Schools help students become flourishing adults. Obviously, that includes teaching young people about history and art, how to read and write, and how to solve math problems and follow the scientific method. But there is more to becoming a healthy, content, contributing member of a family and society. Schools also help students learn how to be honest and courageous, curious and resilient, accommodating and civil, charitable and humble. In different eras, this kind of instruction has been called everything from “character development” to “moral education” to “virtue formation” and more. Most adults believe that these types of lessons should be part of schooling, but for a host of reasons, these subjects can be sensitive. As such, educators and policymakers can find it preferable to avoid them, focusing on core subjects instead.

However, there must be a way to explicitly teach students about these skills, dispositions and beliefs, while being mindful—and respectful—that this enterprise, no matter how we go about it, will inevitably bump into strongly held views about politics, faith traditions, pluralism, culture, ethics and more. To try to shed some light on how we might go about this, we asked 18 experts in the fields of education, philosophy, policy and culture to weigh-in about the intersection of education, character and virtue. All the respondents were given the same 10 questions and then asked to respond to at least their favorite five. Since these individuals have enormous experience and wisdom—way more than could be captured in a short Q&A format—the questions were designed specifically more as prompts than direct questions. We wanted each expert to offer thoughts on the aspects of this field they find most important and interesting.

In the weeks ahead, we will be releasing each respondent’s answers as blog posts. Although each is valuable in its own right, in total, they shed a great deal of light on this subject. Collectively, they suggest how schools can navigate differences of opinion on what character is, what role state governments should play, whether virtues can be measured and much more. We hope that you enjoy this series, and that after reading the posts, you have a better sense of why character- and virtue-formation are important and how schools can best contribute in light of Americans’ deeply held but widely differing views.

Q&A list:

  1. Chester E. Finn, Jr.
  2. Kaya Henderson
  3. Joshua Starr
  4. Jennifer Frey
  5. Chris Stewart
  6. Katherine Mangu-Ward
  7. Dr. Michael McShane
  8. Cherie Harder
  9. Jeane-Claude Brizard
  10. Jamie Woodson
  11. Shavar Jeffries
  12. Karen Nussle
  13. Yuval Levin
  14. Jay P. Greene
  15. Mona Charen
  16. Todd Huston
  17. Greg Richmond
  18. Paul Herdman
  19. Lauren Rollins

(Image credit: Monkey Business Images)