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The Virtuous Poker Player: Is There Such a Thing?

The Godfather of Poker, Doyle Brunson, once said, ‘Poker actually isn’t about winning or losing; poker is about making the right decision.’ In my opinion, this is a very versatile saying. For example, if you were to substitute the word poker for life, you would have a quote worthy of an inspirational fridge magnet. Such is the nature of poker. It is a brooding, philosophical game; a microcosm of the peaks and troughs of life. This is why so much poker terminology permeates our language… it’s the fall of the cardswhen the chips are down… I’m going all in… Even Voltaire employed the poker/life metaphor in his writing, ‘Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.’

I find it interesting that poker is so often used as a vehicle to deliver life advice in spite of commonly being understood to be a vice. Certainly vices are present in poker; greed, envy and pride being the most obvious; but as Shakespeare said: ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ With this in mind, the rest of this blog post hopes to give ground to the idea that poker could in fact, in part, promote virtuousness and good character by exploring its relationship with the virtues of wisdom, temperance, justice and humanity.

Wisdom

In his vindication of Martial Arts as a means of becoming more virtuous (The Way to Virtue in Sport), Allan Bäck acknowledged that ‘People—even philosophers—often claim that practicing a sport improves moral character’ and that even ‘Plato advocated education of the body as well as of the mind: gumnastike as well as mousike.’ Now you’re not going to achieve a six-pack playing poker but I would argue that, like sports, games like poker can constitute an education of the mind, i.e. cultivate intellectual virtues.

In order to learn a game like poker you are going to need, or need to develop, a love of learning and curiosity, two of the five character strengths that comprise the virtue of wisdom according to the VIA Classification of Character Strengths. For beginners, just the rules of play can be difficult to grasp, and beyond this there are the endless annals of poker strategy in print and online. The successful player has to be interested, engaged and willing to learn. They will need to develop the grit and resilience expected of any serious sports player.

Judgement and perspective, also constituents of wisdom, are essential for the developing poker player. In my experience of playing poker, it is those players that develop a sense of entitlement that are those quickest to stagnate. This stagnation can lead to bitterness and cruelty (online poker comment boxes are a treasure trove of profanity, usually players mourning themselves and cursing others.) It takes an open-mind and a rational perspective in order to prosper as a poker player.

As Michael Austin writes in his article Sports and Moral Development, ‘A child learns how to play soccer by imitating those who are good at the sport. Similarly, a child can learn how to be virtuous by imitating those who are morally good.’ Just as football has its goodies and baddies, its role models and bad examples, so does poker. Fortunately, the game of poker has a vibrant community of players and tutors that encourage, through discussion and training, what Austin calls the ‘proper habits of the practice’.

Temperance

In the film Rounders (a film that is generally acknowledged as the greatest poker film of modern times) – Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), in an argument with his non-poker-playing girlfriend, exclaims, ‘Why does this still seem like gambling to you? Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table at the World Series of Poker every year?’ The point Mike is trying to make is that, though poker is fundamentally a game of chance, the player has the potential to put the odds in their favour. Thus the game becomes not solely about luck, but also a contest of skill.

Any poker strategy guide worth its salt advocates strict bankroll management. It is arguably the most important part of poker strategy and based on temperance. Bankroll management essentially requires you to have the prudence and self-regulation to play only at a level financially viable to you. You keep your poker bankroll divorced from the rest of your finances and you only ever play with a small fraction of it at a time. Doing so should hopefully mean that your losses are small enough not to affect you mentally and financially and also that you will be able to outlast any periods of negative variability.

Interestingly, the reason why Mike McDermott is in such hot water with his girlfriend is because at the start of the film he was a victim of his own intemperance, losing everything on a single hand of poker. This is why actively practicing the virtues is so important if you are going to play poker. Despite what Mike McDermott tells his girlfriend, poker is a game of chance, it is gambling, and gambling can be, and in many cases is, insidious. For those poker players who struggle to exercise control over gambling, the right decision would be to not play at all, or to play without the involvement of money, purely for the love of the game.

