The Devorgilla Bridge in Dumfries

Personal Liberty, Mutual Respect and Tolerance: From Values to Virtues

This project studies the way that we educate our children about our shared social values, a process sometimes known as civics. We are interested in way that these shared values are presented by the school, and the way that each individual student makes sense of those values, adopting some and adapting others to make their own set of personal virtues. We will consider how championing a set of so-called “national values” has become a central policy for governments in different countries and how this has given rise to government sponsored programs of civic education to promote those values.

We will also explore the ways teachers and other professionals interpret values programs in the contexts of their own schools and local communities. the difficulty that exists for programs such as this in trying to balance key values such as a respect for personal liberty with a desire to protect and promote the common good.

To get a more complete picture, our research will combine a variety of different methods in the context where education takes place – the school. Using school visits, in-depth work with partner organizations which schools employ and digital interactive diary activities, we hope to present a rich and authentic picture of civic education in action and its impact on the young people who participate in it. We will be looking at the ways in which civic education can lead to pro-social behaviour by those students, within their own school and in their wider lives.

The main aims of this project are to achieve a better understanding of the way that civic education is presented to students in schools, how it’s delivered and to find out how it impacts on the students’ personal virtues, wellbeing and behavior. In addition to the impact of school policies or teaching practices, we are also interested in the way that issues in a student’s personal lives like poverty and religious minority identity might change the way that student responds to civic education. We hope this will give us a better understanding of the complex and varied reactions that students often have to civic education, ranging from those who resist it, pay it lip-service, to those to full embrace it.

The Self, Virtue and Public Life Funding Call

The project is funded as a sub-award of the Self, Virtue & Public Life research initiative based at the University of Oklahoma. Funded with generous support from the Templeton Religion Trust, the purpose of the project is to:

  • Support new research on topics related to the self, virtue and public life; and
  • Integrate outreach on civic virtue into education and community organizations in Oklahoma.


The two “Big Questions” the “Self, Virtue, and Public Life” Project addresses are:

  • “The Nature of the Human Person and the Potentials for Personal and Societal Well-Being”: “This encompasses discoveries concerning what it is to be human and, as well as the various ways human beings can progress. . . . This category includes dimensions of human flourishing, … the fostering of mental and spiritual frameworks, and the role of values in shaping worldviews,” and
  • How do the values of science influence civic virtue? Does civic virtue require a wedding of two worldviews – science and humanities? Are particular philosophies of life more conducive to civic virtue than others?

Researching Values, Policy Mediation and Practice

The project works democratically in collaboration with a number different groups of schools in England, each of which ‘buy in’ elements of their civic education training and expertise from different mid-level policy enactors, such as churches, consultancies and charities. Given the differences in the educational philosophy of these mediating groups, we are interested to see if these differences have any impact on the approach they take to promoting the ‘fundamental British values’ agenda. We aim to get a better understanding of how each school makes sense of this government programme of civic values as well as seeing how much initiative the different schools feel they can take in the way the programme is delivered.

Young People’s Values in Crisis

Drawing on a smartphone-enabled daily diary approach, the project seeks to understand the ways school values and practices impact on young people’s wider values, moral actions, and subjective wellbeing. As this project is now taking place under the conditions of the COVID-19 shutdown of secondary schools, this part of the project focuses on the ways schooling has prepared young people for the unique stresses and challenges of the present moment. We hope it will help school leaders to consider how they can continue to live their values during the absence of face-to-face schooling.