About Character & Virtue
This ancient idea of virtue has its historical roots before Christianity in the thought of Plato and Aristotle. The concept of virtue was adopted and transformed, becoming a Christian expression about how to live a good life. Christianity recast the idea of virtue in light of Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who showed us how to really live a human life, he showed us humanity in its full glory, and so Jesus is the person of virtue par excellence. As a Jesuit school we place Christ at the centre of all we do and seek to find God in all things. This means finding ever more ways of bringing the wisdom of the Catholic faith to life in all we do. We hope that focusing on this Christian concept of virtue will provide a common language for us to talk in, and a way to deepen how we can be “men and women for others”.
We think this is an exciting vision and an exciting project. Academic excellence is of course an important aspect of this, and a hallmark of a Jesuit school, but this vision is also so much bigger. It is not just about students leaving Wimbledon College with excellent grades, but being young people of excellent character, young people of virtue, young adults who are well prepared to make good decisions, contribute to society, be happy, enjoy life, and do glory to God by living life to the full.
Unlike talents, virtues and their associated character strengths are ‘buildable’, they are not things we are born with, but things that each and everyone of us can gain through practice, practice turns to habit, habit becomes second nature and then these are our virtues.
Character education is nothing new, it has been around for a number of years now and has become a major focus of KIPP schools in the US (their website is very interesting). At Wimbledon College we are utilising this experience and focus of character education from the secular world and mixing it with our unique mix of Christian/Catholic/Jesuit outlook. Through this Jesuit lens character education is transformed.
Why this is Needed
There have been calls both from the Church and the secular world for a need to focus primarily on developing people of virtue and character (see these articles in our recommended reading). The banking scandal has drawn many peoples attention to the dangers of a society, a way of living which is just self-serving, which cares only about the individual and lacks a moral compass. It is a hallmark of a Jesuit school to develop the whole person, and concentrate particularly on the uniqueness of individuals nurturing and guiding them in whatever way suits them best as individuals. It is also a hallmark of Jesuit schools to develop young people who will be able to live lives “for others”. Helping young people to develop virtue to have good character is a deep and broad mission and one we believe will best set up our students to flourish in their own lives, to contribute to society, and to recognise God in the midst of all this.
The Cardinal Virtues
What are the Virtues & Character Strengths?
Virtues and Character Strengths are overlapping concepts. The word ‘virtue’ means ‘strength’. The 4 Virtues developed by Aristotle are known as the Cardinal Virtues (‘cardinal’ meaning ‘hinge’ i.e. pivotal, vitally important, that which everything else ‘hinges’/depends on). Christianity worked with these virtues, transforming their perspective within a Christian system which also included 3 Theological Virtues.
Recently a movement within Psychology called ‘positive psychology’ has identified 24 signature Character Strengths categorised under the 4 cardinal virtues to help people look positively at their lives.
The Theological Virtues
Much of previous psychology had focused on a disease model, sorting out problems with people, but this positive psychology looked to promote ways of proactively developing good, healthy and flourishing people. This latest science along with the deeply ingrained tradition of virtues within the Catholic Church can be hugely beneficial to the mission of Wimbledon College to improve the living and learning of its students (and staff).
At Wimbledon College we have adapted this slightly and for simplicity arranged everything under 4 headings. Below is the chart showing the Virtues/Character Strengths we will be developing in school.