WE Day UK 2019, the Language of Character, and the ‘Double Benefit’ of Youth Social Action

‘You know that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything’. Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, echoed Alexander Hamilton as he called upon those present at the SSE Arena, Wembley, for WE Day UK 2019 to ‘inspire those who stand for nothing, to stand for something – and to stand with you.’ The Duke was speaking to 12,000 young people and their teachers and parents on a day of celebration, celebrity and social action. Speaking in between speeches and performances from Naomi Campbell and Liam Payne, it would be easy for the Duke’s words to have been lost in amongst the platitudes and pop-performances that made up the majority of WE Day UK, but The Duke’s focus on the importance of values, and encouraging his audience to dare, to listen, and ultimately to live ‘good’ lives left a lasting impression.

WE Day is intended to be a day of celebration of the ‘change-makers’ that WE.org has identified via its 5 pillars of social action for education, water, health, food, opportunity. The WE Schools programme delivers free resources to teachers and opportunities for pupils to engage in their communities and become the ‘change-makers’ they want to see in the world. The synergies between what WE.org do in schools and the messages advocated by the Jubilee Centre are clear; it is the promotion and development of civic-minded, socially responsible young people that is vital for a sustainable future and flourishing society. What is equally important is focusing on the underlying character development that helps young people create a habit of social action, be brave enough to make a change and build momentum, and ‘keep empathy alive’. The ‘double benefit’ of character development and youth social action is well-versed and widely accepted both in the academic and practical literature. The change-makers who spoke at WE Day UK were comfortable in using the language of character and values that The Duke used, and the Jubilee Centre supports.

In his speech, The Duke signposted the values, or virtues, that are important for meaningful social change to occur, and the Jubilee Centre would argue that such virtues are the foundations of good character, and the ‘good’ life. The Centre fully supports The Duke’s calls for young people to ‘Be braver. Be stronger. Be kind to each other. Be kind to yourselves…Exceed expectations…Keep empathy alive…Be honest.’ The Jubilee Centre has worked with WE Schools, and last year helped co-ordinate a WE Schools Youth Summit at the University of Birmingham School. It was a privilege to be in the SSE Arena for WE Day UK, this year, and be part of the celebration of examples of character development and social action that are taking place across the country. The Jubilee Centre looks forward to continuing to support and celebrate such work in the future, with WE Schools and the #iwill campaign, and continuing to bring the language of character to the forefront of such discussions.

Sophie Richardson, Director of WE Schools, said: ‘WE Day is the culmination of young people earning their tickets through social action as part of the WE Schools programme. Through WE Schools young people learn about local and global issues and the causes behind them, as well as developing their own skills and building out action plans that will empower them to take action on the issues they are most passionate about. WE Schools is based on three main learning outcomes which all tie into character education through our Learning Framework.’

WE Schools has achieved significant impact through its work with young people in the UK: when rating the impact of WE Schools on increasing academic engagement, 89% agreed that young people ask more critical questions to reflect on and understand, and 91% agreed that young people are now more capable of effectively voicing their own opinions. Further, 83% of teachers felt better equipped to teach about social justice issues through active citizenship-based learning thanks to WE Schools. To find out more about how to get involved see this page.

Aidan Thompson, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

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