On School Grounds: Transcript of Interview with Carol Ann MacGregor on Catholic High Schools

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This is a lightly edited transcript of an interview conducted on December 20, 2018 with sociologist Carol Ann MacGregor. Dr. MacGregor is Associate Professor of Sociology at Loyola University in New Orleans. She contributed the chapter on Catholic high schools to The Content of Their Character, a major research project launched by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture in order to better understand the moral formation of high school students. The interview was conducted by CultureFeed Expert Angus McBeath.

Angus McBeath: Today I’m with Dr. Carol Ann MacGregor, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Loyola University in New Orleans. Dr. Carol Ann MacGregor researched a sample of Catholic high schools across the United States. That involved intense interviews, visitations, conversations, observations of what she saw in American high schools—American Catholic high schools—in terms of moral formation of young people. I’m going to ask a few questions now, Carol Ann, if I might. You studied, through your research, schools across the United States. Do you recall if there were any surprises that you encountered in your research, in your studies, in your visits? Anything you found in these high schools that you hadn’t expected?

Carol Ann MacGregor: That’s a great question. I think the literature on Catholic education suggested that these were going to be places that were very good at doing this kind of formative work—sort of a faith-based, values-based education; small schools; really caring faculty. The existing research on the topic sort of suggested that the outcomes would be positive.

But I think one of the surprises that I found on the ground is how taken for granted it sort of was. I anticipated going into schools and seeing all of this very direct evidence of this happening, you know—sort of policies and procedures and meetings where people talked about it—but for many of these schools it was much more nuanced; it was sort of baked into their culture. They were having these very positive outcomes, but it wasn’t necessarily that easy to tie it to a specific policy or overt discussion people were having.

AM: So it was in the DNA of the school culture?

CAM: Yes, that’s definitely what it seemed like for many of the schools. Particularly schools who have been around for a long time and sort of had cultivated their approach over decades and generations.

AM: Can you illuminate for us what those positive moral outcomes that you saw being generated as a result of the work of the schools?

CAM: Sure. Well, most Catholic high schools in the United States are very focused on getting students into colleges, but one thing that really stood out when I interviewed students and asked them about, sort of, What do you think your teachers want for you after you graduate? their answer was always twofold: They want me to go to a good college, but more than that, they want me to be a good person. Or, My goal here is not just to be—to go get a good job, but to treat people well throughout the course of my life.

So there was a clear message to students—or students were taking away—that there was more to education and more to living a good life than just going to college and getting a job.

AM: Okay. Now would you say that you detected a sense of altruism in the students—that they not just wanted to be a good person, but they wanted to do good to others?

CAM: Yes, definitely. You could see that in both informal and formal ways. Sort of on the informal side, many people describe this school—and this would be administrators, teachers, and students—as “like a family,” and people were very caring and selfless towards their peers; they’ve got lots of good examples of that in the study. And then in more formal ways, many students in these schools were involved in serving their local community through various types of outreach, depending on the sort of city that they were located [in].

AM: Thank you. Many principals and teachers struggle with attempting to eliminate, reduce, the incidence of bullying in schools, and after school, as well, and online bullying and Facebook bullying and social media bullying and so on, because it’s so hard and detrimental for students. Did you detect in any of these Catholic schools a sense that there was a bullying problem? Or is that something they had dealt with, you think, successfully?

CAM: There was definitely a range, but we had a question in our interview protocol that asked about this, so we did hear about this from most of the folks we interviewed, and some schools were really thinking about this: not so much about the piece that happens on school grounds; that, most schools had some pretty well-established policies about what was acceptable and what was not acceptable and strategies for monitoring it. It was the after-hours and the social media aspect of it where schools were thinking through how to do that.

