The School for Ethical Education (SEE) recognizes the need for an increased focus on ethical behavior within human interactions. We also affirm the contribution of sound ethical reasoning in the advancement of ethical behavior. To promote our vision, SEE provides classes and seminars to educators, parents, student leaders and community members. SEE collaborates with school districts, parent organizations, professional education centers, and institutions of higher and continuing education. SEE instructors teach, research, write, administer programs, speak at events and meetings, and consult with relevant educational organizations to advance strategies that promote ethics in action for comprehensive character education in support of positive character.
John Winthrop Wright founded The School for Ethical Education (SEE) in 1995. As a nonprofit organization recognized as tax-exempt by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, SEE provides courses and programs for teachers, parents and students to advance ethical behavior in schools and communities. Mr. Wright’s vision for school improvement focused on expanding opportunities for teachers and students to learn how ethics in action creates character. This phrase became the school’s motto and recognizes the power of positive ethics in the creation of character. The core ethical concepts or virtues Mr. Wright desired to promote included respect, responsibility, caring, justice, honesty, truthfulness, courtesy, citizenship and the principles of the Golden Rule. The goal of positive character development is integrated into all programs offered by SEE. With the passing of Mr. Wright in 1996 and his wife Mildred in 2002, SEE has continued to receive meaningful financial and administrative support from Wright Investors’ Service, a private investment management and financial advisory firm headquartered in Milford, Connecticut.
SEE administers its programs out of the offices of Wright Investors’ in Milford. Staffing varies with program funding but is currently functioning at about 2.25 full-time employees. Program income is earned through grant writing, private and corporate donations, fees for consulting and teaching services along with the royalty income from published materials. A meaningful strategy of the agency is to seek collaborations with larger agencies to bring the mission of comprehensive character formation to students.
The School for Ethical Education (SEE) celebrates 15 years of working to advance ethics in action. SEE continues to implement its core programs that include: Youth: Ethics in Service (YES) service-learning projects in schools; Integrity Works!, which is focused on advancing strategies for academic integrity; Laws of Life essay writing program as a writing assignment that helps students reflect on positive values; and our teaching and consulting programs that include contracts with schools, the University of Bridgeport and other agencies.
In 2009-10, approximately 320 students and teachers working on 13 different teams participated in service-learning projects and practiced ethical reflection during Youth: Ethics in Service (YES). The service-learning projects included a variety of projects that served fellow students and students in foreign countries along with the administration of a youth philanthropy board. YES teams were engaged in their projects for an estimated 5,000 hours. Since 1998, there have been over 7,600 YES participants completing service-learning projects and if they had been paid at CT’s minimum wage, YES would have generated more than $1.4 million in service value.
Integrity Works! concluded its third year working to promote academic integrity in high schools. Four schools in Connecticut organized Academic Integrity Committees and worked with SEE support to implement strategic plans that built awareness and commitment to students choosing to practice integrity.
This spring, SEE completed it 10th year hosting Connecticut’s Laws of Life Essay Program. Approximately 4,200 participants wrote essays that provided students in grades 5 to 12 the opportunity to reflect and write about the values they believe would help them live productive lives.
Approximately 5,180 others participated in SEE classes, workshops or activities that included Integrity Works! during the 2009-10 project year.
SEE’s most pressing needs include: (1) financial support to complete a research study to validate a classroom moral development curriculum that supports student choice to demonstrate academic integrity. The proposal is a collaborative effort with a colleague from the University of Connecticut and is budgeted for $588K for three years. SEE is also seeking funding to expand the teaching pedagogy of service-learning in schools and a three-year proposal that includes collaborators in the New Haven Public Schools and Gateway Community College is budgeted at $800K.
(2) An equally pressing need for SEE is to translate its mission of ethics in action into terms and objectives that are marketable. Public school personnel are so stressed over meeting strict academic standards that the citizenship and character goals of their students are often overlooked. This is evidenced by the students’ participation in academic dishonesty, which is reported in our own Connecticut surveys to exceed 95% of the student population self-reports cheating in the most recent school year. This moral lapse is undermining the true mission of the schools to authentically teach students and corrupts the students’ view of honest effort and the moral value of learning.