Justice and Humanity

Poker is a game that promotes sophisticated decision making. Players who do not exercise temperance and wisdom will quickly find themselves exiled to the spectator’s rail. But the virtuous character strengths developed through playing poker also have other applications; poker can develop a practical wisdom (phronesis) that can contribute to societal flourishing. Thus, to borrow from Allan Bäck, ‘it purports to be a serious part of life—and to transcend contests’. Raising for Effective Giving is a charity founded by poker players that uses a poker philosophy to maximise their philanthropy. As World Champion, Martin Jacobson, is quoted as saying on their website:

“Contributing to charity in any way, shape or form is really important for me and I have found REG to be the superior option. Their rational strategy to effective giving is something I can relate to because I use the same approach to maximize my potential as a professional poker player.”

Considering this, the versatile sentiment of ol’ Texas Dolly, Doyle Brunson, can even be applied to the character strengths of social intelligence, kindness, fairness and citizenship, strengths comprising the virtues of justice and humanity: ‘Poker actually isn’t about winning or losing; poker is about making the right decision.’

Vice or Virtue?

In this blog I have proffered that poker players who exercise the virtuous character strengths of wisdom and temperance are the most likely to succeed, and presented a shining example of charitable action taken by poker players (of which there are many), but is this enough to claim that poker itself, on the whole, is virtuous? You could argue that the game of poker is a morally neutral construct and it is each individual’s interaction with the game which is virtuous or not. However, poker is a zero numbers game, which means for every win there has to be a loss of the same amount. The circumstances of the game therefore directly promote the vices of greed and envy: greed because in order to win you must engage rapaciously in the pursuit of material possessions and envy because that which you covet is your neighbour’s chips. So is the gentrification the game has enjoyed in recent years merely a virtuous veneer atop a cankered core? Tell Shakespeare I am still thinking about it…

Richard Hughes is Research Administrator at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

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Flourishing From the Margins – Marginalised Young People with Purpose

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

Value in the Community

The Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership (CEFL) launched their Leadership of Character Education report at their National Conference in September. At the conference practitioners presented new character education initiatives used within their own schools; overviews of short case studies illustrated schools’ diverse approaches to, and examples of character education provision in both primary and secondary settings.

An integral message delivered through the Jubilee Centre’s A Framework for Character Education in Schools) is that schooling is centrally concerned with the development of children’s character, but that this education is not limited to school subjects and classroom activities. Schools, as well as providing an academic education to those they teach, provide opportunities for children to develop character virtues through caught and taught approaches, some of which may not be achievable at home; developing teamwork, for example, can be achieved through collaboration with peers during project work in schools (Harrison, Morris & Ryan, 2016). These important development activities may not be accessible outside of a school setting; due to the age of their children, primary schools in particular may find it difficult at a practical level to engage with virtues such as community awareness and citizenship, without the influence of external organisations.

As a former primary school practitioner, I’m acutely aware of the resistance and scepticism that new initiatives face at inception in schools, despite the potential benefit to the school community and children we teach. Schools and policy makers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to prioritise character education in schools, and many schools foster character implicitly or explicitly  through their ethos and clear vision for character education (for example, see the forthcoming Jubilee Centre’s Schools of Virtue report);  however, the unprecedented workload and pressure on teachers and school leaders to prioritise academic attainment and progress is well-recognised . Unfortunately, as these are the areas by which a school’s effectiveness is ultimately judged, schools may find providing more explicit character education opportunities problematic.

With this in mind, I was eager to attend one of the CEFL case study overviews led by Janet Gordge and Jon Coe (year 6 teacher and Deputy Headteacher, respectively) from Shaldon Primary School in South Devon. Their inter-generational service project called Pen Pals appealed as one in which community awareness and citizenship could be fostered, and the local community could be utilised as potentially valuable source of knowledge and learning.

This project was set up to provide a means of communication between year 6 pupils and elderly members of the local community and has recently been recognised by the Parliament Education Service and celebrated as the School Council Awards winner. In short, this project involved regular correspondence between elderly members of the community and year 6 pupils, providing mutually-beneficial outcomes; not only were school pupils able to practise composing purposeful and high-quality letters to tap into and share in the wisdom of experienced others, but the elderly members of the community were given an opportunity to engage in valuable discourse and be directly involved in the education of children in their area.

