A community of characters not lessons in character building

‘Our youth should be trained from the first in a stricter system, for if amusements become lawless, and the youths themselves become lawless, they can never grow up into well-conducted and virtuous citizens’. Book 4 of Plato’s Republic.

Throughout history fingers have been pointed at the young generation as the perpetrators of poor manners and anti-social behaviour. The shaping of the younger generation has repeatedly been viewed as the lynch pin to a better society. Dr Seldon’s latest advice, that schools should be delivering lessons in manners, is hardly a new idea. He identifies good manners, self-control, self-reliance, responsibility, punctuality, determination, resilience, appreciation, kindness and tidiness as the ingredients to build the kind of character that will compensate for the Government’s ever floundering ‘big society’ ideals.

Much as I support Dr Seldon’s view that these social graces and personal qualities are worthy attributes; if they are to become a natural and unconscious part of a child’s character they need to be engrained into the everyday culture of a school. Being happy, being self reliant, being responsible; they are skills that are learnt through a constant stream of experiences. I have often seen the character building qualities that result from some independent schools; pupils with manners that appear stiff and contrived; character traits that are superficial and that break under pressure. Manners and character need to go deep into the very fabric of a person they can’t just be absorbed by lessons.

I would also add to Dr Seldon’s list, attributes such as selflessness, social awareness, love and community. It is these qualities that are essential in making the other attributes have any real value. Schools that promote aggressively competitive approaches, where pupils are driven by rewards and prizes, will invariably tend to look too inward.

At Bedales Schools, whether a Bedalian is 3 or 18, young characters are nurtured through learning in a community that is built on mutual respect with high regard for acts of kindness and goodwill to others inside and outside of the school. It is having the right ethos and teaching approach that instils good manners in young people, not simply adding another lesson to the timetable.

By Jane Grubb, Head, Bedales Prep, Dunhurst

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