The Wheatley Institution

How Do We Educate for Moral Virtue

Terrance D. Olson
September 19, 2014

Related Videos

Matthew S. Holland

Civic Charity and The Making of America
Matthew S. Holland

September 19, 2014


Daniel N. Robinson

Founding a "Republic of Virtue"
Daniel N. Robinson

September 19, 2014


Panel Discussion

Q&A: Civic Virtue, Civic Life
Panel Discussion

September 19, 2014


Click here to view the transcript
Click here to hide the transcript

I'm grateful that the other presenters I consider to be colleagues. And while I sorrow that Dan Robinson is unable to be here because of a not yet fully diagnosed situation with his wife, his not being here is a strong statement of moral virtue that family comes first. So that statement will equal the words that he has delivered to Richard Williams who will deliver them to you.

My thesis has to do with how moral sensibility is central to what it means to be human, especially regarding how we treat others. President Holland has made the case of how realistic and inescapable and unavoidable moral sensibility is if we are to have a quality society, a quality democracy, quality neighborhoods, and quality communities; if that is to be realistic, we cannot be naïve about the real possibility of there being "malice toward none" and "charity for all."[1] And yet, there are enough evidences in our culture that that seems to be a very ephemeral accomplishment. I know that H.L. Mencken, probably more cynical than appreciative, once defined Puritanism this way: "Puritanism, the haunting fear that somewhere, someone might be happy." Now, in taking education for moral virtue into the public schools, whatever else we do, we must lay a foundation that acknowledges that being a person of moral virtue is possible and realistic and central perhaps to the way we succeed in our educational settings, on our athletic teams, in our political behavior, in our solutions to prejudice—in whatever it is that Lincoln called forward and defined as essential, we have to sustain in our moral education in the public schools.

My task is to answer the questions "what now?" and "how is it done?" What I'm going to do is look at educational endeavors for moral virtue by considering possibilities of how to foster individual responsibility and how to examine what constitutes humane treatment of each other. To do this, I've got to link theory and philosophy with research and practice. And I address theory and philosophy because the solutions we adopt in seeking to build a humane, moral, and stable society will be dictated by where we think the problems originate. By looking at the human condition, I'm going to ask you to entertain the possibility that what it means to be human is the starting point for moral education even more important than giving other kinds of knowledge or in developing skills. I address research because we need to monitor the possibilities of successful intervention. Where do we succeed and where do we fail in our efforts to educate for moral virtue? I address practices because we learn from doing. And if our theories and philosophy don't turn into practices that we can identify, what do they profit us to go forward in this task in any way?

When we succeed in our educational efforts to foster virtuous living, our understanding is grounded in the theory or philosophy we use to make sense out of the data we have collected. So our research has the meaning given by our theory or philosophy. Numbers do not speak for themselves in our research, in any research; it's the interpretive framework to make sense out of it. Now, that has to be logical and rational and realistic and possible. That's why identifying what's realistic and possible is so central to our work. Before elaborating the "what now?" and "how is it done?" questions, consider this example. I'm going to give this example up front before you even know what foundations were for what we taught in the public schools in four states.  

This example teaches the need for and the possible success or failure of moral education efforts. This example was reported by one of our teachers we had trained in character and citizenship education in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I use her real name, Bertha. Only two weeks into the delivery of a secondary school education curriculum, our moral education curriculum, Bertha was ill for just a day. The substitute teacher's work in the class that morning was uneventful. But the class, the first one after lunch, was memorable for all the wrong reasons. It seems the substitute teacher had a rather bouffant hairdo, and a substantial number of students, including students that I call the "back row crew" (a term I'm trying to repent of), had eaten lunch in the school cafeteria. They had each been given one of those small boxes of raisins, but nobody had eaten them. And seeing the bouffant hairdo on the substitute teacher, the students organized a game. One point if you hit her with a raisin, three points if it sticks in her hair. So as she would turn to the blackboard to write something, they began throwing the raisins. And there was that stifle of laughter, stifle because it wasn't a guffaw out loud, it was more of a hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm. And she sensed something was going on but didn't figure it out, and it kept going. So pretty soon she was trying to trap the students and find out what was going on. She would turn around quickly, but even the raisin throwers were managing to change their countenances to innocence almost immediately.

