Why virtue is important to us at the American Teacher Initiative

July is the month we at The American Teacher Initiative host our inaugural Summer Institute at the University of Dallas. One of the things I appreciate about the school is that they literally hang virtues from their lamp posts around campus. They do this so that good habits will be front of mind.\r\n\r\nGreek philosopher Aristotle defined virtue in Ethics as what a good man does. He was trying to advise the people of Athens how to order a free and prosperous society. He concluded that there were certain habits a person could live by that would most promote quality of life for those in his or her community. It was a civic and social ethic that related directly to the well-being of other people.\r\n\r\nMy friends at the Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) have thought a lot about what a good man does. In their Heroes and Villains program for middle and high school students, they create a framework for understanding it and teaching it.\r\n\r\nThey define virtue as universal principles of moral and ethical excellence that lead to a worthwhile life and effective self-government (quality of life and free society), and they use historical narratives to illustrate them.\r\n\r\nBRI has conveniently identified nine virtues (conveniently because there are nine months in the school year, and dividing it out becomes really easy). Here is their list:\r\n

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  • Courage
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  • Humility
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  • Responsibility
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  • Justice
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  • Perseverance
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  • Contribution
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  • Respect
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  • Integrity
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  • Self-governance
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\r\nDifferent people have produced varying lists of virtues. We like BRI’s. Ben Franklin had thirteen. He kept a notebook to track how he was doing on each virtue. He included silence on his list. We want our students to engage in ideas, so we left that one off. The intent though, is similar. We need to contemplate, articulate, examine, and practice virtue daily so that students can become good people who instinctively work for the well-being of those around them.\r\n\r\nAt ATI and ResponsiveEd, we believe virtue is an essential part of education. We believe it takes more than a sense of grit to be successful, and it is up to well-equipped teachers to introduce it to today’s students.

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