Our crisis of character in America is not merely a matter of the spectacular moral failures of our leaders or celebrities, but really about the breakdown of the basic fabric in which character has been traditionally formed. So writes David Brooks in his recent Atlantic article: The dissolution of the small communities and habits of character formation traditionally found in churches, classrooms, schoolyards, and around dining room tables has slowly evaporated and left Americans more lonely, angry, and amoral than ever before. We think our problem is economic, political, or technological, but at the deepest level, it's ethical: "we live in a society that’s terrible at moral formation."

This is where George Fox is different. Let me tell you how.

George Fox remains an exception to this disheartening trend. Our passionate 135-year-old commitment to forming whole people in Christ – people set up for success not only in terms of professional achievement but also purposeful lives of service – remains stronger than ever. We want our students to make both a life and a living, and want them to reflect on the biggest character questions while in college (What makes a good person? How do I live as a good citizen, parent, neighbor, and friend in a turbulent, broken world? What difference does our Christian understanding of grace, sin, and forgiveness make for thinking about good character?)

This occurs in many ways throughout the university – on athletic teams, in residence halls, in spiritual communities, and through campus-wide initiatives, like Serve Day. Most centrally, our focus on character is expressed through our innovative, distinctive core curriculum – Cornerstone – which integrates the liberal arts with character virtue in deep and meaningful ways.

Imagine a course in writing – we call it “Caring for Words” – in which students are not simply taught grammatical constructions or elements of plot, but where they also learn how the best writing involves patience, the ability to endure the challenges of thinking without reaching for distraction or amusement.

Imagine learning science in a way that doesn’t emphasize repeating the correct answer back to the professor, but cultivating a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around you.

Imagine a course in ethics that seeks to cultivate love of God and love of neighbor by practicing the virtue of agape love through charitable conversations about moral issues and through acts of service in the community.

Admittedly, words like “character” and “virtue” are not often what people associate with modern universities. But everyone – including students, parents, and future employers – knows that it is desirable to become someone who is consistently both great (at what they do) and good.

We do not seek to form people of character because we are self-righteous or priggish. We do it because we understand that developing character virtue will help students to flourish academically, relationally and professionally, and because it will help them to contribute to the thriving of their own communities, families, churches and organizations.

At an even deeper level, we see the character virtues as ways of naming what it means to live out our foundational identity as people made in God’s image, and what it means to love God with our heart (faith, hope and love), mind (curiosity and intellectual humility), and soul (courage, attention and empathy), and to love our neighbor as ourselves (justice, temperance, clarity and patience).

At George Fox, we are constantly working to become more focused, explicit, unified and coherent in our approach to character formation, and more rigorous in our explanation of how well it is working in the lives of our students. One small example: We are partnering with Harvard University’s Human Flourishing Program to develop an empirical assessment of interpersonal neighbor-love in order to see how the practice of love in the classroom impacts students' perception of the importance of neighbor-love in their own lives.

Cornerstone is the first page in a story of how we are integrating character across the whole university curriculum and how this will make a huge difference in the life of our students and the culture of our country!

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