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Michael McPherson: The Teaching of Character and the Character of Teaching

We believe that schools can cultivate good character, meaning roughly a set of intellectual, moral and prudential virtues. Sometimes this is spoken of as if character can be "taught", in a way that is analogous to teaching, say, mathematics or French language. To Michael McPherson, this seems conceptually confused. He wants to develop an alternative idea that the development of these virtues is better seen as a byproduct of education done well, where education is here understood, following Deborah Ball, as "the deliberate activity of helping learners to develop understanding and skills".  His notion is similar to, although he hopes less stiff-necked than, Woodrow Wilson's: "Character ... is a by-product of a life devoted to the nearest duty: and the place in which character would be cultivated, if it be a place of study, is a place where study is the object and character is the result."
Michael S. McPherson is the fifth President of the Spencer Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation in 2003 he served as President of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota for seven years. A nationally known economist whose expertise focuses on the interplay between education and economics, McPherson spent the 22 years prior to his Macalester presidency as professor of economics, chairman of the Economics Department, and dean of faculty at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He holds a B.A. in Mathematics, an M.A. in Economics, and a Ph.D. in Economics, all from the University of Chicago.
McPherson, who is co-author and editor of several books, including Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities; College Access: Opportunity or Privilege?; Keeping College Affordable; Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy; and was founding co-editor of the journal Economics and Philosophy. He has served as a trustee of the College Board, the American Council on Education and Wesleyan University. He was a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is currently a trustee of McNally Smith College of Music and the DentaQuest Foundation, as well as President of the Board of Overseers of TIAA-CREF.



Thursday, March 13, 2014. 05:00 PM


Levinthal Hall


Center for Ethics in Society




Free and open to the public.