Well, she happened to have a habit of occasionally running her hand through her hair as she taught. And at one point in doing that, she came away with about nine points worth, and lost it. She berated and screamed and yelled at the students, tromped down to the principal's office, and told her what was going on. The principal came down and gave the class whatfor also, and I do not know what happened to Bertha's classes in the afternoon. I don't know who they brought in, but the substitute went home. The next day when Bertha came back, she found a note in her faculty lounge box. It was from the principal. "Dear Bertha, your ETHICS STUDENTS (capitalized, underlined) were throwing raisins," and he rehearsed the whole thing. Bertha was both heartsick and began to grit her teeth. She took it personally, to put it mildly. She wondered, "What good does knowledge do? We've already taught some things, and yet, look what they were doing." So she decided that she would really, really go after them. But an interesting thing happened to Bertha during the morning class periods: as she reflected on what she would do, it came to her, "Wait a minute, I've been teaching certain things about what it means to be charitable even in the face of adversity. So if I go in and really blast the students with this harshness that I feel, I will be doing to them verbally what they did to the substitute teacher with raisins." So she began to reflect. Even during the lunch hour, as the time for the class approached. She said to us, "I ended up going into that classroom really not knowing what to say." But she went in.

She entered the room; the students fell silent. It's as if they knew it was judgment day. And she let the silence work for a few minutes, well, probably a few seconds. And then she said, "All right. Which one of you is willing to tell me how what you did yesterday to the substitute teacher was the right thing to do?" No answer to that question, of course. Then she said, "Well, does your silence say to me then that you are admitting that what you did was wrong?" And one student murmured, "Well she was boring."

"Oh, so are you saying that normally it's wrong to throw raisins unless the teacher is boring, and then it's right to throw raisins?" And then probably the most manipulative seductive comment from the students of any of them, "Well, you're not boring." Well, Bertha set aside the seductive nature of that and said, "Tell me this. Let's go back. We've talked about what it means to have a moral feeling and act on it. Given what's happened, what do any of you believe right now would be the next right thing to do about what happened?" One student said, "Well, we could invite the teacher back and apologize to her." There were some students who were groaning over that option. They didn't want to face the teacher. They wanted to go through the motions of maybe making a wrong right, but they really weren't in it with their hearts. Another student suggested, "We could write her an apology." Oh everybody jumped on that one. Till Bertha said, "Well, look. We've got some time here. Pull out a sheet of paper. I want each of you to write an apology to the teacher." So most of the students did that. But there were two students sitting next to each other who didn't have pen, didn't have paper, and were looking around while everyone else was composing notes. And Bertha didn't want to interrupt everybody who was writing so Bertha said to us, "I asked these two students a question with my eyes." And all she had to do was look at them and say [gives a meaningful glance] and one of them blurted out, "Well why do we have to write a letter of apology? We didn't throw nothin'."

"Oh, are you telling me that while the raisins were being thrown that doing nothing was the right thing to do?" How's that for handling the bystander phenomenon? The two students pulled out sheets of paper, began writing their notes.

When that was all finished, that whole experience and the way Bertha behaved and what happened then was just the beginning of Bertha's success with that class of turning theory into practice. Because obviously it hadn't happened yet. Changing students' ways of seeing themselves and others—it was opening the door to understanding how matters of care and civility are rooted in moral sensibility in living true or false to one's felt moral obligations, especially regarding what it means to treat people humanely.

As to the theory and philosophy, we proposed that a cohesive and stable democracy may only be possible to the degree that individuals and families honor their moral obligations towards each other. To engage one another according to common moral or ethical grounds is basic to the quality of individual lives, harmony in relationships, and cohesiveness in communities. Human enterprises fail when trust, worthiness, honesty, and integrity are no longer the hallmarks of human interaction. Both formal and informal moral education in homes, public schools, and corporations are intended to reaffirm, maintain, and, where necessary, restore the ethical foundations that make cultural life flourish and that foster individual well-being. Many indicators suggest that moral education too often falls short of achieving its most noble and essential purposes. This is partly to be expected, since we can anticipate recurring difficulties and destructive patterns of behavior in any human context that includes human interaction. One extreme and inescapable version of that we've been introduced to: the civil war. On an individual level, who are we to become if we do take charity seriously and figure out ways to be a person of moral virtue?