This developed into a number of events in which the pen pals visited the school to share in music performances, contribute to personal history books and share their experiences over a cream tea. These were small but significant opportunities for community members to feel and be valued, for children to learn from an otherwise unutilised source, and for inter-generational friendships to be formed. It is clear that this project enabled extremely important learning to take place that isn’t achievable in the standard school timetable. Janet Gordge explained that through taking part, the children were connected with those with a story to tell and: “This allowed them time to really think about experiences, backgrounds and things that are important to both parties.” She also provided moving examples of the benefits to individuals that emphasise the value of such endeavours.

Although the project, like any involving external parties, requires initial organisation and allocation of responsibilities, it can be easily maintained once in place; without doubt, the benefit to both the children and the local community involved in projects of this nature are well worth the time invested in their organisation. As well as being a fruitful character education activity through developing civic virtues of community awareness and citizenship; fostering the intellectual virtue of curiosity; and promoting shared wisdom, hope and dignity, the added benefits of such activities, for example in encouraging children to aspire towards high standards of purposeful written and spoken English and stimulating strong social skills, may function as an added incentive for teachers to implement them.

Through communication and commitment, those involved in the project have significantly impacted the learning and development of the children in their care and elderly individuals in the community. Primary leaders and teachers should view this as an encouraging example of how they can work effectively to promote citizenship and community awareness in their own schools.

The Jubilee Centre’s ‘Schools of Virtue: Character Education in Three Birmingham Schools’ research report will be launched on 19th October.

Paul Watts is a Research Fellow at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

Have NHS Pressures Caused UK Nurses to Lose Their Moral Compass?

A new research report, launched on September 28 by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, reveals that NHS pressures are hindering ethical practice and caring among UK nurses. The new research reveals that eight in ten nurses face barriers to working in a caring and compassionate manner, and that staff reductions, time pressures and ‘pen-pushing’ are leading to moral disengagement and compromising professional practice.

 The study, Virtuous Practice in Nursing, provides a moral snapshot of the profession at a time of unrivalled pressure on the NHS. It reveals that experienced nurses face serious challenges staying true to their moral character and values due to the demands on their time. The factors preventing nurses from ‘living out their own character’ on the wards include staff shortages, time constraints, bed management and administrative tasks, all of which stop them spending the time with patients they feel is required for good professional care.

More specifically, many nurses reported that they felt that conflicting demands on their time left them feeling as though they were not able to offer care in as compassionate way as they would like to, and that shortages in nursing numbers negatively affected their ability to care for patients.

The context and nature of the study

Motivated by the negative media coverage of the current state of nursing and the well-known 2013 Francis Report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry, this research project explored the ethical dimensions of contemporary nursing education and practice in the UK. The findings are drawn from survey and interview data from 696 participants across three-cohorts: first-year undergraduates in nursing, final-year students about to enter employment at the end of initial training, and established professionals who had been in practice for five years or more, as well as from interviews with educators from UK Schools of Nursing.

The Jubilee Centre has conducted a large body of work with students and professionals in a range of professions (lawyers, teachers, medical doctors) in recent years. As the Principal Investigator on this project, the present author was particularly struck by the finding that nurses stand out among all the experienced professionals we have surveyed. They are the only professionals where reliance on their own character compass does not pick up as they gain more experience. More specifically, we looked at the extent to which nurses rely on virtue-based reasoning (e.g. justifications about what is the compassionate thing to do) when facing ethical dilemmas in the workplace. While students entering nursing education rely heavily on such reasoning, during the course of their studies those considerations are overtaken by rule-and-code-based reasoning, and this trend continues among experienced nurses.

From the point of view of virtue ethics, which is gradually becoming the moral theory of choice in nursing ethics, this is a worrying trend. The tenets of professional ethics theory seem to be becoming increasingly irrelevant to actual nursing practice.

But there are some positives

We identified several positive findings about the profession. In particular, student nurses consistently name moral motivators like care and compassion as the principal reasons for joining the profession. Both student nurses and established professionals view the job as a vocation. Moreover, despite significant institutional pressures, nurses feel they can work autonomously and feel supported by colleagues. They also believe it is possible to maintain a level of emotional engagement with patients and their profession, which is encouraging given the motivational role of compassion and care in recruiting the nurses of the future.