Not many agencies trace their mission back 400 years. One of SEE’s distinctions is a generational vision that its founder, John Winthrop Wright, shared with one of his early American ancestors John Winthrop, the first Governor of Massachusetts. Still onboard the Arabella in 1630, Winthrop wrote of his hopes and dreams for the new colony he was leading and the life he wished for the settlers. Winthrop articulated this ‘life’ to mean life in the community. It was his belief that life in the community, with a clear requirement for personal character, was essential. Winthrop added justice, mercy, and love to personal character as foundational for successful communities. The first governor outlined four practical steps to achieve such a community.
Winthrop’s writings in 1630 are full of hope and promise and are a foundational proclamation for a responsible and caring community. It admonishes us and points out the rocks of individualism on which we, over 380 years later, find ourselves shipwrecked and the cause of much of social dysfunction. The words of John Winthrop remind us what the early colonists were attempting to accomplish and what we seek to accomplish today. John Winthrop Wright, as a descendent of John Winthrop, has provided SEE the vision and resources to continue the important task of community building to promote ethical behavior and develop positive character.
SEE’s distinction continues with the support that it receives from Wright Investors’ and how that support leverages all other income to the agency. In addition, after 15 years of operation, the agency is uniquely qualified in experience and published works to advance its mission in Connecticut and beyond.
I have served as the Chairman of SEE’s Board of Trustees and Wright Investors’ Service since 2002. John Winthrop Wright, the founder of SEE and Wright Investors' began this unique linkage in 1995 when he included within his estate plan the donation of his ownership of Wright Investors’ stock (privately held) to SEE. Mr. Wright recognized the need in US culture to focus on ethical behavior for the success of free and honest capitalism. It was with that concern that he founded SEE and sought to develop the agency to advance ethics and positive character in youth.
With his passing and my accession to the Chairmanship of Wright Investors’ and SEE, I have continued to support the mission of youth ethics and character formation for the benefit of our greater culture. Certainly we don’t need more Bernie Madoffs or Enrons to see that our culture struggles to sustain ethical principles for the greater good of society.
We recognize there are not enough police or regulators to enforce the laws in a society where its population is lacking a commitment to ethics. Our work with SEE is one small contribution to address our nation’s need to advance ethical and character formation in youth. Wright Investors’ was specifically honored in 2010 with a national award by InvestmentNews for Wright’s historical and continued support both monetarily and with in-kind donations of SEE’s mission.
SEE has chosen to collaborate with schools to accomplish its mission to advance ethics in action. We are particularly optimistic about our recent advances to promote academic integrity as a need that requires ethical development of students in secondary schools. Our research-based approach shows much promise for success and has great opportunity to resist the epidemic of cheating that is proven to exist in our nation’s high schools.
As noted in our Needs Statement, one of our great challenges is the indifference we face both in society in general and in public schools specifically as we seek to advance strategies that promote ethics and character. Internationally, it is far too easy to see how corruption and ethical weakness corrodes the ability of governments and business to help their nation’s to prosper. We believe we are fighting a battle to resist those same pressures in the United States and welcome all those that would join us in this cause to advance ethics and positive character.
Peter M. Donovan
Most of SEE's programs serve communities in Connecticut; however, SEE does have consulting contacts throughout the US and SEE's Integrity Works! program includes a network of schools in the US and Canada.
SEE's mission recognizes that many societal needs would find some positive mitigating impact in the demonstration of prosocial ethical and moral reasoning in support of positive character. Character development requires an intentional and proactive decision by a community to implement a variety of strategies in a comprehensive manner to have meaningful impact on students or adults. SEE supports programs for comprehensive character development through strategies such as service-learning to practice youth leadership and reflection, academic integrity to resist cheating, essay writing to support reflection and dialogue about positive values and character-based decision making to resist anti-social behaviors such as bullying.
