Despite its innovative character, an intellectual virtues educational model enjoys broad support from the literature in educational theory and psychology. This is because (1) personal qualities similar to intellectual virtues, as well as (2) skills and techniques that are part of or proper to intellectual virtues, have been studied extensively and shown to have a powerful impact on academic performance.
Research of the first sort (on qualities relevantly similar to intellectual virtues) falls into three main categories: research open-mindedness, research on “thinking dispositions,” and research on “character education” and “character development.”
Several educational theorists, most notably William Hare (2003, 1995, 1993, 1985a, 1985b, and 1983), have been writing for some time about the importance of open- mindedness to education. This research makes a persuasive case for open- 14 ￼mindedness as an important educational goal and articulates a wide range of strategies for fostering open-mindedness in a classroom setting. Open-mindedness is, of course, a central intellectual virtue. In fact, researchers writing about open-mindedness have tended to think of open-mindedness in rather broad terms, such that it also includes a wide range of other intellectual virtues (Baehr 2011b). The rigorous quality and practical orientation of this research lends considerable support to an intellectual virtues educational model.
“Thinking dispositions” have been studied and written about extensively by researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, including David Perkins, Ron Ritchhart, and Shari Tishman. What these authors have in mind by thinking dispositions is very similar—if not quite identical—to what other authors describe as intellectual character virtues. For instance, they identify as primary thinking dispositions such traits as curiosity and reflectiveness (Perkins, Tishman, Ritchhart, Donis, and Andrade 2000; Ritchhart 2002). This research, which consists of multiple studies conducted across three continents, has shown that when approached in the right way, teachers can indeed have a significant impact on the development of their students’ intellectual character, and that this impact can significantly enhance their academic performance. In particular, it underscores the stability of thinking dispositions across time and task, their connection to intelligent behavior, and their transformative effect on both teachers’ and students’ approach to thinking and learning (Ritchhart, Palmer, Church, and Tishman 2006). Additional research supporting an approach to education that gives a central role to fostering thinking dispositions or intellectual virtues includes: Perkins and Ritchhart 2004; Ritchhart 2001; Perkins, Jay, and Tishman, Perkins, and Jay 1993; Ritchhart 2007; Ritchhart, Turner, Hadar 2009; Tishman and Palmer 2005; Tishman, Perkins, and Palmer 1993.
The research on “character education” and “character development” is also extremely relevant to the viability of IVA’s educational model. This literature has tended to focus on the development of moral and civic virtues. However, for two reasons, it is also highly relevant to an educational model that stresses the development of intellectual virtues: first, intellectual virtues are structurally similar to moral and civic virtues (the main difference being that intellectual virtues are directed at distinctively epistemic or cognitive goals like knowledge and understanding); second, if it can be shown that moral and civic virtues can be fostered in an educational environment, it is entirely reasonable to think that, given their clear and explicit cognitive or intellectual focus, intellectual virtues can be fostered in this context as well.
In recent years, a great deal of rigorous educational research concerning the efficacy of character-based approaches to education has emerged (Berkowitz and Bier 2006 and 2007; Berkowitz, Battistich, and Bier 2008; Lickona 1992, 1993; Lickona and Davidson 2005; Davidson, Khmelkov, and Lickona 2010). This research indicates that, when appropriately designed and executed, these approaches can have a significant impact. In a major study of the effectiveness of character education, for instance, Marvin Berkowitz and Melinda Bier (2006; 2007) identified 33 character education programs “with sufficient scientific backing to demonstrate their effectiveness and numerous implementation strategies that commonly occur in such programs” (2006: 24). Also 15 ￼helpful for understanding the proper approach to and effectiveness of character education are: Brooks and Goble 2007; Carr 2007; Curren 2001; DeRoche and Williams 1998; Haynes et al 1997; Hoge 2002; Hurley 2009; Jackson, Boostrom, and Hansen 1993; Kohlberg 1981, 1984; Kohn 1997; Leming 1993; Molnar 1997; Milson 2000; Null and Milson 2003; Piaget 1965; Spiecker and Steutel 1995; Starratt 1994; Steutel 2002. It bears noting that the strategies that have proven most effective at fostering moral and civic virtues align very closely with those that have proven effective at fostering “thinking dispositions.” IVA’s educational and instructional program is informed and will continue to be informed by this literature. This will position IVA for maximal success and impact.