So some schools had actually sort of extended their scope of surveillance, if you will, to anything that a student did. So there were some schools who would give in-school disciplinary actions, like a detention or suspension, for things that happened on social media outside of the school context because they felt that was against their code of character or code of ethics—you know, it’s named different things in different places. So I think it’s an issue for all educators, but for the most part, the Catholic school administrators I spoke to were dealing with it off-site, not on-site.

AM: OK, thank you for that clarification. Now you’ve noted in your chapter in the book The Content of Their Character—available through Amazon.com—you noted that Catholic school teachers and Catholic staff tended to believe that what they were offering students was superior to what was found in other types of schools. That is something you noted in your chapter in the book. Tell me about how that works.

CAM: Yeah, so many of the teachers that I spoke with felt very strongly that what they were doing was their vocation, that it wasn’t just a job—that if it was just a job they could go get a job in the local public school that would pay them more for doing similar kinds of work. But they thought that what they did every day was very special in terms of shaping young people’s views of the world and the trajectory of their lives in a lot of ways. And so when asked kind of, What’s the difference between public school and a Catholic school?…they always had some kind of sense that what they were doing there…was a lot of what happened at public school—but a little bit extra. So, great at college prep just like a top public school, but you know, also focusing on other aspects of education beyond just straightforward academic achievement.

AM: OK, thank you. From your view, what was the position of most of the schools you studied on moral authority on social issues?

CAM: This was really interesting. You know, knowing official church teaching on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, I was curious about how the schools approached those issues. In many cases, I would say, the general approach was an acceptance of respectful dissent. So most educators felt like it was acceptable for a student to say or to hold a position that was different than official church teaching, but they viewed it as a teachable moment. If a student was going to hold one of those views or share a view that was different than official church teaching, they should do so in an educated and respectful way. So they should have evidence to support their claims, they should convey their position in a way that was respectful of other views, and they should make a really concerted effort to at least understand what the other position was, in addition to their own.

AM: And students didn’t feel any reluctance to voice a position that was different than church doctrine?

CAM: No, not at most of the schools that I went to. You know, there were a lot of students who were agnostic on the issues, of course, but in particular, in attitudes towards homosexuality, the students I spoke to were very tolerant and often gave me examples of times where, you know, they had spoken up in class or tried to create a club at their school, and in those instances they felt like they were met with conversation with their school teachers and administrators.

AM: Thank you. Did you note in the schools whether there were any teachers or principals dealing with issues around plagiarism and cheating? Was that discussed at all with you?

CAM: Yes, definitely. You know these schools were all really caught up in the race to get students into top colleges with scholarship money…. I think a thing that I heard from parents a lot is that they were making a financial sacrifice to send their child to Catholic high school for lots of reasons, but among them [was] the idea that going to a really great school like this might help them get scholarship money to go to one of the better colleges of the United States. So a really intense academic culture at most of these places, so there was a sort of policy and discussion of cheating. Every school that I went to just said, you know, It’s zero on the test, or, It’s zero on the assignment, and so it’s not that it never happened, but there were very clear understandings of the consequences when it did.

AM: Okay, so students knew where they stood clearly.

CAM: Yes, yes.

AM: Thank you. Now, many parents send their children to Catholic schools in the belief that there’s stricter discipline in Catholic schools perhaps than in the public schools—conjecture perhaps. Do you think that’s supportable—that view that I can get better discipline if I go to a Catholic school?

CAM: The students would often talk about, Well it’s just a little bit more structure; I have friends who go to public school, and you know it’s much more structured here, or, My friends at public school get away with all kinds of stuff that I can’t get away with. And so, you know, there were lots of things—I spoke a little of this before—where Catholic students were subject to discipline even for things that they did off campus. So if they were wearing their school’s uniform on a public bus and someone observed them engaging inappropriately, that was a very serious infraction. At one school there was a party on the weekend, and it got back to the school that there had been some underage drinking at this party, and the school suspended the student for that behavior even though it wasn’t on school grounds, it was at the party.

