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AFTERWORD: Reflections on the Special Issue.

The skills and attributes that comprise character are varied and complex. Yet, a persistent thread links the definitions of this aspect of human existence that have been proposed across centuries. These two issues of the Journal of Character Education bring together 21st century thinking about how to identify the positive skills and attributes that might be developed, how they can most effectively be developed, and how evidence can be used to build systematic understanding of what is effective.

Larry Nucci has provided a nuanced history of thinking about fundamental ideas of virtue, or a life well lived, and traced the threads that link philosophical and ethical thinking to research on social and psychological development. From different perspectives, Robert McGrath, Kristina Schmid Callina and Richard Lerner, and Nancy Deutsch each suggest additional considerations that complicate the challenge of defining character-related constructs, and offer their own responses. Noel Card and Clark McKown both take on the methodological challenges of measuring character-related skills and attributes, particularly as they relate to the problem of defining measurable constructs. Papers by Joseph Durlak and Jennifer Brown Urban and William Trochim describe rigorous approaches to program implementation and evaluation.

Papers by Martin Berkowitz and colleagues, Deborah Moroney and Elizabeth Devaney, and Camille Farrington each explore the kinds of evidence that can point to practices that are effective for developing character, and focus attention on learning opportunities outside of formal schooling. Development of virtue has in the past been viewed as a primary objective of education, but it is clear that exposure to school lessons or campaigns, however well designed, is not a primary way young people develop the attributes encompassed by the word character, as Martin Berkowitz points out.

The papers in these issues highlight many reasons why the activities young people choose to engage in outside of school are such important opportunities for the purposeful development of character. One theme I take from them is that out-of-school programs can engage young people's curiosity and enthusiasm, encouraging them to link their own interests and passions to enterprises larger than their immediate circle. These programs expose young people to adult mentors and exemplars of specific values, and provide them with opportunities to exercise their own powers, take responsibility for their part in pursuing a shared objective, collaborate in solving problems or overcoming obstacles, and many more benefits.

Involving young people in character-building out-of-school activities may not sound to some ears like a scientifically-based enterprise. Yet, these papers collectively demonstrate the strength and diversity of research in this area. They point to promising practices--from specific measures to strengthen the out-of-school educator workforce to building in opportunities for students to take on leadership roles or reflect on their learning. They also point to avenues for strengthening the evidence base on which the educators and administrators in the field rely. Few would question the importance of character or the idea that out-of-school experiences are valuable for young people, but these papers reflect years of work that have made the enterprise of developing character more systematic.

The mission of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, which held the workshop for which the first versions of these papers were written, is to synthesize research that is important for society and policy. These papers exemplify the importance of this endeavor, and at a time of urgent challenges that test character. Problems associated with global climate change that affect every nation, region, and economic sector; political discord; and international instability are some of the broad challenges that will shape the lives of today's young people in unpredictable ways. They will need all of the attributes associated with character, positive development, social and emotional learning--or virtue, as Aristotle called it. A collection of research on how to weave these attributes into activities that naturally engage their curiosity and enthusiasm, in ways that are supported by research, seems timely indeed.

Acknowledgment: Alexandra Beatty is on the staff of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM); the views expressed here are those of the author and not of the NASEM.

Alexandra Beatty

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

* Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Alexandra Beatty,
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Author:Beatty, Alexandra
Publication:Journal of Character Education
Date:Jul 1, 2017
Previous Article:CONSTRUCT(ION) AND CONTEXT: A Response to Methodological Issues in Studying Character.

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