Of Good Character

Character is creeping back into fashion.  One of CTC’s core research streams is looking at ‘Formation, Values and Virtue’ and it’s clear that in seeking to foster more conversation on the topic we are pushing at a door which is ready to open.

Although still muted in the main public arena, conversations about the decline of virtue and the need to address questions of personal, and social, character abound.  It is worth highlighting a few recent contributions to the field.

In 2009 the Demos produced a report entitled Building Character which examined the role of parents in bringing up children.  Confronting the liberal instinct that questions of character are best left to private individuals, the report’s authors argued that “to the extent that certain elements of character impact equality, opportunity and fairness, it ought to be a concern for policy makers interested in those outcomes” (p.12).  Policy makers lack a vocabulary for discussing the issue, however, and despite making a few suggestions around childrearing, the report is resigned to accepting that “there is no set of policy solutions that can solve such an intractable, private and complex cluster of problems” (p.57).  The formation of children, though, is identified as a legitimate focus of policy action.

The empirical grounds for doing so are provided by another recent publication by Professor James Arthur which is the book Of Good Character: Exploration of Values and Virtues in 3-25 Year Olds.  An outcome of the Learning for Life project, Professor Arthur’s book draws on extensive qualitative and quantative research to move towards a modern definition of ‘character’ and to identify its traits and formation in young people.  It is well worth engaging with, or at the very least reading the Young Foundation’s review of it.

These are just two contributions to the discussion and there are many more out there.  We will be posting more resources in the coming weeks and months.

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