for so doing, are fully articulated.

Norio Ikeno - 'Good' reasoning, education, ethics and values

'Good' reasoning, education, ethics and values

This paper has three aims, firstly, to enquire into ‘good’ reasoning on education for ethics and values; second, to analyse citizenship education in England and Japan, and thirdly, to distinguish between moral and ethical reasoning with regards to social issues.

The concept of this paper draws from developmental research on moral/ethical reasoning, the theoretical constitution of reasoning and the present conditions of school education.

Kohlberg and Habermas’ research on human moral and ethical development is important. They infer that we progress from individual judgments on society to social judgments on individual.

I argue that it is the construction and layout of arguments which drive moral and ethical development in human beings. It is Toulmin’s model on layout which details main five factors, datum, claim, warrant, backing and qualifier/rebuttal. An individual uses reasoning to solve problems and issues, and by using Toulmin’s model he/she can rationalise the reasoning and enhance the degree of rationality in reasoning.

My research has discovered two types of reasoning in solving social problems/issues, that which focuses on the moral, and that which focuses on the ethical. In considering these two types of reasoning, I will discuss the levels of reasoning in everyday life, in public and in a more scientific world. My conclusions are that two types of ‘good‘ reasoning exist in values and ethics education, and aid human development.

Ólafur Jónsson - Inclusive Education, Democracy and Justice

Inclusive Education, Democracy and Justice

Inclusive education raises both difficult questions about distribution of resources and interesting questions about ideologies of schools and society.

Different conceptions of democracy not only entail different roles for schools as institutions in a just democratic society, they also entail different conceptions of what makes school practices democratic. Deliberative theories of democracy coupled with a Rawls’ theory of justice as fairness offer a somewhat attractive conception of schools as democratic institutions. However, the inherent focus on structure rather than attitudes and character makes the conception too limited.

John Dewey’s concept of democracy is importantly different from many of the recent deliberative concepts in so far as he wanted to root democracy in personal attitudes and habits – democratic character, one could say – arguing that institutions are democratic only in so far as they can be seen, in their day to day functioning, as being projections of democratic character.

Viewing democracy and inclusion in this Deweyan way makes inclusive education essentially a branch of character education – but character education that has to begin with the democratic character of the teachers themselves.

Ben Kotzee - Intellectual Virtue and the Aims of Education Debate

Intellectual Virtue and the Aims of Education Debate

What the ultimate aims of education are is a perennial question in the philosophy of education. An important recent development in this debate is an exchange between Alvin Goldman and Harvey Siegel regarding truth and critical thinking as educational aims. For Goldman, while the education system seeks both to transmit existing knowledge from teachers to students and to teach students independent knowledge gathering skills, the second of these aims is subordinate to the basic aim of increasing the stock of true beliefs that the student holds. Siegel counters that, because good teaching aims not at the inculcation of true belief per se, but at its inculcation through rational means, the development of critical thinking skills is in fact the more basic educational aim. In this paper, I investigate another possibility: that the most basic aim of education is the formation of intellectual character. Drawing on work by Bernard Williams, I will investigate the role of two specific intellectual virtues in the formation of intellectual character – the virtues of accuracy and sincerity. I will sketch how these form a plausible basis for all intellectual cooperation between people. I will hold that – seen not only in terms of classroom education, but seen in terms of the social formation of the young person as a contributor to intellectual exchange between people, the general virtue of truthfulness (rather than the inculcation of true beliefs) is the most basic aim of education.

Kristján Kristjánsson - A gap in the value layer?

A gap in the value layer? Trajectories, challenges and prospects of moral education

Recent years have witnessed a world-wide resurgence of interest in moral education, broadly understood, taking the form of explicit educational aims concerned with the socio-moral, psycho-moral and political development of students – with student well-being typically being given as the inclusive meta-objective of all those aims. Yet the aims in question are rooted in diverse theoretical backgrounds and issue in a disconcerting plurality of approaches. At times, contemporary moral education seems to be swimming in a sea of hopeless heterogeneity: Is there anything singular to be found in the prodigious plurality of approaches – any putative common point of departure? On one interpretation of the current situation, the mixed bag of theoretical assumptions underlying different programmes in moral education constitutes a hopeless hotchpotch of ill-assorted elements. On an alternative interpretation, contemporary moral education offers us a healthy melting-pot of elements that can be made to work – perhaps not simultaneously, but at least in conjunction with one another. The present paper explores the current state of the art in moral education through a concerto in three movements. The tempo in the first movement is adagio. It offers a condensed history of the trajectories (the ups and downs) of moral education, old and new. The paper then moves up a gear to an allegro movement on the challenges that moral education in school faces (from various quarters). It concludes finally with a fast-paced presto movement on the prospects for moral education in years ahead.