So there definitely is some truth to that idea that Catholic schools take discipline very seriously. On the flip side, I would say most schools told me that there were very few serious disciplinary incidents, so relatively few incidents of things like fighting or drugs—those were once-every-couple-of-years kind of situations in most schools. The predominant form of infraction was uniform violations, which is something that the students like to talk a lot about and had some strong opinions about, whether there should be such enforcement over the particulars of their uniform.

AM: Did you get a sense of how urgent the Catholic schools were that you studied about engaging students to become truly committed to civic engagement and truly committed to civic understanding, and civic participation, and citizenship awareness?

CAM: So it’s kind of a mixed situation…. In terms of volunteering, that part of civic engagement, all of the schools I visited were quite strong in this area. They varied a little bit on whether it was required or whether it was just a commonplace activity. But they were all very involved in having their students be very involved in their local communities. On citizenship and voting, a little bit less so, and what I heard from the schools was mostly, it was a little harder to get students who couldn’t vote really engaged in the process. So they used to see, or they often saw, some interest amongst seniors and among people taking AP Government, but for many students, it was more of an abstraction.

But you know, they did cover it in the curriculum. Often, they tried to bring it in in terms of student government—you know, sort of having kind of a local school election and trying to encourage that to really mirror the political process. But volunteering is the real star of civic engagement at the high school level.

AM: Thank you. In many schools, teachers and principals argue that No Child Left Behind legislation and Race to the Top legislation require them to focus almost exclusively on strengthening student achievement as measured by standardized test scores, and therefore they must sacrifice taking time to strengthen student moral formation. Do you see this dichotomy in the schools you study? Did you see this yin and yang? This struggle between, I’ve got to get our scores up, I have to get students into good colleges, and I don’t really have time to really focus—we really don’t have time to really focus—on moral formation? Do you think that struggle was present in the schools you studied or not?

CAM: A little bit, but I would say less so than in the public school context. So the schools definitely had a lot of freedom to choose their curriculum in a lot of respects, and so for most teachers and administrators, I definitely heard that they wanted to emphasize balance—that they felt like academics, extracurriculars, and sports, and the spiritual side of their school were equally valuable, and they wanted students to be engaged in all three of those things, not just the academic piece. One place that was kind of an exception to this, though, is many, many of the schools were part of the AP Advanced Placement curriculum, and…I spoke to teachers who were engaged in AP or IB, International Baccalaureate work. There the curriculum is much more prescribed, and you really do have to get through a lot of material. So there, you know, it wasn’t that the teachers or principals felt that the academics were more important than the other aspects, but they really did have a kind of set of things they needed to get to.

AM: Well, that’s true, I think, in so many schools. I was going to ask you whether you observed this, for example. So, in many schools and many, many school districts in many states, there is a real desire on the part of educators and the part of legislators, state legislators in particular, to reduce the numbers of students who are being suspended or expelled from schools,…and there’s some belief that there’s a disproportionate number of students of color suspended or expelled from schools. And so what’s being done instead of a suspension is not letting students off the hook, but engaging in restorative justice practices. Restorative justice practices mean that the student who offended meets with the student who was offended against with adult mentors and there is a restitution made on the part of the offender to make things better and right for the person who was offended against. And I wondered if you noted that restorative justice was a thing they’d do rather than suspensions.

CAM: Yeah, a few principals spoke of this as their approach. There weren’t—expulsion was incredibly rare at the schools that I visited. Most principals indicated that they only had one or two expulsions a year at max, so just really not a common occurrence. And most schools were doing some sort of in-school suspension, a few were doing restorative justice, but they all definitely seem to be aware of this issue that nobody wins when a student is just…at home, not really engaging with the community or the person that was harmed, and falling behind on their academic work.

AM: Thank you. So I wondered based on your observations of these schools, and those were intense observations, whether you have any thoughts on things you might have noted that I haven’t asked you about today.

CAM: That’s a great question too. One thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about as I consider what my own next project might be, and because I work at a Catholic university, is sort of, What is the lasting impact of going to a Catholic high school?… How does that experience look five, 10, 15, 20 years out? And how does a Catholic student who went to a Catholic high school and a Catholic college look different than someone who went to a Catholic high school and a public college? Or all those sorts of different things.

So I don’t know that I would have been able to—I definitely wouldn’t have been able to—observe just at that one moment in time. But I do think an important thing to think about for all of us interested in moral formation is sort of what happens years out…. How can we make sure that we’re not just looking at what happens during those critical years, but we look at how those critical years shape people’s lives?

AM: Thank you. I just wondered if you observed…differences in terms of preparation of teachers for Catholic schools than there would be for teachers for other kinds of schools.

CAM: Yeah, that’s a good question. I don’t think so, in the traditional sense. I mean, they have the same degrees from prestigious colleges and universities in education, the same credentials on paper—often, a little bit more likely to have gone to a Catholic College than a public college, but, you know, all great schools. So I don’t think [so] in terms of the formal preparation.

But informally, I think one thing that I noticed quite a bit is that Catholic schools hire back a lot of their own alumni, so when I was speaking with teachers, they’d often tell me, Oh, you know, I actually went here as a student. And there’s something to that in terms of the sort of institutional memory and continuity of the vision, and so it’s almost as though in terms of preparation, some teachers had a jump start because they were very intimately acquainted with their place of work well before they got there.

AM: Thank you. If people watching this interview or reading the transcript of this interview were interested in a full look at the work you did in observing the Catholic schools, that can be done by going to Amazon.com and purchasing The Content of Their Character…. Carol Ann has certainly—she wrote the chapter on the Catholic schools in this book, which is available to educators. I want to thank you today for participating in this interview. I appreciate very much your insights, and I wish you well in your future endeavors.

CAM: Thanks very much.

On School Grounds: Transcript of Interview with Charles Glenn on Islamic High Schools

To receive a free copy of the chapter of  The Content of Their Character that corresponds with this interview, please click here and sign up for our Weekly Digest.

This is a lightly edited transcript of an interview conducted on April 30, 2019 with internationally respected scholar Charles Glenn. Dr. Glenn is Professor of Educational Leadership at Boston University. He contributed the chapter on Islamic high schools to The Content of Their Character, a major research project launched by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture in order to better understand the moral formation of high school students. The interview was conducted by CultureFeed Editor Joanna Breault.


JOANNA BREAULT: So, in your chapter, which I really enjoyed reading, you mention—and then you later answer—some concerns that some Americans may have about the effect of Islamic schooling. Can you talk a little bit about what those concerns might be that you observed or heard about, and then what your conclusions were about whether they were justified or not?


CHARLES GLENN: Well, I suspect the reason James Hunter asked me to take on the Islamic schools was that I have done a good deal about the issue of Muslim immigrants and their children in Western Europe, where there is a great deal of concern, much more so than in the US. This is in part because of the nature of the Islamic minority in Western Europe being much more working-class, much more uneducated, more inclined to be involved in criminal activities and so forth—in contrast with the United States, where the great majority of Muslim immigrants are in the professions. They’re actually more highly educated than the average American is, so it’s a very different dynamic.

Nevertheless, I’ve been looking and continue to be involved with those issues in another context, where there’s a lot of concern that Islamic schools may be encouraging kids to reject the societies in which they’re growing up and to possibly engage in…violent jihadist activities. This next week indeed I’ll be speaking in Paris at the Sorbonne about this issue in the European context. This is ongoing.

So we found a very different pattern in the American situation. The kids were very much determined to be part of American society. They had many negative judgments about aspects of American culture, as indeed I do, as indeed I hope my children do. It’s not as though everything about American culture is admirable. But that did not lead to their not wanting to be part of the American process. They were very concerned, many of them, to be the kind of examples which would transform American attitudes. Again and again, kids said, “I want to be a doctor, I want to be this or that so that people will say, ‘Gee, you know, what I thought about Muslims isn’t true—they’re really helpful, they’re really good people!’”

So the kids also very much valued the community service projects, which each of the schools had, often doing it jointly with kids from Catholic or evangelical or Jewish schools, doing projects around their communities—again, partly in order to change attitudes. So we found a lot that was really encouraging in terms of the ways in which these kids were engaging with the context that they found themselves in, without surrendering to it completely. You know, they were often, for example, not listening to American teenage music because they felt that that was not consistent with their beliefs, but [they were] very much engaged.


JB: You mentioned other religious schools, and that was something that I found really interesting in your research—the attitude toward, you mentioned particularly, Christian schools. Can you can you talk about that a little bit?


CG: A number of the parents told us that until they happened to move to an area where there was an Islamic school, that they had their kids in Catholic schools because they were looking for an alternative which wasn’t dominated by the kind of youth culture which many of the parents felt would be very damaging for their kids. In this same way in France, by the way, where, as you may know, the French government has banned the hijab, the headscarf, on girls in schools—in the state schools—many of those girls have gone to Catholic schools, where again they’re allowed to wear the hijab. So they find themselves more accepted in Catholic schools than they do in the regular state schools.


JB: Very interesting. And so for parents who are choosing Islamic schools for their kids, how would you summarize their intention behind that choice?


CG: Well, it was mixed, and this causes a real challenge for the staff, particularly the headmasters of the schools. For some of the parents, it was clearly a desire to keep them sheltered from the influences of the wider society, and therefore they wanted a very heavily religion-based education. Other parents are very concerned to get their kids into Princeton, and they wanted a lot of SAT courses and all the rest. And in fact, the schools often boasted about the fact that one of their graduates had just gone to Harvard or that their graduates were going to selective schools.

So the headmasters had to really balance between often somewhat conflicting expectations. There was a tension often between the students and what seemed to be culturally determined—that is, was it the Islam of Morocco or Syria or Bangladesh?—while they were concerned that they would be following what you might call a universal Islam or international Islam, purified of those cultural hangings-on. For the parents, that was often distressing because they wanted their children to be following the kinds of customs that they had brought with them from the old country, while the kids were in fact saying, “No, we are practicing a more authentic Islam because it isn’t so connected with all those customs.”


JB: That’s interesting—so, a real division between the idea of pure Islam and the idea of Islam that’s sort of impacted by the customs that the parents brought from their former countries.


CG: Yes, indeed even as evangelical parents and kids—I’m an evangelical myself—evangelical parents and kids may have the same kinds of things, as do Catholic parents and kids. And my current research is about Orthodox Jewish schools in Europe, and again the sign of tensions which appear there. Are you practicing Judaism in the way it was done in Eastern Europe or are you practicing Judaism that is based upon what is in the Bible? Those kinds of tensions are natural between generations.


JB: Interesting. So in terms of character formation, how did the Islamic schools that you studied go about developing personal and civic virtues in their kids, in their students?


CG: Well, there were really two things that seemed most crucial. One was the example of the staff of the schools. The kids often mentioned that, and the staff often mentioned that—that they felt a very strong obligation to be the examples of how to live in this society.

That included, by the way, the staff who are not Muslim. A number of the schools had staff—in fact, I think all of the schools had staff—who are non-Muslims, who were hired because their school needed somebody who could teach calculus, or whatever it was, and had no handy Muslim available to do that. It was particularly interesting talking to those staff about how they sort of navigated the situation of trying to be examples for these kids, even though they did not share the religious basis of the model. So that was a very important aspect.

Another very important aspect surprised us a little. It was the Islamic Studies classes. Now that’s different from the Quran classes, in which the kids were studying Quran and studying Arabic. Islamic Studies classes were classes—and I sat in on some of those—in which the kids were talking with the teacher about how Islam should play out in their lives. Like all teenagers, they have an enormous number of questions about how they ought to be thinking about themselves, how they ought to be feeling about other people, boy-girl relationships, which were a very fraught issue because the schools generally—although the boys and girls were together in classes—they were not supposed to be interacting socially. Often that’s very hard for 15- and 16-year-old kids. So in those classes they felt they were free to discuss the kinds of issues that they were really dealing with, and I found fascinating that a number of them contrasted this with their experience previously attending public schools, in which they said it wasn’t possible to discuss those kinds of issues, because the teachers were afraid somebody might be offended. If you raised the issue of—oh I don’t know, I won’t even go into examples, but the kinds of things that kids are often concerned about—teachers were not so open as the teachers in the Islamic Studies classes. That I found an astonishing finding. Very interesting! So those classes brought together their faith and their lives.


JB: That’s great. Did you observe some conversation that went on between students and teachers outside of the classroom, or were those discussions mostly within the classroom?


CG: Well, we didn’t get any transcripts, of course, of conversations outside the classroom. But we got half a million words of transcripts, and then two of my doctoral students went on to do their dissertations; one of them has completed hers, and she’s now a professor actually in Turkey. And one is just completing his.

And so we got a lot more interviews as well, but those were always in more formal settings. We did see interactions in the hallways and those kinds of things, and it was clear that there was a good deal of affection between the staff and the kids. In part I think that’s explained by the fact that these are fairly small schools with maybe 200 high school students. Often they were schools that started in kindergarten and went through high school, so they might have 400 students, but only a relatively small number in high school. And so by the time kids get into high school and they’ve often been with the same teachers for a number of years, they form really, really solid relationships.


JB: That’s wonderful to hear. One thing that stood out to me was the idea that “post-secondary life”—I’m quoting now from your work—“post-secondary life in America would present a host of challenges to living as a faithful Muslim”—that that was something that you heard pretty regularly from staff and students. I wondered specifically what kinds of challenges were expected and then how those students were being taught to overcome those challenges.


CG: Well, actually, the challenges which we anticipated were greater than the ones we actually found. I was surprised how often the kids seemed very confident about their ability to navigate. One area, though, where they were often nervous was how they would handle being in a college setting where they weren’t with all other Muslim kids…how they would handle the social relationships with there being situations where young men and women are hugging in the hallways and so forth. How they would handle those relationships was an area of actually more concerned for them than let’s say—as I might have anticipated—whether they would encounter hostility from the wider society and those kinds of things. We didn’t hear that so much; it was “will I be able to fit in?” One of the things which several of the schools did, which I thought was very wise, was to have the seniors take one or two of their courses at a local community college so that they began to be in that sort of a setting while still with the support system of going back to their regular school. And the kids reported that that was a very positive thing—scary at times, but very positive, that it gave them the confidence that in fact they could handle the situation.


JB: That sounds like a smart approach; that’s good. And then you also mentioned… were you going to say something else?


CG: One of the most amusing things which many of the kids said—one of the boys said he was working really hard on persuading his parents it would be all right if he became a lawyer, because they expected to become a doctor like all the other kids in the school, because it’s true—I mean, my eye doctor is Pakistani—you know, a high proportion of medical folks now around the US are Muslim immigrants. So the kids were feeling “well yeah, it’s not necessary that I be a doctor, I could maybe be a journalist or I could be other kinds of things” and they were kind of experimenting with that idea, but clearly they were still getting a message from home that was really expected was “off to medical school!”


JB: One thing that you mentioned was anxiety that Muslim parents have about online recruitment of their children into terrorism, and that Muslim schools may be in the position to counteract this. Can you explain that dynamic?