Of concern is the very real potential for failure if the beliefs and behaviors in the community or culture have drifted from ethical foundations, thus weakening the infrastructure that otherwise could and should strengthen moral education. This kind of drift may symbolize a cliché but one that harbors an essential understanding: "With great freedom comes great responsibility." We may have to a degree as a culture moved towards attending to the great freedom part, while neglecting the great responsibility component. If the drift has been too great, the moral tone and tenor of society may instead operate to sabotage the very purposes for which moral education is undertaken, not the least of which is to foster civility and enhance civic virtue. James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia who has been at BYU and has spoken for the Wheatley Institution states it this way:

As it is currently institutionalized, moral education does just the opposite of what it intends. [In most cases] in its present forms, it undermines the capacity to form the convictions upon which character must be based if it is to exist at all….We want character without unyielding conviction; we want strong morality but without the emotional burden of guilt or shame; we want virtue but without particular moral justifications that invariably offend; we want good without having to name evil; we want decency without the authority to insist upon it; we want moral community without any limitations to personal freedom. In short, we want what we cannot possibly have on the terms that we want it. [2]

Now, as I read that paragraph, I realized that he was saying, "We've lost it. We've lost the possibility of doing moral education that is effective"—and yet much of my professional life had been taking moral education to the public schools with the hopes of making a difference. I couldn't argue with Hunter's pessimism, but I wasn't willing to give up that there is yet a way to make a difference in spite of agreeing with what he was saying about the drift in the culture.

If Hunter is right, any moral education enterprise must begin by working to repair and restore the ethical grounds both cultural and philosophical that make any effort at moral education at any level realistic and worthwhile. Otherwise, the moral education efforts will remain by and large impotent.

The example from Bertha and the raisins comes from our work in moral education that began decades ago. We were the beneficiaries of a series of federal grants that allowed us to train selected teachers in 16 school districts spread across four western states. Those teachers volunteered to be trained in a character citizenship curriculum and then to invite their students to consider the meaning of being ethical in everyday life

The first obstacle for us in obtaining permission to operate in school districts in California, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona was the fact that figuratively speaking, BYU was tattooed on our foreheads. You can imagine the hesitancy of some administrators and teachers to embrace the task of taking concepts as sensitive as the meaning of being ethical, moral, and persons of virtue to the public domain, and even more so to allow us to be the messengers. I remember as we were explaining to one high school principal in California what our work was about, he was willing to give permission since he had teachers who had heard our offering and were very interested in doing it. But as we got up to leave, he said, "By the way, I have one question for you two." (By the way, my cohort in all this work, my doctoral student Chris Wallis, looked like a 26-year-old Robert Redford, just so you'll understand the context here.) As we get up to leave, the principal said, "Oh, I have one more question: Where are your bicycles?" Well, we still got permission.

My colleague Chris Wallis and I had developed the curriculum before we received the grant, and we anticipated that we would tread on neither one of two paths others had typically taken: One path we planned to avoid was to begin by identifying some set of universal values that everyone had supposedly agreed on. By avoiding that, there was a way to come back to that later, but that was not going to be our starting point. Why? Because we knew that that path would become blocked if even only one teacher or one student would claim that such and such a value was not what they believed in. Whoops, so much for universality. After all, a belief that is deemed ethically legitimate just because it is espoused short-circuits how beliefs are to qualify as ethical in the first place. It's not that we would avoid talking about specific qualities of virtue, but that student understanding would have to be grounded in their lived experience and not in abstract concepts.

What was happening with Bertha was that the students had not yet immersed their lived experience in the foundational concepts she was teaching. And as disheartening as the raisin-throwing incident was, Bertha's behavior in the class after the substitute, the next day, was such that they realized they had lived an experience that their own conscience told them was not right. Hence, they eventually were willing to write the letters of apology.

