At the Virtue Ethics Foundation, we believe both the purpose of character education itself, and the purpose behind advocating character education need to be appropriately conceived and clearly identified.
We take a philosophical position that we feel is imperative to ensure our objectives for teaching character education are clearly identified and subsequently achieved.
Currently, character education within the Ofsted framework guidance focuses on developing character qualities that contribute towards enhancing life skills, self-confidence, and resilience in pupils. ‘Good character’ is conceived as something which promotes this end, such as teaching life skills, self-confidence, and resilience.
Human dignity at the core of character education
The Virtue Ethics Foundation believes that at the core of character education is the recognition of human dignity, both in other people and in oneself. Hence, rather than teaching aimed at developing and enhancing life skills, self-confidence and resilience as an end product, we believe these character qualities are a by-product of character education and are not the end objective. In this overturn of ‘means and ends’, the whole psychology changes, as do the outcomes.
Considering this identified purpose, at the Virtue Ethics Foundation, we are advocating character education to enable and empower pupils to consciously recognise and overcome the lack of, or absence, of the appreciation of human dignity. This has been and continues to be, the source of all societal and global issues of explicit and implicit injustices. Some of the prevalent issues in the UK today are racism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, knife, and gun crimes. There is also a significant lack of concern about others, due to individualistic economic pursuits and gratifications, as well as religious self-righteousness and subconscious superiority over others.
How current Ofsted guidance is inadequate
Whilst Ofsted has included character education in its inspection framework, we believe it will not achieve the desired aims of both fulfilling the purpose of character education and the reasons for its advocacy. Besides setting goals which we believe will not help tackle the very real societal issues we are living with today, the current guidance:
- Is non-statutory.
- Lacks structured direction about which aspects should have significance and emphasis.
- Makes no provisions or framework for structured teacher training in character education.
- Enables schools to teach character education in the context of their own religious agendas which is not, therefore, truly inclusive.
- Has no clear definition of positive character traits, nor their functions. Nor are the specific objectives or pertinence of addressing discriminations such as racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and misogyny, as well as tackling other societal issues including knife and gun crime, clearly defined.
- Allows schools to define character at their own discretion and decide which resources they use, hence allowing a very varied character education.
- Furthermore, the recommended resources from Ofsted are diverse in recognising their main goals and complicate the purpose of the character education, which invites objections and questions.
At the Virtue Ethics Foundation, we believe good character should include the strength to recognise human dignity and the best of what humanity has, as is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We too believe the goal, and the real strength of character, is in being able to appreciate and live by these rights, particularly in the ever-growing diversity of human communities due to globalisation.
Aligning virtue ethics with human rights education
At Virtue Ethics Foundation, we recognise virtues as simply character qualities and, rather than taking an approach on building character on somewhat abstract ideals which often leads to ambiguity, we have theoretically synthesised and tightly aligned the concept of virtue ethics with human rights education. However, instead of a specific education that teaches pupils about human rights and their own rights, we are advocating a methodology that enables pupils from a very young age to overcome the tendencies which may later lead to the violation of human rights in pursuit of self-interest. Helping children to develop in this way, empowers them with the quality of clear reason and wisdom in decision-making processes by always consciously considering human dignity and rights in all walks of their lives.
Find out more about the work of Virtue Ethics Foundation and its petition.
Further information about human rights education can be read on the Council of Europe Portal.