The report recommends that moral role modelling is placed at the heart of nursing education. In the absence of adequate role modelling, the tendency will be to ‘go by the book’, circumventing individual reflection and responsibility and doing uncritically whatever the rules or standards of practice say.

In publishing this report, the Jubilee Centre calls for a greater emphasis on ethical theory in the education of student nurses, helping trainees to relate values and virtues to practice. The Centre also recommends a ‘robust approach’ to character evaluation at interview stage to assess the suitability of candidates for nursing, and to monitor the development of their character throughout the programme.

Food for thought

 This report shows that, given the challenges of nursing in the UK today, there is an increased pressure on nurses to get each decision right, under constraints of time and resources. To choose the option that is the best clinical one for patients, but also ethically correct, requires careful deliberation and the capacity to exhibit professional wisdom. The ability of the nurse to make such decisions on behalf of patients goes right to the core of what it means to be a nurse, whose first responsibility is to the patient. This study highlights ways in which shortcomings in the working and learning environments limit trained nurses’ and nursing students’ development of core values for nursing practice. It offers practical recommendations for improvement and paves the way for a fuller discussion of issues that are likely to be with us for quite some time.

Professor Kristján Kristjánsson was the Principal Investigator on the project ‘Virtuous Practice in Nursing’ report. The report was co-authored by  Jinu Varghese, James Arthur, Francisco Moller and Matt Ferkany. The full report can be viewed here

Students at UK Business Schools Value Financial Rewards Over Honesty

A new research report, launched on September 27 by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, identifies honesty and integrity as important virtues for experienced business professionals, but finds such an awareness lacking among undergraduates, for whom financial aspirations trump any references to moral virtues or the common good.

There has been a steep rise in the number of papers highlighting the importance of specific business virtues in business journals over the past few decades, and the publication of Springer’s 2017 Handbook of Virtue Ethics in Business and Management indicates that the movement has become mainstream. Within UK companies, a values-driven agenda, often highlighting bespoke business values such as integrity, seems to be gradually superseding a narrow rule-and-code driven agenda. However, as these ‘values’ are rarely understood as personal traits of character (namely ‘virtues’), it would be premature to say that virtue ethics has yet dramatically altered ethical conceptions in the UK business world. The report indicates that this new agenda has at least had very little practical effect on business education in general and business ethics education in particular.

The context and nature of the study

The findings in this report – written in the wake of a series of high-profile corporate failures and financial scandals – are drawn from survey and interview data from 790 UK participants across three cohorts: first-year business school students, final-year business school students, and business school alumni with at least 5 years’ work experience, as well as data drawn from interviews with educators in UK business schools.

The research found that business students value career competencies like time management and communication skills as important character strengths,. However, honesty was considerably less prevalent as a valued character strength and there was virtually ‘zero growth’ in virtue-based reasoning between the first and final year of students’ time at university, as judged by responses to ethical workplace dilemmas. In contrast to the students’ responses, honesty as a personal virtue was clearly identified by experienced professionals in interviews. Honesty was often mentioned alongside integrity. For example, there were over 30 references to honesty and over 50 references to integrity in interviews with experienced professionals. Moreover, when presented with workplace dilemmas, virtue-based reasoning was more evident in the responses of business school graduates than in those of business school students.

While aspirations to serve the common good – a key goal of any profession – were mentioned intermittently by participants as a motivation to pursue business, financial rewards were more prominent. When asked what motivated them to pursue a career in business and finance, ‘money’ rather than working for the public good was the most popular reward highlighted by students. More than one student simply typed three dollar signs – $$$ – to explain their inspiration.

Some positives also

The report also reveals positive aspects about the contemporary UK business world. Established business professionals link a culture of honesty and collegiality to the formation of a positive work environment. Furthermore, 94% of experienced professionals indicated they feel motivated to work effectively most of the time, and 97% stated they feel empowered to be authentic in the workplace. The report suggests a renewed emphasis on these positive aspects of work could help to imbue business students with a greater sense of ethical practice when they graduate.

The report offers some constructive recommendations. It points to the importance of students gaining practical experience to learn about moral conduct in the business environment. It suggests the inclusion of real-life scenarios in business ethics teaching could expose students to workplace dilemmas and encourage them to consider virtuous ways to resolve them, hence bringing their modes of reasoning about workplace dilemmas into line with those deemed most productive by experienced professionals.

Concluding remarks

 This report shows that, while there is increased interest in UK business and finance circles in a values-based agenda, a comprehensive virtue-based approach to business practice has not yet taken hold, either in theoretical business ethics or in general business discourse. This is particularly apparent among students of business and finance who do not seem to glean many new understandings of the role of virtuous practice in business during their undergraduate education. This study highlights ways in which shortcomings in the learning environments may limit business students’ development of core understandings needed for virtue literacy and virtue practice. It offers suggestions for improvement and will, hopefully, pave the way for a fuller discussion of issues that are likely to become increasingly topical in a world in which terms such as ‘responsible business’, ‘corporate social responsibility’, ‘sustainability’, and ‘ethical consumption’ are steadily gaining traction.

Professor Kristján Kristjánsson was the Principal Investigator on the project ‘Character Virtues in Business and Finance’. The research report was co-authored by James Arthur, Yan Huo and Francisco Moller. The full report can be viewed here.

Developing Character Skills in Schools – A Teacher’s Response

The teaching profession’s reaction to the recent publication of the Department of Education’s (DfE) report Developing Character Skills in Schools can best be described as mixed. The survey, the DfE’s first foray into the field of empirical research on character education provision, was completed by 880 education institutes, and the report has produced some interesting findings with some clear next steps for character education provision.

Whilst the DfE have not launched the report with any degree of fanfare, the report’s publication has still caught the attention of teachers and education stakeholders. Reaction to the report can be categorised into three distinct responses: 1. A positive reaction from such stakeholders as the Jubilee Centre; acknowledging a genuine increase in character education provision within English schools; 2. An apprehensive reaction (TES, Schools Week) highlighting positive gains, but putting more focus on the fact that there is still work that needs to be done for character to be fully embedded across curricula and integrated in school ethos; 3. A negative reaction; with some teachers using social media to argue that character education is the responsibility of parents, and that this is just another ‘fad’ to fit into an already overwhelmed and over-crowded curriculum.

The findings of the report suggest that reactions 1 and 2 both have some merit, and can perhaps be seen as 2 sides of the same coin. As a profession, we should not get carried away with such positive statistics as 89% of schools do use subject lessons to develop character traits, just as we should not despair when we read that one in six (17%) of schools say that they have a formalised plan or policy in place for character education provision. Both previous and current research conducted by the Jubilee Centre has shown that interest in, and provision for effective character education is on the rise with all stakeholders, but that there is still a long way to go before it is fully embedded into the majority of UK schools. The often contradictory findings within the DfE report – 97% of schools are seeking to promote desirable character traits among their students, whilst only 54 % of schools are familiar with the term ‘character education’ – show that in the current climate, the primary aim of anyone actively seeking to champion character education in schools should be to ensure that teachers are familiar with the term, what it means, and what meaningful character education provision entails. Character education can look very different between schools, with no single blueprint model prescribed by the Jubilee Centre, other than that the overriding principle behind it must be universal. In the Jubilee Centre’s A Framework for Character Education in Schools, character education is described as the ‘explicit and implicit educational activities that help young people develop positive personal strengths called virtues’, and that ‘character education is about helping students grasp what is ethically important in situations and how to act for the right reasons, such that they become more autonomous and reflective in practice of virtue.’ Once more schools become aware, and take ownership of this definition – the Framework has already been distributed to all English secondary schools, and will soon be disseminated to primary schools – school leaders will be able to plan and put policies in place to specifically develop the character traits of their pupils, explicitly and implicitly across their school communities.

The third reaction to the DfE report, I am sure, is not aimed at criticising character education per se, but at the profession as a whole, and situation teachers perceive themselves to be in. An increased workload, new government assessments, and budget cuts have left many within the profession frustrated and angry. The idea of introducing a ‘new’ component to an already-creaking workload will inevitably be met by detractors, but this is where the misunderstanding of character education is most evident. Character education is not a new ‘fad’ suddenly dropped upon us by the government; it has been a part of teaching for centuries and, when properly thought out, is the backbone of education. We teachers all want to develop the next Pulitzer Prize winner, the next great mathematician, or the next Olympic gold medallist, but these individuals will be the exceptions, and when we dig deeper, at the heart of good teaching is the desire to develop every individual so that they can become thriving members of society. This is the goal of character education. It is not a new subject to be squeezed into a 30 minute slot on a Friday afternoon. It permeates all lessons, all subjects, and the whole school community through implicit and explicit means. It is not only the responsibility of parents to ensure that their children grow up to be flourishing individuals, but it is our role as teachers to ensure character education is actively sought in schools, so this development can continue there.

The Developing Character Skills in Schools report shows that there are lots of positive things happening in schools, but it also highlights that now is not the time to sit back and be content with what has already been achieved. There is still a lot to be done so we must continue to make more teachers and schools aware of the benefits that a formal focus on character education can have, not just in terms of attainment and employability, but recognising, as the DfE do, that making a positive contribution to society is a good in itself.

Michael Fullard (QTS), Research Fellow, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

New DfE Report on Developing Character Skills Acknowledges the Importance of a Moral Compass

It is gratifying for us working in the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues to see how the newly-published Summary Report by the Department for Education on ‘Developing Character Skills in Schools’ (August, 2017) cites our work repeatedly as providing leading theoretical insights into character education in UK schools. Kudos for work well done is always to be welcomed and cherished. However, more important than any ‘symbolic capital’ or ‘impact evidence’ gained by this report is its substantive content, and how well it aligns with Jubilee Centre conceptualisations.

There has been a tendency in Whitehall and Westminster to understand ‘character’ and ‘character education’ quite narrowly and instrumentally – often modelling it on controversial US approaches that aim at ‘fixing individual kids’ by providing them with performative skills to enhance educational achievement and general ‘success’ in life. So while lip service has increasingly been paid in UK political circles to the development of the character of the whole child, it has been difficult to translate it into anything amounting the neo-Aristotelian emphasis highlighted by the Jubilee Centre on the intrinsic value of good character and how it cannot be untethered from the internalisation of moral virtues. Notably missing from previous DfE documents has also been any explicit conceptualisation of what ‘development’ means psychologically or educationally in the context of policies on the development of character skills.

It is, therefore, a cause for great relief to witness the new document’s careful outlining of what character education is, what it aims for, and how it can be enacted through policy and practice on the ground. Many of the designators chosen in this report will be music to the ears of neo-Aristotelian sympathisers. Talk of ‘well-rounded, grounded citizens’, their ideal ‘contribution to society’, and their ‘social and emotional’ as well as their performative skills takes us well beyond the narrow focus on grade attainment and employability that we have come to expect from official policy documents in the past. The crowning glory of this document is its insistence on the need to ‘instil pupils with a moral compass…in understanding and interacting with other people’. This is a leaf taken straight out of the Jubilee Centre book – but again it is not the provenance of the argument that matters but its substantive content. For anyone who thinks that character development is about more than just self-confidence, communication skills, grit and resilience, this focus on the need for a ‘moral compass’ will strike a chord. The aim of character education cannot just boil down to the need to cultivate the resilience of the repeat offender. We must ask not only what character is, but also what it is for.

The new report makes it abundantly clear that while the extrinsic benefits of character education for improving academic attainment and employability matter, what justifies such education in the end is the cultivation of traits that help children make a positive contribution to UK society by their flourishing both as individuals and as citizens.

While the report contains a lot of useful conceptualisations – ‘GPSs’ for educators and parents lost in the labyrinth of confusing terminologies – it also offers significant statistical data about school approaches to character education. On a positive note, 97% of UK schools surveyed seek to promote desirable character traits among their pupils. On a more negative note, perhaps, only 54% were familiar with the term ‘character education’. Command of terminology is not as important, however, as good intentions – and there seems to be no shortage of the latter in UK schools.

Given that almost half of schools are not familiar with the relevant core concepts and conceptualisations means that there is considerable work left to do for the Jubilee Centre and other promoters of character development – the flourishing of the whole child – in UK schools. However, the new report paves the way for significant progress in this area, driven by an explicit policy agenda that can now also be backed up by our new Framework, giving schools an easy access to the vocabulary needed to talk more productively about the goals that they already aspire to seek.