Chi-Ming Lee - Moral and character education in Taiwan

Moral and character education in Taiwan: History and lessons to be drawn

Moral and character education had been a mandatory subject in Taiwanese schools for several decades. However, since 2004 moral and character education course was no longer part of formal curricula due to educational reforms. The ongoing policy of moral and character education is the “Moral and Character Education Improvement Program” (MCEIP), which stresses character-based school culture to balance Eastern and Western, traditional and modern cultures. The history and development of Taiwanese moral and character education reveals a complicated blending of education, culture and politics. A number of issues, controversies and debates on moral and character education need to be addressed and drawn the lessons learned by the worldwide scholars and educators as follows: 1. How to balance cultural identity and difference in a diversified society; 2. How to cultivate virtuous persons and good citizens in a global society; 3. How to rebuild legitimacy and interdisciplinary approaches in a learning society; 4. How to connect theory and practice to improve quality in a postmodern society. From a reflection on the Taiwanese experience, several implications and suggestions for moral and character education are provided, including certain old questions regarding moral and character education field not yet clarified; some emerging issues regarding moral and character education field need to be answered; a topic of how to balance universal values and local characteristics of moral and character education needs attention; and facilitating an exchange of ideas on moral and character education should be encouraged.

John Lippitt - “I can’t forget it even if I try”

“I can’t forget it even if I try”: graduate attributes, student receptivity to virtues-talk and some implications for university policy and strategy

Despite the resurgence of ‘virtue ethics’ in recent years, doubts are sometimes expressed about the appropriateness of virtues-talk in contemporary pedagogical discourse. The fear seems to be that ‘virtue’ is a term now typically associated with prissiness or prudishness, and thereby likely to be dismissed by contemporary students. This paper reports on the experience of a funded project associated with ‘Virtues, Vices and Ethics’ - a final year module at one UK university - in which we discovered quite the opposite. Discussion of virtues involved pushing at an open door. Alarmingly, Graduates of Character reports how widespread is the idea that higher education does nothing to influence values. Yet our students showed great willingness to use the language of virtues to rethink important aspects of their lives and plans, from career choices to helping friends to cope with personal tragedy. Our project started off as one with a fairly narrow pedagogical focus: to assess whether and to what extent reflection on virtues such as gratitude, humility, pride, hope, patience, forgivingness and trust influenced students’ abilities to work in groups. But the results suggest that encouraging students to think in some detail about such virtues can have a far more profound impact, relevant way beyond the seminar room. The paper closes by suggesting that universities should be more explicit in making connections between virtues of character and graduate attributes. It also suggests that universities can use the language of character and virtue more robustly to demonstrate the value of the humanities for the employability agenda.

Richard Layard - ‘Changing our Culture: The Action for Happiness Approach’

‘Changing our Culture: The Action for Happiness Approach’

For fifty years we've aimed relentlessly at higher incomes. But despite being much wealthier, we're no happier than we were five decades ago. At the same time we've seen an increase in wider social problems, including a worrying rise in anxiety and depression in young people. It's time for a positive change in what we mean by progress.

Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier society. We want to see a fundamentally different way of life where people care less about what they can get for themselves and more about the happiness of others.

This movement is about an idea, which if implemented, could uplift the quality of life in our societies. The idea is that we want as much happiness as is possible for our society and, above all, as little misery. And the implication for each of us is that we should aim to create more happiness in the world around us and less misery. If each of us made this our goal, this would radically improve our societies.