Another path we knew we had to avoid was the one where matters of right or wrong were considered merely culturally based and could differ not only individually but also by cultural background. By making such an assumption, a cultural belief could be considered in advance as morally or ethically legitimate just because it had become normative behavior in any given society or subculture. We wanted to show that the value of any value had to be evaluated by some criteria and other than by merely affirming them because they had become cultural norms. Will Rogers once noted that "Common sense ain't necessarily common practice." And we felt the same can be said about behaviors and attitudes that have become common practice in a society but weren't necessarily ethical, moral, or virtuous. Without any way to evaluate a value, a belief, or a commitment, the pursuit of almost any character, citizenship, or virtue education, as Hunter has implied, would be a waste of time. That is, without the ability to discuss what makes a value valuable, educational efforts regarding character and citizenship and civility—let alone classic understanding of moral virtue—would be ethically hollow.

I was startled to see this ethical relativism personified in one of the sessions of the annual meetings of the Association for Moral Education, an organization where we have presented regularly for many years. Those of you in education and psychology would know Lawrence Kohlberg and know that the Association for Moral Education is populated primarily by descendants of him, that is, academic incentives who took his approach to the moral and were advocating that that be how we go about our ethical business. But what disheartened me and was startling about this one session was we had five experts do an all-day seminar at the conference, and given what they said, there was a Q and A, a question and answer session right after all the five presenters, and this is the end of the day now, and one person at the microphone asking a question said to the people on the stand, "Now, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but are you saying and do you agree that all moral values are neutral?" and the woman to whom the question was addressed said, "Yes, I agree with that," as did three others of the panel members, of the five. That's the greatest oxymoronic statement I've ever heard regarding the moral and the ethical and what we're doing. Unfortunately, I was impudent rather than responsible and when my turn came to the microphone to ask a question I said, "If all moral values are neutral, perhaps this organization should change its name from the Association for Moral Education to the Association for Moral Neutrality." Well, you get the idea.

Yes, we are often reminded we live in a pluralistic society where there seems to be no common ground for teaching virtues, citizenship, or qualities of character, but perhaps there is  a way to move forward effectively in fostering virtue and improving stable and caring societies. This may be possible if we acknowledge that no culture is ethically perfect, and almost no culture is ethically bankrupt. There is room for a movement toward restoring and enhancing the ethical. If the moral and ethical and virtues can be defined and distinguished, at least one additional path is open to educators in the goal of opening and maintaining a humane, moral, and stable society. This path does not begin in concepts, rules, and principles, or even in reason—hold on to your hat, we'll get there. It begins in our hearts, in who we are.

The quaint phrase "you can't get what you ain't got" is perhaps truest when it refers to who we are when we're delivering education for character and virtue. I can't underestimate the value of the moral or virtuous life being lived by the teachers who delivered our curriculum. We did have a self-esteem measure in our curriculum, but we only had, of all the control groups and experimental groups we had, in every school we had at least one teacher teaching our curriculum, and at least one control group where they were teaching something else. In all those districts, all those classes, all we had was one class that scored higher significantly, statistically, post-test than pre-test on self-esteem. And we thought, what is going on? We've been told that self-esteem is a global sense that isn't very manageable, isn't very changeable. Nevertheless, the school where this had happened was in Utah. The thing that was a little irritating was the teacher's class that scored differently was a control group teacher. Not one of the people teaching our stuff. All right. So we went to that high school, which I think I did mention it was in Utah, and we visited the teacher. We weren't there more than ten or fifteen minutes before we realized, "Uh oh. This woman actually thinks the students are people. She actually treats them as if they matter. She's attending to the worth of the individual. She doesn't put down people that are making extraneous remarks. She doesn't even take offense at when somebody tries to undermine her with a nefarious question. She attends to it respectfully." Hmm with malice toward none, with charity, okay. So I don't want to underestimate who we are as teachers when we're going about our moral virtue education business. It's not just in the material, it begins in who we are. And when I say that that comes before reason, I mean that. The quality of our hearts informs our ability to be reasonable or arrogant, to be condescending or genuine. So we begin with who we are and what's going on.

