Virtues, Service and the Founding Fathers

By September 24, 2014Exploring Education

By Peter Kraft, Associate Head of School for Academic Affairs

Several weeks ago, New York Times columnist David Brooks discussed a number of “mental virtues” and their importance to decision-making and the development (and illustration) of character in today’s “knowledge workers.”

Citing virtues like generosity, autonomy, humility, firmness, courage and a love of learning, Brooks noted wryly that

“character tests are pervasive even in modern everyday life. It’s possible to be heroic…just sitting alone in your office. It just doesn’t make for a good movie.”

As we articulate and live daily our own Core Values at Park Tudor, it is worth considering how these values intersect with our students’ learning—and the lessons that we can learn from writers like Brooks…and Thomas Jefferson.

Recently, in my history class, we examined the political philosophy of our Founding Fathers. The philosophy is deeply grounded in four overlapping ideas:

  • Public and Private Virtue—how one ethically lives their life both in the civic realm and at home.
  • Independence—not being “dependent” on others for one’s livelihood or thoughts.
  • Equality—a respect for others and the opportunity to succeed (rather than the far different concept of all being “equal” in ability, station, or achievement).
  • A Commitment to the Public Good—the heart of the philosophy, and the root of the term “res publica.”

Interestingly, these tenets are quite similar to those on which Park Tudor is founded. Indeed, the Founding Fathers believed strongly that an “educated citizenry” was critical to the success of the fledgling republic, and that virtues—or “core values”—would be equally important to the long-term success of the country. This is why, for example, men like Jefferson and Madison so strongly promoted higher education; it is also why, despite our romantic notions to the contrary, one’s private life was “fair game” in the early days of American politics.

When one looks at Park Tudor’s Core Values—integrity, intellectual engagement, respect, resourcefulness, responsibility—one can see how they very much echo our nation’s past. What is equally important, one can see how these values are critical to the success of our community—both within the gates of Park Tudor and outside of them. As George Washington once remarked,

“We cannot think only of our own state or country; we must consider others, all of mankind, to make ourselves truly whole.”

Recently, Park Tudor enlisted the help of Luana Nissan, the former head of the Glenn Institute at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Georgia, and a long-time Indianapolis resident who recently moved back to our city. Luana’s charge is to help us create a shared vocabulary and framework around Community Engagement—both service learning and community service—to help our students and school make good on our promise to engage the broader world.

As part of the school’s ongoing Strategic Planning process, she has already interviewed more than 30 members of our community. And, starting in mid-October, Luana and I will work with a team of faculty, parents, board members, and ultimately, students, to help chart the future of Community Engagement at the school.

While it is far too early to know the outcomes of our work, it seems safe to say that we will endeavor to make service learning, and the character development that inevitably results, an even larger part of Park Tudor’s curriculum. Understanding that a “world-class education” depends in part on our students working with others to solve problems, serve the broader community, and examine our own selves, we will work hard to find ways to create an integrated, vibrant K-12 community engagement “arc” for our students.

While this will not come overnight, and while it will require hard decisions and challenging conversations about time and institutional priorities, among others, we believe strongly that it is critical to the long-term success of our students and our community.

For as Jefferson once noted,

“Serving the common good is the highest form of education—and it is critical to ensuring that our children, and our republic, develop to their fullest capacity.”

As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback. Please share your comments below.

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