To do it, we can use the new scientific knowledge about the causes of happiness and misery, which adds significantly to ancient wisdom. We should use this knowledge in whatever way we can to create more happiness in our homes, our workplaces and in our communities. It should influence how we approach our personal lives, how we bring up our children, how we behave at work and how public policy is made. And we should always consider the happiness of future generations, as well as our own.


Jen Lexmond - Character as capability

Character as capability

More than test scores, fame, or fortune, it is character capabilities like integrity, empathy, and grit that underpin a good – and successful – life. Once recognised as a truism, today the case for character must be made again after a period of falling into disrepute: upper class, ‘public school’, a tool for attributing blame to the more disadvantaged in society. Character is not a term that sits easily in contemporary society, but a growing body of evidence from developmental psychology, neuroscience, and social mobility analysis is proving that character plays a foundational role in our wellbeing, and calls for a renewed focus on character are pouring in in response to recent events like the 2011 riots, the expenses scandal, and the moral and literal bankruptcy of the financial sector. The central challenge for policy makers then is how to construct policies – for education, but also for communities, families, and economic growth and sustainability – that build character and hence support the end goal of a better, fairer society.

This paper will explore some of the different approaches to ‘character building’ policies. As a recipient of ‘character education’ myself as a high school student in the United States, I was disillusioned and disaffected by my school’s head-on, moralistic approach to teaching virtue. Living in a strongly conservative, Southern-Baptist community in the midst of the Bush presidential reign, discussions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were strongly influenced by the dominant political, religious, and economic outlook of the day. Good character was characterised as being patriotic, obedient, and success-oriented. But here was a community where the majority of people supported the death penalty, maligned almost any form of taxation, and derided the idea of a national health care system as ‘pinko-liberal’.

I argue that the most effective strategies to build character cannot take aim at it directly, but must come at it from the side – obliquely – through building foundational capacities for empathy, application, and emotional self-regulation. These capabilities are built up over long periods of time, through strong relationships, developing good habits, and exercising creativity and self-expression. Rather than a prescriptive set of virtues, character should be understood as a liberal concept – a set of foundational capabilities that underpin self-directed lives and support individuals to develop their own notion of the good.

David Lorimer - Inspire>Aspire and the Spirit of London 2012

Inspire>Aspire and the Spirit of London 2012

Inspire>Aspire - Exploring Olympic and Paralympic Values - has been running in schools over the last 2 years leading up to London 2012, and is currently running a legacy year to find out who inspired young people at London 2012. This paper will report on the transformative process of translating inspiration into aspiration via the structured values poster format developed over a number of years. The London Games highlighted exceptional human achievement and provided a unique learning opportunity for young people to understand what it takes to develop their characters and capacities and to achieve outstanding success in any field. Students reflected on how to embody the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect, and the Paralympic values of courage, determination, equality and inspiration into their lives. The paper will also explain the principles of the values poster and how it is being translated into a new format for the Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow in 2014.

Simon Marcus - Imparting of Judeo Christian Morals and Values as the Basis of Good Character and the Prime Mover for Success

Imparting of Judeo Christian Morals and Values as the Basis of Good Character and the Prime Mover for Success

Simon Marcus Throughout history the vast majority of social groups, irrespective of the century, climate or other external influences, have shared various morals and values that have been seen as productive, right, and leading to success. Some of these societies also adopted other morals and values that may not be seen as productive such as human sacrifice.

However there are a group of behaviours, that I believe can be called morals and values that are perennial, contain an important element of altruism, mututality and reciprocity and have been present in any successful society (not withstanding less desirable customs), and that lead to success. Further, without such values, or when such values fade sufficiently, a society must decline and fall. Even when the great historic empires such as Rome and Greece died, the best of their values remained and still influence us today.

Broadly these values can be seen as a work ethic, self discipline, sacrifice for the future or deferred success, value of learning, responsibility, family, generosity, kindness, gratitidue, courage, resilience, respect for authority and respect for others. They are enshrined in Judeo –Christianity.

Distilled through centuries of trial and error they have endured through the ages, refined and imparted through institutions, structures, customs, and interaction between the generations. They could be described as a moral skill set.

