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Virtuous Educational Research

Conversations on Ethical Practice


Julian Stern

This is a book of conversations with researchers working across Europe, the USA and Africa. It aims to illuminate the lived reality of educational research on a wide variety of topics, including family life in rural South Africa, support for self-harming students in the UK, character development in the USA and Korea, educational leadership in the UK and China, philosophical analysis of education policy, and much more.
The book is for and about researchers and is built around a set of conversations with the author – a fellow researcher. Researchers work at the frontiers of our knowledge and understanding of the world, and frontiers can be dangerous places. How are the researchers’ personal qualities – virtues such as courage, honesty and kindness – tested and exemplified in their work? The conversations presented here explore the experience of research and ask what qualities are needed, or wished for, in order to successfully face its challenges. There are many books that include lists of what to do and what not to do when carrying out research. Here, in contrast, we find out what really happens and why – and what it takes to keep going.


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Part I. Remembering Virtue


Part I Remembering Virtue It is easy to forget virtue. In professional work – professional research, pro- fessional education, or any other professional field – reason and regulation, codes of conduct and job descriptions, responsibilities and accountabilities, all give the impression of clarity and rationality. All give the impression that the work requires commitment and effort, but not – not so much – virtue. Talk of virtue makes people think of ‘preachiness’ and of being ‘moralistic’. Defining it as ‘the cultivation of a set of dispositions conducive to good character’, and saying that ‘human beings became good by consist- ently doing good things and avoiding bad things’ (Arthur 2010, p. 3) may help a little, but then begs the question ‘What do you mean by “good”?’ This is described by Nel Noddings in Chapter 2 as part of an ‘interminable discussion’ of what makes people better. Even though the discussion will never terminate, we need to remember to join in the discussion. There is an expectation that work is done ‘right’, but we rarely argue over whether the people doing the work are ‘good’. That seems just too intrusively personal, and too, well, arguable. So virtue is forgotten, goodness is forgotten: both replaced by performance measured in outcomes, obedience disguised as productivity, evidence presented as understanding. Remembering virtue means remembering that the character and the personal strengths of a professional matter. It means remembering that all the regulations in the world will not ensure that professional work is truly ethical, or will con-...

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