 

Kristján Kristjánsson is Deputy Director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

Gender Differences in Ethical Dilemmas

Throughout the ages there have been debates about gender differences in ethical decision making, from Aristotle to Aquinas to Freud. These arguments generally centre on the different ways men and woman make judgments when faced with a moral dilemma.

Freud claims (1999, p. 237) that ‘in women the measure of what is ethically normal is different than in men. Their superego is never so unyielding, so impersonal, and as independent of its emotional sources as it is required from men’.

However, Carol Gilligan reversed that perspective and asked whether it is actually women that notice something that men cannot see. She claimed men think abstractedly, believe in logic and their own strength, whilst women think more instinctively and intuitively; that women concentrate less on understanding the laws and rules, and attempt to better understand the responsibility for others in certain specific conditions. Whereas men feel responsible for stopping aggression and the will to dominate, women take a more caring approach, which is related to the belief that ‘others are counting on you’.  The question of the moral and ethical subject leads us to the question of difference between the genders.

Therefore, one may concede that there is something that women cannot perceive or achieve; that there’s something that only men can see and attain. Recently gender studies have become a highly diversified branch of knowledge on the subject, or in other words, gender studies pose a different way of questioning the status quo of the knowledge. Hence these questions are philosophical, marked by criticism, reject the obvious, search for the foundations of the knowledge, and become an aversion to superstitions.

Taking into account these considerations, at the Jubilee Centre we have attempted to explore the differences in ethical dilemmas among female and male teachers, doctors, and lawyers by way of a second analysis – in a prior study of ‘Virtues and Values in the Professions’.

So how is this related to Character Education? The answer is simple. On the one hand, the more we understand about the relationship of gender on decision making in ethical dilemmas, the better chance we have to design interventions that improve ethical awareness among those professions in professional education – especially considering the key role that teachers, doctors and lawyers play in the progress of a society.

On the other hand, despite the importance of understanding its relevance in professional practice, there has not been enough research into virtue ethics thus far. It is obvious that in modern practice it is necessary to be more than just competent; one must prove one’s moral and ethical nature as well (The Jubilee Centre, 2016).

Ethical standards are a hallmark of those professions. An important question is what factors affect the ethical choices made by them. Past research suggests that factors such as gender, educational level, age, and work experience may be related to the development of a person’s ethical standards (Nikoomaram, et. al, 2013). Duncut claims (2007) that ethical reasoning and decisions are impacted by a person’s place of employment, work experience, demographic, characteristics of age, gender, and ethnicity. Furthermore, gender and age combined, can also have an effect on ethical decision making (Chiu, Spindel, 2010). Likewise, after controlling for cultural background – gender, age, and home/work influences were also found to be significant predictors of ethical behaviour and decisions (Perryer, Jordan, 2002).

We have also conducted our own investigations into the effects of gender on ethical decision-making; and asked participants to choose a course of action and provide reasons for their choice. The purpose of our analysis was not to evaluate who behaved more ethically; male or female, but to see if there were any differences in the process of resolving ethical dilemmas among representatives of the three analysed professions.

In our initial findings, we have discovered that our research supports the results of earlier studies, which signal that there are gender differences in ethical decision-making (eg. Tilley, 2010, Becker, Ulstad, 2007) and that males are more likely to break the rules than females (McCabe, et. al, 2006) particularly in the case of doctors and lawyers. Furthermore, we also found that female teachers prioritised the moral theories of character (virtue ethics) and consequences (utilitarian) over rules (deontological) when making a decision.

We hope that we will be able to present more findings soon, as this study works to better understand ethical decision making between the sexes across the three major professions.

Dr Marcin Gierczyk is a Teaching Fellow at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues

The Head, the Heart and the Hand

In this vlog, Professor Thomas Lickona discusses the teaching of character education to children and the challenges that teachers face. Drawing on his own experiences, Professor Lickona uses the story of one troubled boy to illustrate how a service to others can have a positively transformative effect on the behaviour and outlook of young people.

Professor Thomas Lickona is a developmental psychologist and Professor of Education at the State University of New York at Cortland. He currently directs the Center for the Fourth and Fifth Rs (Respect and Responsibility) and is a frequent consultant to schools on character education.

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