Prior to defining virtue or evaluating values, is a person's view, implicit or explicit, of what it means to be human and the reality of having a moral sensibility to show how we treat each other. When we see ourselves as capable of virtue or vice, of moral character or immoral action, we sense these differences through our lived experience. We may only have an implicit understanding of how we see ourselves and others, but those views are fundamental to how we engage knowledge or develop skills. Our view of the human condition, however informal, informs how we reason and how we feel about ourselves, others, and our situation. We chose this third path, feeling that it would avoid both common prescriptive declarations as well as morally relativistic ones. But it would also allow us to make moral virtue central to human experience and a moral ethical or virtuous way of being in the world available somehow to almost anyone. Our work may not look distinct from those other two paths I dismissed earlier, but I will offer illustrations shortly. We assumed that no matter what the content of any given curriculum, two practical realities operate prior to the ideas and concepts to be shared. First is the quality of the student- teacher relationship, which I've already illustrated. That's the major vehicle of influence for success in programs designed to alter attitudes and behavior. Also, the quality of family and friend relationships the students are connected to will either strengthen or undermine the intended outcomes of the program. Think, by the way, how naïve it is to think that a semester course or a guest speaker or a two week module or whatever it is in moral virtue is going to be sufficient to alter the influence of the lunchroom group, the playground, the athletic team philosophy, the home environment. We are climbing a mountain when we seek to make a school curriculum be as influential as it needs to be to change the lives of students, yet if that starting point, if that curriculum invites people to reconsider how they see themselves, we have a great chance of making a difference when it doesn't look like we can.

These relationship realities are evidences that humans are relational beings inescapably connected to and developed by interaction with others. This notion of being relational stands in contrast to a philosophy of individualism where the freedom of individuals to do as they wish is deemed inviolable. The individualism that stands in contrast or in opposition to being relational unravels the necessary social fabric that makes cohesive communities and individual development truly possible. Private behavior does have public consequences. And to uncouple the two as if they were not unavoidably linked is to shut down the progress in life for individuals, families and communities. If that seems like an abstract statement, you can read any newspaper in the last week and say, "Ooh, I think I can see how private behavior has public consequences." Just read any random group of stories.

Psychiatrist Robert Coles, who's famous for just about everything, Harvard, MIT, what have you, he's famous for being in the home of Ruby Bridges when as a six year old she integrated a public school in New Orleans. His work illustrates this idea of humans as relational beings through an experience he had during his second year of medical school.

He and his fellow students felt weighed down by the drudgery and pace of the learning expected of them. But they convinced the dean of the medical school to invite an MD, a man named William Carlos Williams who a few of you might know, who also wrote poetry. The med students wanted to invite him to speak at the medical school, the entire medical school. Williams was a general practitioner serving the immigrant poor in northern New Jersey. He thought he had no time to speak to those at a big shot medical school, but at age 70 and not at full physical strength, he came anyway. And among the thoughts he offered the med students was this: "an important part of your lives will be spent listening to people tell you their stories. And in return, they will want to hear your story of what their story means." To Coles, this concern for patients was cold water to his thirsty soul, and he sought permission from Williams to go with him some time on his rounds in the tenements. He did so, and with tape recorder in hand got this gem from Dr. Williams:

I don't know what I would do without those patients. Everyone thinks doctors are good people because they help other people who are sick. But if you ask me, the people who are sick are helping us all the time. If we'll let them help us. How many I've gotten up in the middle of the night and I've felt lousy. I've felt lousy driving over there. And then I knock on the door, and someone opens it. And it's a mother or father, and they want me to go right to their kid, and you know what? The next thing to me is I've forgotten myself. Isn't that an achievement. Because I'm all tied up with someone else. The second reality besides this being relational, the second reality after the nature of relationships with others, is the quality of each student's moral way of being. Beginning with how they see themselves and others and how they approach life itself. That is, are students willing to explore possible revisions of their attitudes on how they see themselves and others and how they approach life itself? Are students willing to explore their attitudes and decisions that would enhance the quality of any futures they hope for? This view of the moral individual and relationship context informed how we began the content of our curriculum. The call to citizen, moral character, and personal virtue is an invitation. The response to that invitation springs from a person's living true or false to their moral sensibility of how to treat others. When doing education for character, citizenship, or virtue a person's lived experience must be the first measure of the value of the information, or the ideas remain abstract or unconnected to a person's life.

