Sunday 21 October, 3.15pm until 4.45pm, Garden Room
‘Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man.’ So claimed Jesuit leader Ignatius Loyola. A recent Demos report agreed the early years are ‘the critical ones’, making parents the ‘primary character builders in society’. And the report this year by the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel called on schools to demonstrate how they are building pupils’ characters. There has been a resurgence of interest in ‘character’ and how it is formed, particularly in behavioural science – for example, how to stimulate the ‘forgiveness instinct’ by creating the right environment - and psychology. Is there really a crisis of character today? If not, why do so many think there is?
Character traditionally was seen as a matter of possessing virtues such as courage and wisdom. For Aristotle, in particular, excellence of character rested on the ability to make the right choice, determined by practical reason, between two extremes. Today it is often defined in terms of ‘capabilities’ like resilience, optimism, stoicism, altruism, emotional regulation and so on. Nevertheless, sceptics argue none of these can be taught, but are the outcome of moral choices, life experience, or are simply ‘virtues’. Yet, encouraged by positive psychologists, even religious groups like the American Templeton Foundation are turning to positive psychology and neuroscience for more robust evidence about how to develop character in schools.
If science can help us teach character in this way though, even make our characters for us, does it take away our responsibility for the type of people we are, the lives we choose to lead? If being responsible is a key element of character, might it be the case that character is actually formed in adult life, after childhood? Should society even be in the business of assessing us as individuals, analysing what character deficiencies we might have? Are schools teaching character in fact practising indoctrination? Or is trying to assist the formation of our character with the latest science no more problematic than toning our muscles in the gym – the equivalent of a moral workout? Is it maybe even necessary in modern societies so riven by moral relativism that no grounds for agreement, other than scientific, exist?
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religion correspondent, The Times; journalism tutor, City University
convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
professor, character education and virtue ethics, Jubilee Centre for Character and Values, University of Birmingham
head of wellbeing, Wellington College
professor of education, University of Sheffield; author, Governing Vulnerable Subjects in a Therapeutic Age (forthcoming)
The recent revival of an old discourse of ‘character’ reinforces a search for better measurement as the basis for behaviour change strategies reflected in government interest in new ideas from behavioural science.Kathryn Ecclestone, Research Papers in Education, September 2012
The Barclays scandal can tell teachers a lot about character education says GTP student Alex Crossman, as he reflects on his experience of working in the CityAlex Crossman, Guardian, 4 July 2012
There has recently been an explosion of interest in positive psychology and the teaching of well-being and 'happiness' in the PSHE world in schools and many teachers are looking for clear information on how to implement these potentially life-changing ideas in the classroom.
Ian Morris, Continuum, 6 February 2011
The idea that rearing children is just about maximising their ‘happiness’, or stopping them from becoming fat, or enabling them to take a few calculated risks, might all make some sense on a personal, daily level, but it seems thoroughly inadequate in terms of a generational project.Jennie Bristow, spiked, 16 November 2009
“Parents are the principal architects of a fairer society...”Jen Lexmond & Richard Reeves, Demos, 2009
With lust relabelled ‘sex addiction’ and gluttony turned into an ‘eating disorder’, it’s no wonder Catholics are unsure about the seven deadly sinsFrank Furedi, spiked, 12 March 2008
What can Aristotle teach us that is relevant to contemporary moral and educational concerns? What can we learn from him about the nature of moral development, the justifiability and educability of emotions, the possibility of friendship between parents and their children, or the fundamental aims of teaching?
Kristjan Kristjansson, Ashgate, 8 August 2007
While experts may have cracked what it is that makes us miserable, psychologists, politicians and scientists are now very much in pursuit of happiness. Phil Hogan tries to look on the bright side and investigates whether wellbeing can be taughtPhil Hogan, Observer, 25 March 2007