Growing Up in Today's Britain
“We want to find out what makes these kids tick, in the sense of moral formation, character, values, and how they see themselves in the community.” So said James Arthur, professor of education and civic engagement at the University of Birmingham in England. Arthur and his colleagues Robert Harding and Ray Godfrey of Canterbury Christ Church University have embarked on an ambitious research program to take the moral temperature of youth in the United Kingdom. Supported by a major three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation, the Learning for Life Project will include five reports, each one on a different segment of the youth population.
The first report, focusing on 16-19 year olds in a middle-class district of Bristol, was published in December 2007. The second report, a survey of one thousand 14-16 year olds in the disadvantaged Hodge Hill area of Birmingham, was released in November and has garnered a great deal of attention from Members of Parliament and the Church of England. The authors of the report were hosted at No. 10 Downing Street and the Chancellor's Office by Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary of the Treasury and the Labour MP who represents Hodge Hill.
The survey found that although students generally had a positive view of their own character and a good sense of how to behave, they often did not follow through. Eighty-nine percent of them agreed with the statement “I am usually trustworthy” and 72 percent said “I try to think about other people’s feelings," but only 28 percent said they took part in school-run community projects and only 30 percent helped out in their community.
Hodge Hill is one of the most economically disadvantaged areas in the UK, and three-quarters of its population is Muslim, mostly of Pakistani origin. The survey found significant differences between the Muslim and the white populations there. As James Arthur told the Templeton Report, “the Muslim population was much more stable than the white population.” Families in the former group “often had six or seven children, knew all of their neighbors,” and their children “got more involved in volunteer work.” At a time when many in the UK are concerned about how well Muslim immigrants are integrating into society, Arthur and his colleagues also were pleased to find that the Muslim students "took their duties as citizens seriously” and wanted to learn more about their public responsibilities.
|James Arthur, MP Liam Byrne, and Kent Hill at No. 10 Downing Street.|
By contrast, Arthur said, the white population of Hodge Hill “is more socially fragmented.” There are more divorces and more single-parent families. Though the white children often identified themselves as Christian, there was little evidence of regular religious activity, nor did they have many community associations, with traditional groups like the Boys Club and the Girls Guides having apparently, in Arthur's words, "died a quiet death.”
The third report in the Learning for Life Project, also released in November, focuses on college-age men and women, both those in school and those beginning their careers. The researchers found that universities and employers alike try in various ways to impart values to young people, but leaders in both sectors feel the need for a greater emphasis on character education. The fourth and fifth reports, on the transition from elementary to middle school and the early childhood years, respectively, will be released in spring 2010, when the researchers also plan to issue a set of policy recommendations.
Kent Hill, vice president for character development at the John Templeton Foundation, attended the formal launch of the second report in London and was struck by “the strong interest at the highest levels of the British government." He credits Arthur and his colleagues for the seriousness of their approach. "Sir John wanted people to think about these things empirically," Hill said. "He didn't want wishful thinking, but hard research on where things are, so that we know what to do.” The findings thus far, he believes, point to a "clear longing among young people for more citizenship education and more character education."
A Tribute to Older Innovators
|2009 Winners of The Purpose Prize (left to right): Elizabeth and Stephen Alderman, Judith Broder, Don Coyhis, Henry Liu, and Tim Will.
This year's winners of The Purpose Prize, a $100,000 award for social innovators in their "encore" careers, were honored at a Summit on Innovation held October 31 to November 1 at Stanford University. They include:
- Elizabeth and Stephen Alderman, both 68, a doctor and special education teacher who treat victims of terrorism around the world, honoring the memory of their son, who was killed in the attacks of September 11
- Judith Broder, 69, a psychiatrist who recruits mental health professionals to provide free, confidential counseling to veterans, active-duty military personnel, and their families
- Don Coyhis, 66, a former NASA executive who works to treat alcoholism in Native American communities by reviving old customs and traditions
- Henry Liu, 73, a professor who invented a way to transform toxic fly ash, the residue of coal-fired power plants, into "green" bricks
- Tim Will, 61, a former telecom executive who brought broadband to an Appalachian county and created an online ordering system that enables struggling farmers to sell their produce directly to restaurants
"Like so many others in this new stage of life between the end of midlife careers and the beginning of true old age, The Purpose Prize winners combine creativity, experience, and passion with a desire to do something bigger than themselves," said Marc Freedman, co-founder of The Purpose Prize and author of Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life.
The Encore Careers campaign is run by Civic Ventures, a national think tank on baby-boomers, work, and social purpose. Funding for The Purpose Prize comes from The Atlantic Philanthropies and a major grant from the John Templeton Foundation.