Our lived experience is an ideal, realistic, inescapable, and fortunate ground for addressing in the public schools issues of character, citizenship, civility, and virtue. This is because we measure the moral first by our moral experience. All experience is relevant, whether it's in how we honor our membership on an athletic team, in our conduct in the hallways, in our responsive to or disdain for those in need, or in our seeking to be civil at all times and in all places.

Our approach sought to dissolve the false wall of separation in public culture between moral grounds for individual character, citizenship, and civility, and how we behave in democratic communities of which we are a part. How in practice were we to implement moral education, understanding what it means to be human? We embarked in practices grounded in where we thought lack of virtue and civility originated: the human condition. Our first task was to see if every day secondary school students and their committed teachers would resonate with our focus. Or to say it another way, if we could not get them on board how would we succeed at all?

Here's how we operated. We had two questions, known in our circles as the two questions, which we originally used in training selected teachers in the school districts. And we had the teachers use those questions to introduce secondary students to the curriculum. First question: Have you ever been in a situation where you felt or sensed something was right to do? Everyone says yes to that question. If anybody's in the audience who doesn't say yes to that question, I'll meet you in the phone booth after the meeting, okay? By having gotten simple consensus on that idea, we asked for concrete examples. Remember, we need concrete examples so things don't stay abstract. And we wanted it from their own lived experience. So they were the ones to come up with what their moral feelings were. A quick example, one of my favorites is the kid that raised his hand and said, "I don't know what you mean for sure, but my mom's raising me alone and we have this deal where one night she'll do the dishes and the next night it's my turn to do the dishes. And one night when it was her turn, I was watching sports and I looked over, and as she stood at the sink, I saw how weary she looked, and I had this feeling come to me, 'Ah, her turn or not, I ought to just go in there and do the dishes.' Is that what you mean by being in a situation where you felt something was right to do?" Yeah, that's exactly what we mean.

Question two: have you ever been in a situation where you felt or sensed something was right to do, but you simultaneously refused to do it? Everybody says yes to that question. In fact, we discovered over the course of our work, that roughly speaking, about 60% of the examples students gave us in answer to question one they gave the same incident in answer to question two. "Remember that night when I felt I ought to help my mom with the dishes? Well yeah, I didn't do it." Ah, the human condition. The human condition. After getting additional examples for question two, especially from those who hadn't provided examples to question one, we were able to explore the following issues. One: reflect on when you felt or sensed to act on something you believed was right, but didn't. Can you describe your thoughts and feelings before you refused to do the thing you believed? And then can you describe those thoughts and feelings and what their quality was after you refused to do the dishes, for example? We discovered that thoughts and feelings, the quality of, change together, that as soon as I go from a compassionate sense of how to help mom to refusing to do so, my emotion changes from compassion to resentment. And my thoughts do too; instead of my thought being, "Hey, it doesn't cost me anything to help. Besides, I feel it's right" to "You know, I do it tonight and she's going to expect me to do it every night. Huh? Huh? Huh?" Do you see what I mean by thoughts and emotions changing together according to the quality of our hearts; that is, the quality of whether or not we're living true or false to our moral feeling on what to be right changes according to whether or not we're being true to, or in Terry Warner's language "betraying conscience"? That key unlocks the door of adolescent's understanding what it means to live in a way that builds a quality future for themselves. In contrast to living in a life where they constantly, by their hardness against conscience, are creating many of the problems in their life that they are trying to solve. And they're blind to the fact that that's what they're doing.

Here's one more example. We were told when we started that our attempts to have students actually think about the future was laughable because everybody knows that adolescents live in the present moment and don't think about the future. Well, what if you actually invited them to think about the future? They do. We have what we call a "trilogy assignment." It went like this because this was a course on how do we avoid adolescent pregnancy, how do we avoid being a delinquent, how do we avoid drug use, all the things that destroy an adolescent's future we were working on. But by getting at fundamentals, not by taking it topic by topic. First assignment in the trilogy assignment: if you were to be born tomorrow, what would you want the circumstances to be? Now, I'd say 85% of the students identified a relational concern with being connected to quality people; that is they wanted parents to be protective, loving, charitable, helpful, maybe even brave and reverent, you know what I'm saying? So they identified all these things that they would like in terms of how they were being treated and protected and nurtured. Second question: if you were to become a mother or a father or an aunt or an uncle tomorrow, what would you want the circumstances to be? They become very temporal, very practical: "Oh, well I'd have to have a job and you know, I'd like a good job. So I'd have to have an education." So they started unfolding a definition of the future third question. This is spread over more than one class period, by the way. Third question: given what you think you would like to have when you become a mother/father/aunt or uncle, what decisions can and must you make now to increase the likelihood that you could have a job, education, etcetera? Now they're talking about the future. Research beyond our own shows that students who think about the future and have a plan for it do better in a host of everyday life qualities. Not the least of which is doing well in school. It also involves avoiding many of the toxic behaviors that sidetrack students from the possibility of education, jobs, and what have you.

