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Moral education: offering “a compelling account of goodness and how to achieve it”

“Moral education should provide the young with an understanding of life worthy of themselves—a compelling account of goodness and how to achieve it. If we ask the young only to pursue their desires, should we be surprised if, instead of being uplifted by the freedom we hold out to them, they become bored and disenchanted?” (“Schooling the Young in Goodness,” Schools in a Pluralist Culture [Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2009]).

In a previous Chesterton Weekly I quoted Saint John Paul II who said, “In the Catholic school there is no separation between time for learning and time for formation, between acquiring notions and growing in wisdom” and virtue. In this light, I’ve been I’ve been thinking a lot about our responsibility to morally form the young women and men in our care. This formation goes beyond “following the rules” rather it requires educating their desire and their freedom such that they choose that which is truly good. The quotation above (from “Schooling the Young in Goodness”) puts the importance of moral education in stark terms: if we only ask them to pursue the desires that they already have (those which are most immediate, convenient and easy), then they will become bored and disenchanted. If we glance at the youth in our culture at large there is abundant testimony to this boredom and disenchantment.

Concretely how can we do this in day-to-day life? In the article “Schooling the Young in Goodness,” we are given the beginning of a response: “[M]oral education should be an initiation into a way of life; [therefore] it should be about schooling the young into habits and practices that will form them in the distinctive excellences of human beings.” Moral formation occurs through teaching the young “habits and practices” which enable them to embody a way of life ordered toward the true, good and beautiful. At Chesterton Academy, these “habits and practices” are expressed in the guidelines, rules, and behavioral expectations in the classroom and elsewhere. For example, when we ask the students to pay attention to one another and to the material which they are reading and discussing, we are training them in “habits of attention” which are the sine qua non for discovering the truth.

To conclude, “In its most basic terms, moral education is about forming character and changing hearts; it is about offering the young something noble and magnanimous towards which to aspire.”

If you would like to read the article which I’ve been quoting it can be found at: http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/86518.pdf