Top scholars in education, philosophy and psychology gathered at Loyola Marymount University for a first-of-its-kind conference on the importance of teaching intellectual character and intellectual virtues in schools.
The conference was the brainchild of Jason Baehr, a professor in the Philosophy Department of the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts. Baehr received a $1 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation last year to develop a curriculum and a charter school to be used as models for educating children in intellectual virtues.
Intellectual virtues are the character traits of a good thinker or learner. They include curiosity, open-mindedness, attentiveness, creativity, intellectual humility and intellectual perseverance.
Baehr opened the two-day conference by telling the more than 120 participants that the purpose of the event was “to expand knowledge behind the theory and practice of intellectual virtues in education.”
Internationally known scholars discussed and debated intellectual virtues, why they are important to education, and what it looks like in the classroom when you educate to encourage these traits.
Ian McCurry, an English teacher at the Opportunities Unlimited Charter High School in Los Angeles who has been training with Baehr’s team, demonstrated how he focuses on intellectual virtues in his teaching. He’s reorganized his class, giving students assigned roles in discussion groups and letting students evaluate each other on their participation and responsiveness.
McCurry told the group that when he started training in intellectual virtue techniques, “I was teetering on the edge of burnout with teaching and wasn’t getting through to my students.” The training has “helped renew my love of teaching and helped me make some of my students more engaged in the learning process.”
Scott Crass, a math professor at California State University, Long Beach, demonstrated an intellectual virtues geometry class where he used plastic toys to show how angles create spherical shapes; then he described how to involve students in activities to help them observe and assess what they’ve seen.
“It produces a deeper understanding of mathematics,” Crass told the group. “Math is exploration. If you are not exploring, you’re not doing mathematics.”
Using many of the techniques demonstrated and debated at the conference, Baehr and his team will launch the Intellectual Virtues Academy charter school in the Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach this fall, with two sixth-grade classes of about 25 students each.
School organizers have hired a principal and are in the process of hiring two teachers and finalizing the curriculum. The school will have its first parent/teacher meeting in the next few weeks. Organizers hope to add seventh- and eighth-grade classes over the next two years.
For more information on the Intellectual Virtues and Education Project at LMU go to http://intellectualvirtues.org/.