Defining Core Values

by David Wangaard

Character.org refers to core values throughout the description of the 11 Principles of Character. For the purposes of a definition, core values are considered to include a balance of moral and performance values.  Performance values define the qualities that lead to our best work, while moral values describe the values in support of our best social interactions.  Performance values can include diligence, perseverance, initiative, self-discipline, goal setting, responsibility, determination and creativity; while moral values can include integrity, justice, fairness, compassion, care, empathy, humility, respect for others, trustworthiness and generosity.  This list of core values is provided for descriptive purposes only and not meant to define the full universe of core values that can be identified by a school or district for inclusion in its educational mission.

The use of core values as opposed to virtues is suggested for a pragmatic marketing reason.  Particularly in the northeastern region of the US, virtues can be an off putting term in regards to marketing character education.  While agreeing that the term virtue honors a historical term that gets to the core of our mission; the re-frame by referring to core values is not too much of a compromise to open the marketing door a little wider for character education.

There is also an Aristotelian progression that would rank the following vocabulary.

Core Values Character Virtue
The important guiding principles (moral and performance) that create an aspiration definition for character and virtue The ability to regularly (with effort) demonstrate behavior that defines core values The ability to demonstrate character as second nature that some might perceive to be almost “effortless”, but has developed over years of discipline

The progressive ranking of core values, character and virtue would also make the case that core values are the cognitive root of our ultimate goal of virtue and thus be more appropriate as the foundation for a character education mission.

All of this analysis is based on my singular qualitative observation over the course of about 30 years working in the field of character education.  I personally embrace the term of virtue and cite it as a goal of excellent character education, but don’t see the reason to offend part of the educational business market by forcing the term of virtue on those less welcoming and understanding of the term.

David Wangaard

David B. Wangaard, Ed.D., is the President and Director of The School for Ethical Education (SEE) in Milford, CT. SEE is a non-for-profit education agency with the mission of providing K-16 teachers and students strategies to put "ethics in action to create character. For more, visit ethicsed.org.

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