There are so many pressing issues in the UK today – racism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, knife and gun crimes. Even more significantly, there seems to be a lack of concern about others, due to individualistic economic pursuits and gratifications, as well as religious self-righteousness and subconscious superiority over others.
At the Virtue Ethics Foundation, we believe that structured character education, with the recognition of human dignity at its core, is the key to empowering students to face and address the burgeoning issues they face in society today.
Character education is the recognition of human dignity
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.
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. Therefore, character training enables one to respect one’s own and other’s dignity.
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.
Rather than teaching aimed at developing and enhancing life skills, self-confidence and resilience as an end product (as is the case in schools currently), we believe these character qualities are a by-product of character education and are not the end objective.
Enabling and empowering students
Advocating for character education to be taught in schools from primary age upwards would enable and empower students to consciously recognise and overcome the lack of, or absence, of the appreciation of human dignity.
This is why we are calling for the Government to commission the Department for Education (DfE) to implement character education under the Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) curriculum from primary level education upwards.
We recognise virtues as simply character qualities and, rather than taking an approach to building character on somewhat abstract ideals which often leads to ambiguity, we have aligned the concept of virtue ethics with human rights education.
For example, in Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1978:
“All human beings belong to a single species and are descended from a single stock. They are born equal in dignity and rights and all form an integral part of humanity.”
However, instead of a specific education that teaches pupils about human rights and their own rights, we are advocating a methodology that enables students 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.
Character education as a methodology
Virtue Ethics Foundation believes that character education is a specific methodology of introducing moral traits such as respect, fairness, honesty, courage, patience and compassion to young pupils by creating lived experiences in which young pupils are encouraged to make morally good choices. This methodology helps to develop a moral sense, moral autonomy, and a natural habit of deliberations.
Consequently, this also helps pupils to gradually overcome their negative emotions such as, anger (egoistic sensitivities), discrimination, greed, tacit spite and envy, along with subjective and subconscious biases which often inform the impulsive decision-making process. Instead, character education enables them to tame, mould and shape their negative emotions to make morally good choices concerning themselves as well as others.
Good role modelling, encouragement and consistent habitual efforts, most importantly in the students formative years, enables them to draw on to their moral autonomy in all social and personal experiences, whether in peer or home relationships, as well as in their judgment formations and general decision-making process. In other words, the default use of wisdom is formed as a filter in all experiences.
In subsequent years, the consistent use of wisdom becomes their nature, or ‘character’, and a spontaneous discerning ability to use good-sense and clear-sightedness is formed.
We anticipate that the holistic method of teaching character education can help young pupils to internalise the virtue of fairness and respect in a meaningful and wholesome manner, accompanied by a habit of impartial considerations and deliberations. Hence, they are able to grow with a stronger ability to overcome the inherent tendency of self-interest. In the process, it is hoped a deeper appreciation of others and one’s own regard and respect can be formed, which will subsequently become a filter or criterion behind their decision-making process.
Character education is the right of every child
This does not mean individuals would lose the personal drive to thrive and actualise their individual talents in their respective fields, but rather their motivations can be altered towards seeking and achieving more meaningful outcomes for themselves as well as for others.
At Virtue Ethics Foundation, we believe that character education is the right of every child.
Sign the Virtue Ethics Foundation petition today at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/578638