On Strowan – Volume 14 // Issue 4 // 30 May 2019
College Chaplain is Paul Morrow.
Should a school focus on developing good character or should they only concern themselves with teaching their students about what is right and wrong? This is a question I recently posed to my Year 13 Ethics class.
In my opinion, if a school concerns itself with developing good character then their students are more likely to understand the difference between right and wrong. Alternatively, if you only concern yourself with what is right and wrong (something that maybe difficult to define in the first place), without developing good character then the benefits of doing wrong could look enticing.
English Philosopher Thomas Hobbs (1588–1679) believed that the most basic human instinct was to pursue one’s own survival and that the notion of right and wrong have no place, as one does whatever one needs to survive. According to Hobbs our behaviour is therefore generated, principally by self-interest.
The Apostle Paul speaks of his inability to do right in Romans 7:15 (NLT) when he writes: ‘I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.’ Therefore, just teaching the difference between right and wrong will have very little effect on trying to change behaviour. According to Thomas Hobbs and the Apostle Paul, we will revert to do what is selfish and wrong regardless.
I believe we develop good character through transformational change, through something that has the power to turn around a person’s way of doing life, from what is maybe wrong and self-serving, to character that is loving, forgiving, serving, merciful, and gracious. Such a transformation can come from looking at the way Jesus interacted with people, and to begin to walk on a journey that explores being more generous, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and showing grace to all, even to those who may not deserve it. Imagine a community of young people who dared to live like this?
I think it is also important to understand that following rules, ‘doing right’, is about a position. If we obey the rules of an institution, we place ourselves in a good positon with those setting the rules. If we disobey the rules our position becomes more tenuous. Following rules doesn’t necessarily develop character for it can all be an act. Jesus challenged the Pharisees many times, supposed leaders of the law, for their hypocrisy. They were quick to judge people on rules they themselves couldn’t uphold. When the Israelites were in the desert and asked for rules to live by, it only served to magnify their inability to follow God’s commands.
Character development, on the other hand, is about our condition. Through Christ’s perfect condition, witnessed through his obedience and righteous character, our dodgy character is put right before God. This comes about through faith, and imitation of Christ’s action, which imitates the character of God. In my humble opinion, an institution that values the human condition might be best to focus on character development. I believe that St Andrew’s College seeks to guide our young people in this manner.