Education and civil society

Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has been awarded a $12.4 million grant by the Kern Family Foundation to develop and incorporate character education into its teacher and leadership preparation programs. These programs will include undergraduate programs, graduate programs, nondegree certificates and professional development programs.

Carole Basile, dean of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, said the desire to address character education arose from the conviction that one core purpose of education is to support the development of citizens who have the habits of mind and disposition to maintain civil society and serve the public good.

“The great American experiment in self-government has always rested on our ability to educate citizens capable of reasoned argument, respectful discourse and the hard work of balancing individual ambitions and the public good,” Basile said.

While ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College prepares students to become successful and capable educators throughout its programs and courses, the investment from the Kern Family Foundation will support the college as it consciously articulates and builds character education into the school’s curricula and design. Basile noted that while the college’s curricula and programs have long emphasized service learning and social responsibility, the Kern grant allows the college to bring a “new level of intentionality and structure” to the work of integrating concepts of character and character development into the systems, norms, curricula and processes of the school. This would be the first effort of its kind and scale for a college of education.

“We are committed to deepening the relationship between the university and our surrounding community,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. “Social embeddedness is one of our core principles, and we see this expanded emphasis on character education as an opportunity to enhance not only the quality of life for our students and citizens, but also the quality of engagement with our democratic process.”

As faculty and staff developed the college’s proposal, they engaged in spirited discussions about the meaning of character and the role of a college of education in nurturing it.

“We arrived at an approach to character education that aims to prepare our students to be effective educators and caring citizens,” Basile said. “Our conversations led to a view of character education based on ideas of equity and reciprocity. It embraces difference, multiple perspectives and the complexity of social life.

“American parents say that the formation of strong character is their highest aspiration for their children,” Kern Family Foundation President James Rahn said. “Ninety percent of Americans say our democracy is only as strong as the virtue of its citizens. The Kern Family Foundation is impressed with the transformative vision for character education developed by Dean Basile and faculty and staff at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. We are confident in ASU’s ability to bring this vision to reality and to become the anchor of a national network of colleges of education committed to character education.”

The framework developed by the college identifies four kinds of character: moral, civic, intellectual and performance. It also identifies four social environments that the college’s approach to character education will address: interpersonal, university, PK–12 learning environments and the larger communities in which schools reside.

The college’s approach will integrate character education throughout its academic programs and co-curricular activities.  Among the practical activities the grant will support:

  • Development of program materials and activities for existing and future degree and nondegree offerings that prepare future educators and education leaders
  • Integration of intellectual, moral, civic and performance character into the community design labs the college facilitates with schools to address challenges those schools face
  • Research on the impact of character development in education
  • An annual convening of scholars, education leaders, nonprofits, policymakers and others to further explore the role of character education in the preparation of teachers and education leaders

Basile emphasized that the commitment to character education is central to the college’s strategy and expanding vision.

“We asked ourselves: What are the qualities of our institution that render us most likely to succeed at redefining what a college of education can provide to students, the education system and society?

“Our answer is that we integrate character and what we call creative intrapreneurship in a distinctive manner. We think educators should be able to work within organizations and systems to ask the right questions, navigate uncertainty, and work in teams to design and create solutions to the toughest challenges. That’s what we mean by creative intrapreneurship. We view character as a vital complement to the innovative energy of creative intrapreneurship. It adds purpose to innovation.”