Research of the second general sort (on skills or techniques that are part of or proper to intellectual virtues) is wide-ranging. This is because the skills and techniques in question, while central to the possession and exercise of intellectual character virtues, are a rather diverse lot. We will limit our discussion here to the research on three of these skills and techniques: namely, metacognition, critical thinking, and teaching for understanding.
Metacognition refers to “higher order thinking which involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in learning” (Livingston 1997). In recent decades, a great deal of research has been done on metacognitive strategies and their effectiveness at enhancing student performance. This research indicates that training in metacognition markedly improves students’ ability to transfer learned strategies to new contexts and improves their reading comprehension and mathematical problem-solving skills (Cornoldi 2010; Lucangeli, Cornoldi, and Tellarini 1998). Research on the effectiveness of metacognitive approaches in education has an important bearing on the viability of an intellectual virtues educational model. Intellectual virtues express themselves in intelligent and intentional cognitive activity that promotes good thinking and learning. It follows that metacognitive strategies are themselves a natural expression of intellectual character virtues; intellectual virtues manifest themselves, among other ways, in the use of metacognitive strategies. This has important implications for the project of trying to foster intellectual character virtues. It shows that metacognitive strategies can be used as a way of “practicing” intellectual virtues, which over time will lead to the formation of virtuous intellectual habits. Given the research on the positive academic impact of metacognitive strategies, it can be expected that an intellectual virtues approach that incorporates these strategies will lead to significantly enhanced student performance. For additional research on metacognition and education, see: Ablard and Lipschultz 1998; Coutinho 2008; Deemer 2004; Greene et al 2004; Yun Dai and Sternberg 2004; Sperling, Staley, and Dubois 2004; Waters and Schneider 2010; Wolters 1999.
As with the literature on metacognition, the scholarly research on “critical thinking” is vast. A substantial part of this literature focuses on practical techniques and exercises for promoting critical thinking. Research indicates (Tsui 2002; Norris 1985; Paul 1985) that an appropriate selection and execution of these techniques (e.g. certain forms of writing instruction and group discussion) enhances critical thinking which in turn enhances student performance across the curriculum. The bearing of this research on 16 ￼an intellectual virtues educational model is very similar to that of the research on metacognition noted above. Indeed, as Harvey Siegel (1988) and others have argued, a capacity for critical thinking must be rooted in certain habits and passions of the critical thinker himself, that is, in the possession of certain intellectual virtues. More specifically, intellectual virtues capture what being a critical thinker looks like from one moment or situation to another (e.g. sometimes critical thinking requires a demand for evidence á la intellectual rigor; in other cases it requires given a fair hearing to a competing point of view á la open-mindedness or intellectual empathy; and in other cases still it can require following through with a difficult intellectual task or inquiry á la intellectual perseverance or determination). Accordingly, techniques and strategies that have proven useful for fostering critical thinking can also be used to foster intellectual character virtues. For more on critical thinking, including its relation to an intellectual virtues educational model, see: Angelo 1995; Bers, McGowan, and Rubin 1996; Beyer 1987; Costa 1989; Facione 2000; Halpern 1997; Paul 2004; Perkins, Jay, and Tishman 1994; Siegel 1980, 2002, and 2004; Sternberg 1986; Tsui 1999; and Van Gelder 2005.
Also relevant to the viability of an intellectual virtues educational model is a growing body of research on “teaching for understanding.” (This concept incorporates but is broader than the “Understanding by Design” approach developed, most prominently, by Wiggins and McTighe 2005.) The goal of this approach is for students to develop a deep conceptual and procedural grasp of essential concepts and skills. It involves a range of strategies and activities, including explaining, finding evidence and examples, generalizing, applying, making analogies, and representing topics in new ways. In short, this approach “shifts instruction from a paradigm of memorizing and practicing to one of understanding and applying” (Perkins 1993: 32). A recent six-year collaborative research project conducted by school teachers and researchers from the Harvard School of Education produced a wealth of well-documented research on the nature of understanding, its importance to education, and the techniques and strategies most useful for imparting it (Wiske 1998). The techniques and strategies identified by this research have a very natural place within an instructional program aimed at fostering intellectual virtues. For, intellectual virtues aim at deep understanding. An intellectually virtuous person is not content with superficial or ungrounded belief. Rather, this person desires to know—to understand. Accordingly, “teaching for understanding” is an effective way of promoting growth in intellectual virtues. Further research on understanding as an educational goal includes: Ritchhart 2002 and 2007; Ritchhart, Turner, and Hadar 2009; Keil 2006; and Sternberg 2003; Craft, Gardner, and Claxton 2008).
