Ninety-six percent of Americans say they want their children to have “moral character”; 85 percent say that our democracy is only as strong as the virtue of citizens. But the very concept of character — not to mention how it is enacted in human relationships and institutions — is in jeopardy because we live in a time of unprecedented change at the deepest, often most imperceptible levels of our culture. At least as necessary to a flourishing life as other kinds of academic knowledge and practical skills, good character is essential to sustaining the trust required in a vibrant free-market economy, the wisdom required to lead businesses and other kinds of institutions, and the compassion required to care for those in need through one’s professional work and service. Advancing these research interests over the last five years, scholars affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture have nearly completed qualitative and quantitative studies about the formation of character and citizenship (1) in ten sectors of American schooling (10 Case Studies) and (2) in a national survey sample of 3,200 American homes—the largest survey of its kind ever—and, soon, an oversampling of parents and teenage students in private schools. Our intent has been to establish an expanded framework for understanding and educating for character in ways that complement existing research and practice. Therefore, we propose the Moral Ecology Fellows Program first to fully understand the findings and their implications, and then to use our theoretical models and empirical data to create concepts, frameworks, and tools to evaluate and guide decisions about improving the context in which individual character virtue development occurs. A grant would allow us to complete the next round of data analysis, producing 20 manuscripts and gathering fellows and other scholars in three academic conferences during the two-year grant period.
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