The Character Project

There is a terrific article on the Wake Forest News website about our philosophy professor, Dr. Christian Miller, and his work with The Character Project.  Dr. Miller is young and energetic and has won teaching awards on campus – a really special guy from all the good things I hear about him.

Dr. Miller is working with The Character Project, exploring the beliefs that help us act more virtuously for the re-launch of the high profile website developed by The John Templeton Foundation called Big Questions Online.  He’s written an essay entitled “Which Beliefs Contribute to Virtuous Behavior?” and it’s very interesting.  You can join in the comments and discussion if you wish.

One of the things that excites me about this project and Dr. Miller’s work is that it can spur our own campus community to think about those big questions of character, beliefs, and behavior.  Wake Forest does not shy away from urging students to think about these things.

This idea of character exploration in college is relevant to a book that several academic advisers on campus are reading this summer.  Andrew Delbanco, who is an esteemed professor at Columbia University, and who spoke at April’s Rethinking Success conference, wrote “College – What It Was, Is, and Should Be.”  It is an extensive look at the history and practice of American colleges and universities.

Delbanco writes this about what he thinks is the aim of a college education:

“At its core, a college should be a place where young people find help for navigating the territory between adolescence and adulthood.  It should provide guidance, but not coercion, for students trying to cross that treacherous terrain on their way toward self-knowledge.  It should help them develop certain qualities of mind and heart requisite for reflective citizenship.  Here is my own attempt at reducing these qualities to a list, in no particular order of priority, since they are inseparable from one another:

1. A skeptical discontent with the present, informed by a sense of the past.

2. The ability to make connections among seemingly disparate phenomena.

3. Appreciation of the natural world, enhanced by knowledge of the sciences and the arts.

4. A willingness to imagine experience from perspectives other than one’s own.

5. A sense of ethical responsibility.”

My personal belief here is that a lot of schools do a fine job on teaching #s1-4, but not all schools attempt #5.  My own experience as a WFU student included many opportunities to reflect on character, ethics, and values.  No one told me what I should think or tried to force their views on me, but encouraged me to look inward and determine my own ideas.

Coming back around to Dr. Miller, this is why I am so glad he is working on The Character Project.   He – and other terrific faculty like him – believe in the idea of educating the whole person, which includes giving room for students to reflect on character and values and ethics, along side of academics.

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