Youth: Ethics in Service (YES) supports teachers and after-school program leaders to implement effective service-learning as defined by (1) students engaging in planning and implementation of meaningful projects, (2) teachers connecting academic goals to service work, and (3) all participants completing planned ethical reflection activities and project evaluation. Service-learning has been an important project strategy of SEE’s since 1998. SEE’s development of YES has been supported by Federal Learn and Serve funds and grants from regional foundations.
Annually the YES program engages hundreds of students in a process that allows them to learn while serving others and reflect on the challenges and benefits of serving. The service experience supports student character and academic development while also providing a benefit to the community served (peers, seniors, environment, school, community, foreign program).
SEE completes site visits to YES teams and seeks evaluation feedback from YES teachers/coordinators and requests end-of-project evaluation by students and adults.
SEE has published a variety of successful YES project descriptions on its website at -- http://www.ethicsed.org/programs/yes/stories.htm
SEE has completed the third year of an implementation and evaluation study regarding academic integrity in high schools. The primary purpose of this project sought to investigate student beliefs, perceptions and observations about cheating in their school and test the effectiveness of an adult/student collaborative committee to promote a school culture in favor of integrity along with advancing a network of professionals committed to supporting academic integrity.
A sufficient number of teachers and schools are recruited to participate in the study. Lessons that arise from existing curricula are designed and written that effectively develop student moral awareness, judgment, commitment and behavior in support of integrity. Pre and post evaluation of student beliefs, attitudes and behaviors document a significant improvement in student commitment and behavior in support of academic integrity.
The next stage of this project will implement and evaluate a theory-driven, research-based model of moral functioning to promote academic honesty among high school students. The project offers an adaptation of James Rest’s Four Component Model of Moral Functioning to create, implement and assess academic lessons aimed at developing students’ moral awareness, judgment, commitment and character. In doing so, the project seeks to ameliorate a form of dishonesty that is epidemic among secondary students and illuminate a bigger question regarding strategies to promote the moral development of youth.
SEE in collaboration with research colleagues from UCONN and other partners to be arranged will monitor this project.
Past program success can be observed in the documents placed on SEE’s Integrity Works! website and the national publication of a Tool Kit by the Search Institute, which provides educators tools to implement academic integrity projects within their own schools. All three schools that SEE studied during the implementation of their own integrity program were successful in creating school wide recognition of integrity issues. The schools were all promised anonymity within the study. One of the schools was successful in having the faculty and school board approve a new Academic Integrity Policy handbook, which was presented to all students this year.
The Laws of Life essay program is a writing project with a focus on character development. Laws of Life provides students in grades 5-12 the unique opportunity to reflect and write about their core values, principles and ideals that will guide them throughout their lives. Writing with Laws of Life encourages a dialogue between students and their teachers, parents and community members to advance excellent writing, positive values and character. The writing process for Laws of Life can be integrated into many academic subject areas such as English literature, language arts, history and health. Laws of Life is a non-sectarian, academic activity that typically identifies universal ethical principles and laws of life such as – love, service, perseverance, honesty, respect and courage. These values are recognized to be life affirming, support positive citizenship and transcend religion, culture and national borders.
The process of making a good choice (an ethical choice) may be influenced by many factors such as a person’s values, family training, community norms, emotions and/or self-interest. With all the factors that influence choices, students find it difficult to explain how they prioritize options to make a good decision.
The activities and skills taught through application of The Golden Compass provide a compass needle that always points to alternatives in support of positive character. In the Golden Compass program, teachers and students are provided exercises to create a skill base for character-based decision making. Following the basic skill development, The Golden Compass program provides 56 dilemmas to help students practice character-based decision making. The dilemmas are circumstances that are relevant to the life of middle school and high-school students while at school, home or in the community and include situations to resist bully behavior.
There is often more than one good option to solve life’s dilemmas. The Golden Compass provides activities to help students practice reasoning skills while validating the importance of positive character to guide decisions. The activities and process provided in The Golden Compass program are suggested for use in homeroom settings, class meetings, advisory/advisee periods, health-education classes, discipline plans and language arts and social studies classes that evaluate the decision of characters in literature or history.
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