They can be lost through external events such as famine, war or some other catastrophe, but I would also argue they can be taught out of society by those hostile to them in pursuit of an alternative outcome, as we have seen in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in our era. Of course a combination of many circumstances can lead to such a change. For example the de-industrialisation of the north that began in the UK of the 1980s, and which arguably lead to the rise of an underclass, through the application of fallacious welfare policies that built dependency and helped destroy the foundations of those strong and proud working community.

But the cycle of decline can be broken and such values re-introduced. In this essay I would like to explore what these morals and values are, how vital they are, where they come from, how they are lost and how they are rebuilt.

Ian Morris - The importance of well-being in education

The importance of well-being in education

The aims of education are a constant source of debate and discussion. This paper proposes arguments to establish well-being as the central aim of education and will also flesh out some ideas of how well-being may be supported both by the curriculum and educational elements outside of the curriculum.

Daniel Moulin - Challenges for religious adolescents in English secondary schools

Challenges for religious adolescents in English secondary schools

Religion is often thought to be an influence upon the character development of children and young people. English secondary schools – faith schools, Church schools, non-denominational maintained schools and academies – purport to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of their pupils and respect for religious diversity. This paper presents an analysis of some of the data generated in an exploratory study of religious identity development among 100 Christian, Jewish and Muslim secondary school pupils who attended a range of school types. The data suggest, contrary to the aims and policies surrounding religion and spiritual development in secondary schools, present-day schools (Church, faith and schools of no religious character) can pose a variety of challenges for practising Christians, Jews and Muslims in terms of the maintenance and development of their religious practices, beliefs and identities. These challenges are presented by peers, teachers and the curriculum, and were often perceived by participants to create an over-all environment where religious identities, beliefs and practices are maintained and formed in spite of schooling, rather than because of it. This paper presents an overview of the kinds of challenges Christian, Jewish and Muslim participants reported, and relates them to other studies and previous research.

 

Osamu Nakayama - Globalization and the Need to Reconstruct Moral Education in Higher Education

Globalization and the Need to Reconstruct Moral Education in Higher Education

After the decades of globalization in the twentieth century academy, the need for a new kind of learning that provides generic skills has recently achieved widespread recognition in Japanese higher education. The term “generic skills” (or “soft skills”) has now become one of the key concepts of “cooperative education,” especially for those who seek a new role for higher education in the twenty-first century. In addition to, or rather with respect to these skills, what is most needed in higher education today is the nurturing in our students of the moral integrity and good character required for our now globalized society. However, the idea that universities have a civic responsibility to teach their students morality and ethics has been met with scepticism, suspicion and, on occasion, outright rejection. Indeed, moral and ethical education is not especially common at university level in Japan, where people tend to think that such concerns belong to the province of home and elementary and junior high school instruction.

Modern society is, however, faced with a mountain of issues, and required to respond to the clear need for a convincing answer to the question of how we should live in times of unprecedented transition. Universities are no exception. We have, therefore, to ask ourselves what moral education should accomplish in order to nurture capable persons who can contribute to the global construction of a sustainable society, rather than focusing on whether higher education can proactively cultivate morality or not. 

Concepción Naval - Civic Education and Social Commitment among University Students

Civic Education and Social Commitment among University Students

Recent decades have seen growing international concern about the lack of social commitment among young people, shown in their failure to participate in social affairs, their scant interest in formal politics, and their low turnout at elections. I first outline the international framework which forms the background to the paper. This leads to a discussion of the ethical and civic education which university students receive in the context of the social mission of the University.The paper then moves on to examine one promising initiatives in this field: service-learning. We conclude with a proposal containing some suggestions of relevance to higher education. The need for education in ethics and civics underpins the whole paper, since this is the key to promoting social commitment among young people.

Anthony O'Hear - Reason and Character

Reason and Character

Drawing on Aristotle, it is shown that reason is insufficient for moral development. Reason can be used to justify bad ends as easily as promoting the good. Good character, formed by habituation, preferably when one is young, is necessary to get reason moving in the right direction. Reason, when backed by the cardinal virtues, becomes an integral part of the moral life, but because of the weakness of our nature, good character remains key.

