Tuesday, February 25th, 2014
This policy brief is the sixth in a series of in-depth case studies exploring how top-performing charter schools have incorporated civic learning in their school curriculum and school culture. For more information about AEI’s Program on American Citizenship, visit www.citizenship-aei.org.
Early on a crisp Thursday morning at Colorado’s Ridgeview Classical Schools, eighth-graders in Mr. Binder’s American Literature class are presenting on Benjamin Franklin. The students have read the first and second parts of Franklin’s Autobiography, and today they are speaking about Franklin’s “table of virtues,” the famous passage in which he selects 13 virtues he hopes to develop by tracking his progress, each day, in practicing them.
Each student explicates particular aspects of Franklin’s text; all are expected to demonstrate mastery of the content. But the main emphasis of each presentation is what the students call their “virtue project.” Each student has chosen three virtues: two from Franklin’s list and one of his or her choosing. They have identified concrete actions that indicate whether they are succeeding or failing at pursuing their chosen virtues and have spent the past week tracking their actions. Each presentation describes the student’s experience: students explain why they chose their virtues, how they understand them, and how their understanding differs from Franklin’s. Then they report on their success or failure in pursuit of their virtues and answer questions from the class.
The virtue projects are not just a one-day exercise. For the rest of their eighth-grade year, they will track their progress in each virtue, turn in a weekly virtue chart, and periodically discuss their progress with their teacher and peers.
Mr. Binder’s teaching of Franklin’s work reveals two important characteristics of the Ridgeview approach. First, the school has built its curriculum, as much as possible, around primary documents: in the course of studying the American Revolution that year, students will read not only Franklin but also the Stamp Act, Common Sense, the Olive Branch petition, the Declaration of Independence, and several other 18th-century documents. Second, education at Ridgeview is never simply education for knowledge; it is always education for character.