Our Charter

Given the uniqueness of IVA’s educational model, it is important to be clear about what exactly the model involves. In the present section, we provide an overview of an intellectual virtues educational model. We begin by comparing it with several related models.

An intellectual virtues approach to education bears important connections to more familiar and well-established educational approaches. The notions of “character development” and “character education,” for instance, have a long and distinguished history (Lickona 1992 and 1993). IVA will incorporate many of the “best practices” of this tradition (these practices are nicely summarized in Lickona and Davidson 2005 and Berkowitz and Bier 2006). There are, however, important differences between traditional approaches to character education and an intellectual virtues approach. The most notable difference is that traditional approaches tend to focus on fostering moral or civic virtues rather than intellectual virtues. Moral virtues are the character traits of a “good neighbor.” They include qualities like kindness, compassion, and generosity. Civic virtues are the character traits of a good citizen. They include qualities like integrity, respect, and tolerance. Intellectual virtues, however, are the character traits of a good thinker or reasoner. Like moral and civic virtues, they involve various beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and abilities. What makes them unique is that they aim at distinctively “cognitive” ends or goals: for example, at the acquisition, understanding, and application of important knowledge. Accordingly, on traditional models of character education, the primary question for teachers and administrators is: “How can we shape and mold the character of our students so that they become good neighbors or 1 citizens?” On an intellectual virtues model, the question is: “How can we shape and mold the character of our students so that they become good thinkers or learners?”

An intellectual virtues approach also has some affinity with educational approaches that focus on the development of certain intellectual skills. For instance, several educational theorists have stressed the importance of “metacognition” or “metacognitive strategies” in classroom learning (Waters and Schneider 2010; Ablard and Lipschultz 1998; Coutinho 2008; Deemer 2004; Sperling, Howard, Staley, and Dubois 2004; Yun Dai and Sternberg 2004). This approach is aimed at equipping students with specific strategies or techniques, tailored to their individual learning styles and abilities, that can be actively deployed in the learning process (e.g., semantic webs, concept charts, mnemonics, mind-mapping). Metacognitive strategies have an important place within an intellectual virtues educational model. Like a metacognitive approach, an intellectual virtues approach involves an intentional, active, and intelligent method of learning—one that discourages passive, unreflective, and uncritical reception of information (Winne 1995). But an intellectual virtues approach also has a deeper aim: it seeks to impact students at a basic motivational level, helping them to value knowledge, delight in learning, and care about their intellectual development and growth (Scheffler 1991; Wolk 2008; Goldie 2012).

An intellectual virtues educational model also bears a resemblance to a critical thinking model (Sternberg 1986; Siegel 1980, 1988; Ennis 1993). Indeed, intellectual virtues are, as it were, the “flesh and bones” of critical thinking. To be a critical thinker, one must be curious and reflective, and one’s thinking must be marked by rigor, carefulness, and fair- mindedness. Thus an intellectual virtues approach is consistent with but also adds important content to a critical thinking approach. It also addresses student motivation in a way that a critical thinking approach might not, insofar as a student might know how to think critically, but be too dogmatic, stubborn, lazy, or otherwise unmotivated to do so.

As this initial comparison suggests, an intellectual virtues approach has many important benefits:

  • It avoids controversial notions of values and morality that often accompany more traditional approaches to character education and complicate their integration into educational settings that are increasingly diverse and multicultural. To “buy into” an intellectual virtues approach, one need only accept the value of knowledge, learning, and the personal qualities that facilitate these important goals.
  • By targeting student motivation as well as ability, an intellectual virtues approach bridges the “action-ability gap.” As Harvard education researcher Ron Ritchhart has noted, intellectual virtues – or “thinking dispositions” – “act as both a descriptive and an explanatory construct, making clear the mystery of how raw ability is transformed into meaningful action” (Ritchhart 2002: 34). In other words, in addition to providing students with certain knowledge and skills, an intellectual virtues approach also provides them with drive and desire to deepen and use these important goods.
  • By making students careful, critical thinkers, this approach equips students to cope with and process the barrage of information that we are all confronted with on a daily basis. Via the internet, television, and other media, we face a steady and potentially overwhelming flow of information. Today more than ever, it is crucial that all citizens be capable of discriminating between true and false, credible and non- credible sources of information. This important capacity consists precisely in the range of intellectual habits and skills fostered by an intellectual virtues approach to education. This approach teaches students to ask the right questions, to demand and evaluate evidence, and to persevere in their pursuit of the facts.
  • An intellectual virtues approach equips students for success in the workplace. Whether one is a school teacher, paramedic, salesperson, electrician, attorney, artist, or accountant, success at work requires the ability to think—to think carefully, critically, and creatively. By promoting the acquisition of important knowledge and the personal qualities that aim at such knowledge, an intellectual virtues approach provides students with many of the “soft skills” that research indicates is vital to career advancement and success in today’s economy (Schulz 2008; Andrews and Higgson 2008; www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/softskills.htm).
  • An intellectual virtues approach also prepares students for success beyond the workplace. As any adult knows, life is filled with difficult challenges, decisions, and questions. Negotiating these aspects of life well requires that one be a careful, thoughtful, reflective thinker; it requires a kind of “wisdom” characteristic of an intellectually virtuous person. In this respect, an intellectual virtues educational model teaches students, not just to learn well, but also to live well.

At IVA, we will give special attention to nine “Master Virtues,” which are curiosity, intellectual humility, intellectual autonomy, attentiveness, intellectual carefulness, intellectual thoroughness, open-mindedness, intellectual courage, and intellectual perseverance. These virtues fall into three categories, corresponding to three stages or dimensions of learning: getting the learning process started and headed in the right direction; making this process go well; and overcoming challenges to productive learning:

Getting Started

Curiosity: wonders, ponders, asks why; involves a thirst for understanding.

Intellectual humility: an awareness of one’s own intellectual limits; a lack of concern with intellectual superiority and status.

Intellectual autonomy: a capacity for active, self-directed thinking; an ability to think and reason; also involves knowing when to trust and rely on others in an intellectual context.

Executing Well

Attentiveness: keeps one focused and on task; zeroes in on important details and nuances of appearance, meaning, etc.

Intellectual carefulness: an awareness of and sensitivity to the requirements of good thinking and learning; quick to note and avoid pitfalls and mistakes. Intellectual thoroughness: seeks and provides deeper meaning and explanations; not content with appearances or easy answers.

Handling Challenges

Open-mindedness: an ability to “think outside the box”; gives a fair and honest hearing “to the other side”; can also involve an ability to think in creative or original ways.

Intellectual courage: persists in thinking, inquiring, discussion, and other intellectual activities despite the presence of some threat or fear, including fear of embarrassment or failure.

Intellectual perseverance: hangs tight when learning becomes difficult or challenging; keeps its “eyes on the prize” and doesn’t give up.