Our beliefs about character development, child development and the development of human potential draw from three sources and are corroborated by contemporary research.
The first is from a classical, liberal tradition, particularly as it is related to the moral and ethical philosophy of Aristotle. This perspective recognizes the potential in each child to become a virtuous person defined by the Greek cardinal virtues: a life that aspires to be righteous (just) toward self and others; a life that exercises self-control for the good of self and others; a life possessing courage and fortitude to fulfill the call of justice; and a life that is controlled by wisdom and prudence. The development of this potential begins at an early age through teaching and training whereby potentiality becomes actuality. In this process, a child learns to “know the good, love the good and do the good.” The Greek tradition also emphasizes the development of habits that constitute good character. The word “character” according to its Greek roots means “enduring marks” – the composite of attributes and virtues that are engraved in a person through education and training.
The second source comes from a cultural tradition. Because the founders came from a Judeo-Christian background, they found guidance for moral and ethical education from Biblical precepts. (Birchwood is a secular school, citing biblical references as moral, not spiritual, directives). They drew from verses such as Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This proverb, along with similar admonitions, assumes that the child will be taught in detail concerning a righteous life, a responsible life, and a life of mercy and compassion toward others. If these behaviors and habits are forged when the child is young, the advantages not only benefit the child, but also the child’s family, friends and society at large. As Birchwood School became more culturally diverse we expanded the traditions upon which we drew, finding many similarities in purpose and intent related to child development. The values we emphasize at Birchwood School find broad support from cultures worldwide.
The third source is biography. It is no accident that great people from all walks of life displayed common characteristics that led to their personal success and impact on society. The study of biography at Birchwood provides models for children to emulate and guides their formative years. Stories create mental images that remain with children and have the power to speak to their conscience throughout their lives. Biographies shine upon the pathway of personal accomplishment and social commitment. Just as importantly, biographies teach children the value and importance of performing countless noble deeds during the course of a typical human life.
Since we were drawing upon philosophical and cultural tenets to inform our programming for education and character development, we believed it was important to also support our programming in contemporary, secular research. We made it our habit to remain abreast of the science behind education, achievement and child development. For example, in our opinion, some of the clearest, best supported research on the development of cognitive abilities and talent has come from the field of gifted education. Although this research was conducted specifically to inform the education of gifted learners, it was obvious to us that its implications were applicable to children of all intellectual abilities. This belief is affirmed by Joseph Renzulli, director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, who stated, “… we can, therefore, make every attempt to share with other educators (of all students, not just the gifted) … what we have gained in teaching students process skills, modifying the regular curriculum, and helping students become the producers of knowledge” (Renzulli, J. S. (1999): "What is This Thing Called Giftedness, and How do we Develop it? A Twenty-five Year Perspective," Journal for the Education of the Gifted).
Concerning our approach to child development issues, we frequently site the work of Abraham Maslow, Julian Rotter, Robert Kohl, Kazimierz Dabrowski, Lev Vygotsky and Carol Dweck among a wide range of other recognized scholars.