The newly published Flourishing From the Margins research report published yesterday (October 26th) provides a rich and comprehensive dataset for the study of character development in marginalised young people. The literature review that began the study found a gap in the research of marginalised, and sometimes NEET, young people, with a dearth of studies considering how a focus on character development can assist with counteracting the causes of educational marginalisation.
Such causes are many and varied, so it is important not to see character as a ‘fix’ for young people perceived to be without, or lacking in, something that those who are flourishing in education have already acquired. The approach that this project took was one that very much encouraged the young people participating in the research to speak for themselves, with the research acting as a medium through which young people could develop a ‘voice’.
Accessing the character development of the participants through two key concepts was important to bring the language of character to the participants, and specifically into the non-mainstream educational space. The key concepts used in this study were the Aristotelian idea of living a ‘good life’, not just for personal gain and acquisition, but for societal as well as individual flourishing, and the idea of finding or developing a moral purpose to one’s life. The idea of purpose was rooted very much in the work of Bill Damon, whose work in the US with the Youth Purpose Project very much informed the early discussions and developments in this project.
What became apparent through the course of the data collection, particularly with regards to Stage Two and the trial of an educational intervention for young people engaging in non-mainstream provision, was that where participants may not have been able to speak confidently in the language of character before the intervention, that did not diminish their abilities to talk about their ambitions and purpose for what they wanted to achieve, and what they felt it meant to live a ‘good life’.
Participants were clear on their ambitions, what career path they wanted to follow, and what they needed to do to get there. This is best exemplified in the film created as part of the project, and which is available to view below. One quote picked up on a poster in a Pupil Referral Unit read ‘one bad chapter is not the whole story.’ This project sought to support young people from marginalised backgrounds write not only the next chapter of their own stories, but draft the rest of their stories.
Aidan Thompson, Director of Strategy and Integration, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues