In the last fifteen years there has been a focus in education circles on character education, focusing around moral virtues like respect and responsibility. This is sometimes controversial because moral values are not neutral but always grounded in some worldview. Philip Dow contends that equally important in the educational context are intellectual virtues, and these may be less controversial, although no less important.
Dow is not just spouting theory here. He has had numerous experiences in implementing intellectual virtue education in the school context and the last third of the book consists of appendices of curriculum plans, assessment tools, and learning objectives for several of the different settings with which he has worked.
The first part of the book expands on seven virtues that are at the core of this approach: courage, carefulness, tenacity, fairmindedness, curiosity, honesty, and humility. Each are defined and good examples are provided of what this might look like in the educational context. I particularly appreciated what he did with fairmindedness in emphasizing the importance of carefully and openly listening to those who differ with us without relativizing truth (“you have your truth and I have mine”). Fairmindedness means an openness to realize that we may be wrong and seeking truth is more important than being right or being “affirmed”.
The second part of the book explores the fruits of the intellectual virtues: knowing more about more, better thinking, growing in love for God, and growing in love for neighbor. These last two set this apart as a “Christian work” but much of what is written here may be helpful even if you do not share this author’s religious views.
It seems to me that these virtues or dispositions are vital not only for the richness of our personal interior lives, but also for the good of our wider society. Seems like we might be able to use some fairmindedness and humility in our national discourse around what makes for a good society. Seems like we could use some carefulness in developing everything from good social policy to the systems to implement that. Seems like tenacity might be a virtue in danger in a world of distractions. Seems like curiosity is a wonderful antidote to “whatever”. And courage, intellectual and otherwise, seems crucial in facing some of the hard realities of our national life that everyone seems to be trying to avoid.