Though we will not discuss them in any detail here, there are at least three additional bodies of research that are relevant to an intellectual virtues educational model and that bear favorably on its prospects. This includes recent literature on “positive education,” an educational movement that is derived from “positive psychology” (Seligman et al 2009; Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi 2000); research on “mindfulness” in education (Langer 1990 and 1993; Holland 2004; Hyland 2009; Schonert-Reichl and Lawlor 2010; Ritchhart and Perkins 2000); and literature on Dewey’s notion of critical “critical reflectiveness” (Dewey 1997; Kitchener 1983; Baron 1981; Rodgers 2002; Lee2005; 17 ￼Ritchhart 2002). As with several of the concepts and approaches just discussed, these have deep and important connections with an intellectual virtues educational approach. And each one has been shown to have positive educational effects. Therefore, research in these areas provides at least some indirect support for the validity of an intellectual virtues approach to education.
One other body of research is very important to note here. It is not educational research per se; but it bears importantly and favorably on the value of an intellectual virtues educational model. In recent years a number of studies have been done indicating that critical importance of a range of “soft skills” to employment and career advancement (Schulz 2008; Murnane and Levy 1996; Andrews and Higson 2008; www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/softskills.htm). These skills are important in any environment or economy, but they are especially relevant today, when much of the technological knowledge and skills taught to junior high and high school students will be obsolete by the time they enter the job market (Smith 2012). While soft skills and intellectual virtues are not same thing, soft skills include several intellectual virtues. For instance, research has indicated the need for successful employees to think critically and to be open-minded and intellectually empathic. This is illustrated by a recent remark from an MBA and business professor in an article on critical thinking in the business world: “You have to let go of any preconceived notions and come into any analysis with an open mind … I think employers are seeking people who have an open mind. When you’re more open-minded, it becomes much easier to work with others and also to come to careful solutions — and those are skills employers definitely want” (Hughes 2011). Finally, in a technologically driven economy, intellectual virtues like innovativeness, creativity, and imaginativeness have been and will remain especially important.
We conclude this overview by noting that while the foregoing empirical research often neglects to indicate much about the identity of the student groups studied, there is good reason to think that the conclusions reached apply across a wide range of student demographics and performance-levels. This is partly because the focus of the educational approaches in question is largely volitional. All students, regardless of background or natural aptitude, can be taught to wonder, to be curious, and to reflect. These tendencies are fundamentally human and not, in any systematic way, less likely to be found among students with disadvantaged backgrounds or unique educational needs. (Indeed, any experienced teacher knows that many “top-performing” students are motivated primarily by grades rather than by genuine curiosity, wonder, or a love of learning, and that some of the least “academically success” students are the most curious and reflective.) This conclusion is especially warranted in connection with the research on character education. First, a wide range of character education programs are aimed at helping diverse and at-risk student populations (Kiltz 2003; Snyder et al 2010). It is reasonable to expect that the notable effectiveness of the techniques and strategies involved in such programs (Berkowitz and Bier 2004, 2007; Benninga, Berkowitz, Kuehn, and Smith 2003) extends to such populations. Second, all character-based approaches to education are care-based: they place a premium on identifying and attending to the unique intellectual needs of every learner, especially those facing unique cognitive, behavioral, or social challenges. Third, there is in fact 18 ￼some research on the effectiveness of character-based education for at-risk student populations in particular (Klitz 2003; Phillips 1995). This research indicates that character education is no less suitable or effective (indeed that it may have special relevance) for this group. These observations are significant, as IVA expects to serve a diverse student population containing many students with unique education-related challenges.