Narnian Virtues: A Character Education English Curriculum is generously funded by £1M from the John Templeton Foundation. The Project Investigator is Professor Mark Pike, Professor of Education at the University of Leeds, in collaboration with Co-Investigator Professor Thomas Lickona, founding Director of the Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (Respect and Responsibility) at the State University of New York at Cortland. Dr Peter Hart and Dr Shirley-Anne Paul are the Research Fellows on the project, and Dr Paula Clarke and Dr Matt Homer are co-leading the quantitative analyses.
Following previous work on delivering character education in schools through a dedicated literary curriculum, by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham – the Knightly Virtues, Narnian Virtues looks to the work of C. S. Lewis in developing curricula based on the Narnia novels.
Universal virtues (such as wisdom, love, and gratitude) exemplified in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia novels, offer common ethical ground to the schools of increasingly pluralistic societies. The project investigates how students within a crucial formative period (ages 11-13), understand and acquire the virtues underpinning good character through their engagement with our Narnian Virtues curriculum, based on three Narnia novels. The research questions we address are:
- Can students identify and understand virtues and their integral relation to good character? Can these be discerned by participating students through engagement with, and response to, one of three Narnia novels by C. S. Lewis?
- How do teachers who teach the Narnian Virtues curriculum change in their approach to teaching literature?
- Do students cultivate a personal ethical response to the novel and the virtues therein, and apply those virtues to their own lives?
The three Narnia novels selected for the project were The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’. Although there are seven novels in Lewis’s Narnia series, the three novels selected all include the Pevensie children and their character development as they grow up and visit (and revisit) Narnia.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we see curiosity about the mysterious wardrobe in the Professor’s house, and we see truthfulness: Lucy is steadfastly honest about what she has seen in the wardrobe, even to her cost. We see generosity of spirit modelled when Aslan and the children forgive Edmund; gratitude, exemplified by the chastened and transformed Edmund; loyalty, when the siblings and Narnian characters don’t desert Edmund but seek his rescue; forgiveness, when they forgive him his disloyalty, selfishness and betrayal. As the children’s characters develop and they begin to recognise needs and concerns beyond their own, we see courage, perseverance and determination in their fight to free the land of Narnia from oppression and to liberate its inhabitants.
In Prince Caspian, we see generosity and forgiveness as the children admit to their younger sibling Lucy that they were wrong; gratitude, when Caspian respects his privilege and position; honour, as the defeated Telmarines are treated with dignity and Peter does not kill Miraz. Again, honour, perseverance and courage pervade the novel as adversities and adversaries are overcome.
In the Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’, we see the odious Eustage, cousin of the Pevensies, transformed in the way Edmund was transformed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. At the start of the novel Eustage is selfish, surly, ungrateful and truculent, and thinks of no one but himself. Eustace learns a powerful character lesson when he is transformed into a dragon and then, being freed from his reptilian existence, learns respect, friendship and kindness. The children courageously lead the liberation of the slaves at Narrowhaven, and the characters subsequently learn to face their fears as their quest aboard the ship approaches its conclusion.
- The University of Leeds, School of Education
- Professor Mark Pike’s webpage
- The Center for the 4th and 5th Rs, The State University of New York at Cortland
- Professor Thomas Lickona’s webpage
- The John Templeton Foundation
- The Narnian Virtues pilot project grant details
- The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham