Dr Kendall Cotton Bronk of Claremont Graduate University made a presentation on cultivating the virtue of purpose coming from a psychological point of view where purpose is associated with well-being, hope, happiness and life satisfaction. It also serves as an organising feature for other virtues and enables the development of a healthy identity. This implies a meaningful goal beyond self.
Significantly, only one in five high school students report having a purpose in life, and one in three undergraduates. This reflection led to the development of a programme to foster purpose among youth. Three areas of activity were identified:
1) values clarification leading to greater clarity of self-concept
2) goal orientation in terms of becoming our best possible self in 20 years and how to get there
3) identity formation, including a question about their favourite school assignment.
These took place over a two-week period comprising four sessions of 15 minutes. Despite relatively small sample sizes, initial results were promising in terms of statistically significant results. Future aspirations also increased significantly among the intervention groups and not among the control group.
The intent is very close to Inspire Aspire in terms of values clarification, identity formation and goal orientation although we integrate these into a single exercise.
Developing Noble Purpose in middle school students through Character Development and Social-Emotional Learning
Presented by Danielle Hatchimonji and Arielle Linsky from Rutgers University.
When goals go, meaning goes. When meaning goes, purpose goes. When purpose goes, life goes dead in our hands - CG Jung
The rationale for this programme is that virtues must not only be learned applied for good. The team, therefore, devised a virtual education programme, Mastering Our Skills and Inspiring Character (MOSAIC) integrating character education and social emotional learning methodology. This will teach youth a constellation of character virtues and skills to cultivate these virtues in terms of their own unique purpose. It is being trialled over three years in six urban middle schools in New Jersey. There are 15-minute sessions in the school every day.
The main headings are:
• Constructive creativity
• Responsible diligence
• Optimistic future mindedness
• Helpful generosity
• Compassionate forgiveness
Courses are designed to assist emotional regulation, communication, empathy and social problem-solving leading to social-emotional and character confidence. Pedagogical methods include conversation series and debates, student and teacher led discussions on relevant issues in the school, service linked projects and reflection activities, all this is designed to serve the development of a virtue driven noble purpose and is reinforced through monthly visual reminders.
A Few Things Moral Exemplars have shown me about Character
Lawrence Walker, Canada
Moral exemplars are people noted for virtue and action; they enlarge the moral domain and inform ethical ideals. Larry undertook some reverse engineering analysis to look at the developmental process of such people. One study concerned national award winners with a broad division between bravery and caring. He asked if there were distinctive characteristics and whether these depended on situation or disposition. He identified the two clusters of dominance and nurturance where carers tend to be longer-term while courage can be a one-off, although examples from World War I indicate sustained rather than situational courage.
Looking at the developmental roots of caring, he found that many people had spontaneous recollections of an incident that sensitised them to the needs of others. Another interesting theme was redemption, facing difficult challenges and extracting the positive from the negative, indicating resilience. More generally, the research indicates the complementary roles of agency and communion: getting ahead and getting along. Ultimately, however, we need to integrate these two aspects of life.
While moral exemplars can be sources of moral modelling, recent psychological experiments have shown that mere representation of an extreme moral exemplar can, in fact, induce negative emotional and behavioural responses such as envy, resentment and apathy. Moral stories are meant to induce emulation as an emotional response, but if the exemplar is too far removed from the world of the student, they may be unable to make the kind of connection they would with someone they know. Our experience shows that young people can indeed relate to exemplars, perhaps because they choose them themselves, which makes them relevant by definition. The situation might be different if an exemplar was simply presented rather than chosen.
Han described some neurological experiments showing a connection between selfhood and moral emotion where the crucial variable was the psychological distance between exemplars and students. They find that selfhood moderates moral emotion and motivation and that it is very important for the exemplar to model behaviour attainable by the student. Interestingly, peer exemplars inspired more service and moral motivation. This makes an interesting reflection on the early work we did where Mum was the main inspiration as compared with choosing a person you don't know.
Michel Croce and Maria Silvia Vaccarezza
Exemplars elicit admiration and, therefore, emulation. The presenters distinguished between the moral hero and the moral saint and consequently between a disunitarist and a unitarist model, where the former exhibits one particular virtue and the latter possesses all virtues. They illustrated this thesis by comparing two Italians as examples of the moral hero and the moral saint. They then analysed the effectiveness of these types in terms of character education according to the four criteria of admirability, righteousness, required-reflection and imitability. The saint is superior to the hero in virtue but the hero scores better on imitability. This harks back to the previous presentation where the saint represents a greater distance from the student and can, therefore, be morally discouraging.
In terms of people who have inspired me, I realised that I have three types of exemplars: intellectual exemplars like William James, Sir Karl Popper, Bertrand Russell, Arnold Toynbee and Radhakrishnan; then creative exemplars like Bach, Carl Jung and Hermann Hesse; and finally moral or spiritual exemplars like Bede Griffiths, Thomas Merton, Swedenborg, Peter Deunov and Albert Schweitzer. Some of these cross between the boundaries with all showing a degree of creativity and many a great deal of moral courage. So while Russell was by no means morally admirable, he was intellectually admirable and went to prison for campaigning against nuclear disarmament in his 90s.
This was a very interesting session as exemplars form a crucial part of the Inspire-Aspire values poster and indeed we expect this inspiration to be transposed into aspiration. The fact that students choose their own exemplars is a strength of our programme, although given the research reported above, it will be interesting to know if family members have a more powerful effect. They may or may not foster greater ambition among the students, depending on the extent and type of their accomplishments.
Friendship, Character Education and the Human Good
Blaine began by pointing out that friendship was both a central virtue and a good for Aristotle, but that it has been largely neglected in contemporary character education. In fact, we have found that friendship is extremely important to young people and that their friends truly make their world. Aristotle saw humans as social creatures needing strong attachments to flourish so the virtue of friendship makes the good of character friendship possible. Blaine distinguished three broad types of friendship in terms of utility, pleasure and character. Much psychological research is instrumental and tied to hedonic well-being (pleasure). Of course, many friendships contain all three elements but the last entails mutual recognition of good character, meaningful shared goals and wanting the best for one’s friends. He equates character friendship with eudaemonia (flourishing) while the other two types contribute more to hedonia (pleasure and positive emotion). In conclusion, he called for contemporary conceptions of friendship to be broadened and deepened.
Maria works in a boys’ prep school in Australia and has pioneered the development of vertical tutor groups in order to integrate the different years. She designed these as places where trust, friendliness and care could be fostered, choosing students who either lacked confidence or were over-confident. She found that the groups helped boys develop and maintain relationships with other boys they would otherwise not have known, leading to a growth of confidence and a feeling of being cared for and understood. The emphasis was on being together in new situations, which helped develop a group cohesion. Although schools are organised in year groups, I suspect that there are few such experiments in the UK, which I feel would be beneficial in both the private and state sectors.
Diana Hoyos Valdes
Diana began by remarking that many theories about the cultivation of virtue take a role model approach - already discussed in the session on exemplars. She argued that this was not sufficient and that we need good and close relationships with people who are not our superiors. She too spoke about the importance of character friendship as conceived by Aristotle and discussed by Blaine above. Close friends can provide opportunities for sharing and thought, mirroring ourselves and extending our emotions. This gives us a different kind of knowledge and helps us experience other emotions such as love, shame, trust and hope. This also enables us to practise virtues on a small scale that we may later translate into the public domain.
I found the discussion of the three types of friendship very helpful. Character friendships are perhaps expressed in the peer review section of the poster where people often remark that the work has enabled them to see new aspects of their friends leading to an enhanced appreciation and mutual understanding. In our own development, we originally had friendship as a valuable quality, but have migrated from nouns to adjectives and added a page on empathy, a topic that was not discussed. Nor was there much mention of the changing nature of friendship and the meaning of friends online as compared with being physically present with each other. There is a lot of interesting research to do in this area.