Nicky Morgan, now a member of parliament in the United Kingdom, spoke to students at Mangus Church of England Academy about all of the opportunities that schools have to form character. However, her passion for building character extends far beyond the school walls.
Morgan’s interest in character extends beyond public-speaking engagements. She authored Taught Not Caught: Educating for 21st Century Character, a book that explores the rewards students reap when schools concentrate on teaching character.
The Newark Advertiser covered Morgan’s visit to the school, located in the town of Newark-on-Trent. She received an invitation to speak after Anna Martin, a teacher, attended her remarks at a recent conference. The former education secretary’s focus on character made Martin think she would have valuable insights for the students.
Morgan praised Mangus’s work on character and encouraged the students, telling them that, “[I]t’s really good to see the focus you have got on it at Magnus and I think it will stand you in good stead and set you apart from the rest.”
Students took advantage of the opportunity to pose a range of questions to Morgan, with one in particular asking about sound ways to develop one’s character.
Morgan offered this constructive advice on that topic, “Find good people who are role models, perhaps outside of school . . .” She also pointed to the power of role models we don’t know personally: “Things you read and literature are really important, and understanding and reading about people with good character and taking responsibility for your character are also important.”
She also highlighted the importance of extra-curricular activities: ““It’s not just about formal education . . . if you think about everything else you pick up from your time in education, the people you meet,, both your parents and members of staff here and everybody else, and some of you may be involved in extra-curricular activities—they are really important, all of these things you do at other times in your life.”
Finally, in a nod to the discipline that is a fundamental trait of any person of character, Morgan reflected on some of the points in her career when she had doubts about a career in public service. She reminded students that, “The question is how you deal with life’s disappointments as well as life’s successes.”
Morgan’s recommendations regarding role models fit well with the analysis of Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture founder James Davison Hunter. In The Death of Character, he writes, “Implicit in the word ‘character’ is a story. It is a story about living for a purpose that is greater than the self. Though this purpose resides deeply within, its origins are outside the self and so it beckons one forward . . .” These are the stories of role models that we know personally or encounter in history and literature.
New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote The Road to Character as part of his own journey in identifying inspirational historical figures and telling their stories. Any of his ten chapters could form the substance of a lively discussion among high school students and animate their pursuit of character.