Farid Panjwani - Values, schools and the market

Values, schools and the market: reflections on possible opportunities and dilemmas

The paper has two parts. The first part will propose that the current emphasis on character and values in education and public life more generally provides a distinctive opportunity to evolve an ‘overlapping consensus’ among schools of different philosophical orientations in Britain. The presence of a variety of school systems, particularly those with religious character, is sometimes seen as a threat to social cohesion. This part of the paper would suggest that a focus on shared values and character disposition may provide a useful response to this concern. Here the Rawlsian idea of ‘overlapping consensus’ can serve as a useful intellectual framework.

In the second part, the paper will examine the impact of the relationship between education and economy on schools’ character building role. Through the case study of schools with Muslim religious character, it will be shown that schools face a tough dilemma as they are expected to prepare children for values that are often incongruent. The prevailing economic system demands values which are often at odds with what the advocates of character and values through school emphasis. Some reflections on dealing with the difficult choices that the schools face will be offered in the concluding part of the paper.

Nick Peim - Character, subjectivity, ‘dasein’: who or what are we?

Character, subjectivity, ‘dasein’: who or what are we? Ethics and the role of education after Heidegger. Some reflections.

Contemporary resurgences of discourses of character indicate that the character of character has changed. No longer attached to the mythical stable ego of solid identity, character becomes a function of specific modes of being-in-the-world, a problematic and even ‘spectral’ category reflecting a new world (dis)order of liquid modernity. 

At the same time, education in modernity has been characterized as, above all, a mass, social technology of the self, an extensive machinery of identity. In this exploration I would like to consider some contemporary ways of understanding the relations between subjectivity, ethics and education drawing on contemporary philosophies (Agamben, Badiou, Malabou,).

In conclusion I will offer to table some scandalous reflections on the dissolution of classic understanding of the function of education in the name of a newly conceptualized ethics arising from the reconceptualization of character, subjectivity and ‘dasein’.

Amelia Peterson - Good character as the practice of integrity and adaptability

Good character as the practice of integrity and adaptability

This analytic paper takes up a model of good character as constituted by right action, as the only manifestation viable to be judged, but highlights the weakness in this understanding of character that would liken the person of good character to an automaton – that is, one who has only one right choice in any situation, depending on the principle of right action chosen. On further interrogation, however, we see that in the human context, the intent and outcome of an action can have separate consequences, and just this fact requires a more complex understanding of right action as guided by a principle for communicative intent as much as substantive outcome. Right action is therefore decided with recourse to something above and beyond the conditions of a situation. This offers an understanding of character as that particularly human quality arising from the creation of distinctive ways of acting that rise above what might be determined by a given context. Good character is then understood as being constituted by the virtue of integrity, being the capacity to manifest consistent values in actions across time, but also adaptability, as the necessary capacity to reassess values, when appropriate, in response to context. The crux of this paper’s argument is that in a world of changing conditions, the ability to manage the tension between these virtues is the primary goal of character education.

Mark Pike - Raising Attainment, Nurturing Values and Increasing Social Mobility in a School of Character

Raising Attainment, Nurturing Values and Increasing Social Mobility in a School of Character

It has been claimed that ‘quality character education results in academic gains for students’ (Berkowitz and Bier, 2004) and this paper provides evidence from a school of character in the North of England where there is ample evidence of such gains. When it opened in 2005 the area the school served was ranked in the worst 10% nationally for unemployment and in the worst 4% in the country as regards educational attainment. Its predecessor was closed due to low standards. After one year, in 2006, only 34% of sixteen-year-old students ‘passed’ their five school subjects at GCSE grade C or better. However, by 2008 74% of students achieved these results and by 2010, 95% did so. The school is now in the top 3% of all schools nationally for ‘value-added’. As a result the its Sixth Form has increased dramatically in size with many students, from the social priority area the school serves, succeeding at A level and being the first in their family to go to University, with some even gaining places at Cambridge and Russell Group universities. Quantitative and qualitative research carried out at the school in 2007-8 with 14-year-old students has been published. In the summer of 2012 the researcher went back and worked with the same students, now 18-year-olds, who were about to leave and go to University. This paper reports what those students said about their seven years in a school of character and compares the survey findings from 2008 and 2012.

Gary Powell - Character Education in the Workplace

Character Education in the Workplace

Until recently, employers have been more interested than virtues than educationalists have, even if they do not express it in those terms but rather talk about soft-skills and personality traits.  However, comparing ourselves with a checklist of virtues is not enough to guarantee good character, nor to show us how to lead a good life.Indeed, the experience of the last five years would suggest it has been rather ineffective.  Western society needs to re-appraise what is to lead a good life.  Our pursuit of unlimited growth and the insatiable desire for greater wealth is literally purposeless.  It is unclear how this change is to be effected given a general lack of moral leadership.  If character education is to transcend merely making students fitter for the workplace, it has a role to play in providing intellectual leadership and guidance.

Richard Pring - Family Links: Improving social and relationship skills in families, schools and communities

Family Links: Improving social and relationship skills in families, schools and communities

Thomas Lickona's book, Moral Development and Behaviour: theory, research and social issues, was published in 1976. The twenty papers collected in that book provided cogent arguments for the importance of early social-cognitive understanding for subsequent mature moral and social behaviour. The papers became very influential in the creation and continuation of MOSAIC, the trans-Atlantic 'moral and social action interdisciplinary symposium'. One aspect of successful development referred to was a 'perspective on the role of parents and peers.

This paper seeks to explore that perspective through the work of Family Links, a charity which promotes emotional well-being, social skills and relationships in families, schools and communities. Crucial to the development of these skills and relationships is the link between what is promoted in the schools and work with parents, so that there can be mutual understanding and support.

Kevin Ryan - The Failure of Modern Character Education

The Failure of Modern Character Education

This paper argues that the recent negative findings concerning the efficacy of the seven leading character education programs in the United States is due primarily to three endemic causes, causes which weaken current efforts to promote character education in schools. First, the modern character education movement is dominated by a narrow, positivistic notion of what constitutes human character. Second, efforts at the character education of children are embedded in an empirical conception of education which keeps character education isolated from the larger philosophical and theological questions which surround what it means to be a flourishing human being. And, third, the current policy in the United States and elsewhere of turning over the education of the young to representatives of the modern state is examined and questioned on grounds of legitimacy and wisdom.

Tony Sewell - How a knowledge based curriculum can build character

How a knowledge based curriculum can build character

The paper argues that attempts by schools to social engineer children, through citizenship classes or mentoring, is doomed to fail. One of the key by-products of a classical education is that it empowers children to build a scholarly identity. The virtue is in learning for its own sake. The social benefit is that the imagination is trained.

The knowledge gained in key subjects like History, Geography, English, Latin, Chemistry and Maths are the confidence builders for students who learn at the feet of their teacher. The power of knowledge is that it gives you a sense of authority and power. Suddenly the joy of acquiring more knowledge is simply an insatiable desire for more. Great learning allows you as Stephen Hawkins so eloquently put it ’to aspire to know the mind of God’.

The paper argues that there are many useful by-products of an Education that is classically framed, the greatest being resilience, confidence, authority and ‘Pluck’. Using examples from my own Generating Genius science programme, I will show how students from a disadvantaged background were able to use science as a ‘knowledge identity’ to build success in their academic achievement and wider social life.

Jasmine Sim - Character and Citizenship Education Policy in Singapore

Character and Citizenship Education Policy in Singapore: Problems and Potential

There is a growing worldwide interest in issues related to character and citizenship education. However, the issues may not be expressed specifically in terms of character and citizenship; if they are, the discussions are often carried out in their separate domains. While character education and citizenship education are distinct domains, they are closely connected. In general, a decent society will be concerned with questions of both character and citizenship. Regardless of the purpose and approach adopted, the very nature of citizenship education, with the goal of creating citizens, is concerned with producing and encouraging certain attitudes, values and behaviours. As such, I argue for a view of character that is critical in the development of effective citizenship. In such a view, character education must go beyond the development of foundational moral values, to emphasize values inherent in democracy, particularly those that predispose young people to deliberate together. In Singapore, values and citizenship have always been core elements of education policy. Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) launched in 2011, is the key policy thrust in the new Student-Centric, Values-Driven Education landscape in Singapore. CCE emphasizes the importance of putting values and character development at the core of the Singapore education system. CCE places two distinct domains together, and appears to consider the claim that character education supports citizenship education. Singapore therefore provides an interesting case study to explore the challenges in developing character for citizenship. Specifically, I examine the nature of CCE, and ask what values are emphasized and why, and identify the problems and potential in CCE.