CG: Yes, in two ways. One is that there’s a lot of research now on jihadists both in the US and in Europe—where of course there have been a lot more. Overwhelmingly, they’re not individuals who had a solid Islamic education. The man who just yesterday or the day before was arrested in Los Angeles for plotting a terrorist attack is someone who only became a Muslim recently. These are not folks who grew up within a solid Muslim environment with sound Islamic teaching. They are often folks who learned about Islam in prison where there’s a very strong effort to reach out to prisoners. The man who killed Theo van Gogh on the street in Amsterdam a number of years ago, I remember I was at that street corner only a day or two later, had been a drug dealer. He wasn’t following the Islamic code at all. But apparently many jihadists are individuals whose lives have been kind of a mess and they feel that by becoming a jihadist they will somehow redeem themselves; they will become suddenly a hero.

So, the other half then of this is that the schools worked very hard about that. In fact, one kid told me that at every single assembly—they had assembly at least once a week and usually more than once a week—the head of the school would talk about how they must not learn about Islam on the web, that they would get misleading messages… “don’t get into that.” One of the schools very much regretted the fact that one of their graduates had in fact been entrapped in a scheme like that. He hadn’t done anything, but he had been in touch jihadists and so forth, and the police had gotten after him and so forth, and they were deeply, deeply embarrassed and concerned about that. So I think that one of the things which I’ve speculated about, I think more on the European experience I’ve had than the American experience, is that often being in a public school where you’re one of a very small minority of Muslim kids and you feel you’re being singled out and so forth, it’s more likely to lead to alienation and hostility then being in a school where you feel supported and warmly welcomed. That doesn’t mean that in a Catholic school, or indeed in a public school, you can’t create an environment where Muslim kids are supported and warmly welcomed—I think you can. But too often these kids reported that when they were in the public school that, in fact, they felt as though they were very much marginalized, particularly the girls, because the girls were in hijabs which made them really stand out, and girls are much more cliquish than boys are generally in high school. While the boys would generally get into basketball or whatever and they were sort of hanging out with non-Muslim boys, the girls reported much more that they had been sort of isolated. So I think one of the positive things about these [Islamic] schools is the ability to create a solidly supportive environment in which kids are able to develop character.

Now let me say that this just as true of Catholic and evangelical schools—I’m sure it’s true of Jewish schools, though until now I haven’t really studied Jewish schools—but there’s a lot of evidence that kids who have been at a school where the staff are unambiguously willing to talk about their convictions and to live according to their convictions, that this has a very powerful influence in developing character. Aristotle famously said, “We don’t develop character by being taught the character; we develop it by imitating those we love.” So give kids experienced teachers who they come to really care about, who exhibit character, the kids themselves will acquire it.

Often teachers at public schools—and let me stress that I have seven children and I sent them all to the Boston Public Schools so I’m not against the public schools, indeed I was a state official responsible for urban education in Massachusetts for 20 years so I’m heavily into the public schools—but often it’s very hard for public schools to have that kind of coherence and consistency, in part because, at least in urban districts, they really can’t choose their staff. Their staff are assigned to the schools on the basis of seniority, under union contracts and so forth, so it’s very hard to create a coherent staff where they all share the same vision of what it is to be a flourishing human being. In an Islamic school or a Catholic or indeed a Montessori School or a Steiner/Waldorf School, they are able to have staff who share the vision that animates the school; those staff in turn are models of character for kids and that’s what counts, if that’s to develop.


JB: That’s well said. So would you have any advice then maybe for a public school teacher who has the desire to model character and impact their students in that way, and yet is in that public school environment?


CG: Well, many of course do, and I have to say that the public schools that do that most successfully are the charter schools and the magnet schools which again have a clearly distinctive mission which allows them to put together a staff who share that mission. It’s harder if you’re an individual teacher and the other teachers in the school don’t share your way of thinking about what it is to be a decent human being, because you feel as though your work is constantly being undermined in effect. But you know, in a number of the schools which my children went to in Boston, because of a strong leader, because of teachers working together and really sharing a vision for this, my kids did acquire a solid sense of what it is to be a decent human being.