The trilogy assignment was an invitation for them to consider their lived experience in a way that would chart a course for the future. (This microphone seems to be sinking as I go, by the way. I don't know what that means and I hope you can still hear.)

Let me give some implications of our research results. We did get some results that involve students being more open with their parents about values and beliefs and giving us specific task, especially about sexual values and beliefs, but any kind of values and beliefs. It increased their sense of loyalty and emotional closeness to their families. We were acknowledging what I hinted at earlier and that is you really aren't going to get much change unless you connect people to their closest familial network that they have, whether they're being raised by a grandmother or a mom and dad or whatever it happens to be.

Our research varied slightly by state, but overall students of this curriculum reported the results that I just gave you. But here are our implications or our conclusions about how we're going about this work. One: the human condition is related to the successes and failures or almost any attempt to educate for virtue and purpose. That is, everybody generally speaking, has a conscience and they're willing to start to understand that maybe they play a role in the quality of a life that they create and in the quality of the futures that they hope for. Number two: an approach to virtue and acting in each other's best interests we set aside the notion of "we've got to get mutual self-interest." No no no, best interest the debate becomes "what does best mean?" and we had those discussions in classrooms. Number three: moral relativism can be replaced with practical moral foundations regarding humans having a moral sensibility to which they can be true or false. This can be done without dictating or prescribing behavior because students' lived experience is what generates the context and the behavior and the situations and the issues at hand. Replacing individualism with being relational shows how moral virtue regarding how we treat others includes the benefits of honoring both obligations and commitments. This includes showing how others matter and how our treatment of them is an inescapable feature of living lives of high quality. Those lives of high quality are made possible in a free democracy. These qualities are also at risk if we go against conscience in public or so-called private life, number five. The best laboratory for learning about human experience is everyday life. Situations both simple and extreme can be met more effectively when practical moral foundations regarding how to treat others are honored. (No more raisin throwing.) Number six: no curriculum or idea offers a guarantee that student attitudes and behavioral change will be permanent. This is because individuals retain their ability to live true or false to conscience in any given moment. Yet, there is a starting point that can invite youth to make choices that enhance the understanding of virtue and purpose in life and identify the possibilities of how they can help create for themselves a quality future.

And finally, who we are regarding living lives of moral virtue as teachers or students determines how we see ourselves and others, how we do or do not strengthen the cohesiveness of democratic society, and how we do or do not benefit from the situations that come upon us whether they are blessings or adversities. It's the quality of our being true or false to conscience that determines what we learn and what we understand about that. We could benefit from the culture sustaining that in a variety of settings. So that when we're on the debate team, the debate coach is adamant about living responsibly; when we're on an athletic team, the coach indicates that we cannot dabble in things illegal or destructive and expect to continue to be on the team. Somehow the notion of citizenship must be expanded from individual responsibility to the way we connect with one another in every setting we're in. Our hope of course is that we're able to show everyone including James Davison Hunter that there's another starting point without being naïve about the potholes and obstacles to succeeding with everyone. We believe it is possible to succeed with many and that was our goal in doing this work. And I think as educators, especially educators interested in moral virtue, that is a hope that you also have. My hope is we can all work together to make that better in whatever way we do. I'm grateful to be here and I'm grateful you chose to come. Thank you.



References:

[1] Lincoln, Abraham. Second Inaugural. March 4, 1865. URL: http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres32.html

[2] Hunter, James Davison. The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil. New York: Basic, 2000.

Click here to hide the transcript