Heather Widdows - Learning to be better from learning to see better

Learning to be better from learning to see better

This paper will consider one particular approach in virtue ethics to becoming better – that put forward by Iris Murdoch – and consider how useful such an approach might be in education policy and in policy more broadly.

Iris Murdoch offers a distinctive virtue approach, which like other virtue ethicists draws on ancient philosophy (though Murdoch draws on Plato rather than Aristotle as most virtue ethicists do). For Murdoch learning to be better is about learning to see better – as for her how we perceive the world is a moral task in itself, and she speaks of the world being ‘morally coloured’. Accordingly, we can only improve our character as we learn to see and value better character traits and as we practice our moral skills. For Murdoch we cannot ‘choose’ to become better – the moral life is not one of instances of ‘moral choice’, or instances, of genuine ethical dilemma (even though it might seem like that at the time and we might present it so in our self-narratives). Rather choices are determined by vision, by how honestly and truly you can see others and the world. In moments of apparent choice options depend not on ‘strength of will but…[on]…the quality of our usual attachments and… the kind of energy and discernment we have available’ (Murdoch, 1970, p92). For Murdoch then being better, developing our character, is about on-going moral effort, and the aim is ‘to come to see the world as it really is’ (Murdoch, 1992, p91). To do this we need to be honest, but not too self-reflective, as there is a danger if we focus too much on the self that we will mistake ourselves and find ourselves more interesting and important than we actually are: in Platonic metaphor, we will mistake the ‘fire’ for the ‘sun’. Rather than dwelling on the self we should focus our ‘attention’ outwards, on things and artefacts, nature and animals and for Murdoch most importantly (and with most difficulty) on other people and on what is good. Therefore much of what being better requires is learning to see better, more honestly and truly, and this involves not long introspection (which for her runs the risk of self-obsession), but rather the creating good habits and behaviour which help us to ‘to have good desires and remove or weaken bad ones’ (Murdoch, 1992, p395).

Having set out in brief Murdoch’s picture of becoming better, of learning to see the world and other people more clearly and truthfully, the paper will then consider how this particular form of virtue ethics is useful for education policy and policy in general. It will suggest that there are 3 key insights of this approach offers.

First, the view that character is something developed over-time and with practice is something which all virtue ethicists share (and which is an important distinction between virtue ethics and other types of ethics). Murdoch offers an account of why it is so important to recognise the incremental development of character and how this affects the ability to think and act virtuously. She explains why – even though it may sometimes appear so (especially in hindsight) – ‘choice’ is not likely to be a point of moral transformation. As we gradually improve our moral vision we can gradually see what previously we could not, and thus make better choices, however, choices and acts are limited by how well we have learnt to see. Therefore emphasis in policy and education should be less on decision-making (for instance on informed choice), and more on ensuring that people have the ability and capability to be able to see what is salient. Thus, policy – whether in terms of education or otherwise – should not focus on discrete instances and interventions, but on development and character over time.

Second, in her descriptions of attention Murdoch offers practical techniques by which to improve one’s vision. Her objects for the practice of attention (including studying, attending to nature and art and falling in love), offer practical examples of how to improve one’s ability to see and thus one’s character. Such examples and her emphasis on habit and practice – rather than decision-making moments – are important in educating for an ethical life and in devising systems of good ethical governance.

Third, while Murdoch has a strong focus on being better and on making oneself better she warns against becoming self-obsessed, of mistaking self-reflection from the task of becoming better. She is wary of too much attention to the self as leading to better vision and decision-making (something which seems to be increasingly supported by empirical evidence (Bortolotti (2011)). In an age of ‘self improvement’ tending to focus more upon the ‘self’ than ‘others’ such a warning is timely. We should judge policy – educational and governance policy generally – not just by its benefit to individuals, but by how much it makes us all better.