Exploring moral character in everyday life: Former democratic school students’ understandings and school experiences

  • Lucinda Elyane Miedema

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


This thesis presents the life journeys of former democratic school students, seeking to understand the impact of their school experiences in relation to the development of their moral character during education and equally to sustaining their moral character throughout life. Moral character in this inquiry refers to what individuals perceive as intrinsically good and valuable for themselves and others around them. The significance of this particular focus of this inquiry lies in the increased recognition in research suggesting that a strongly developed moral character could enhance an individual’s general wellbeing, such as happiness and flourishing, as well as support the individual in meeting the challenges presented in day-to-day living. However, there remains a gap in knowledge with regard to the educational factors that might have contributed to the cultivation of the individual’s moral character. Adopting a social constructionist paradigm and assuming knowledge and understanding as relational and co-constructed through shared meaning-making – this research took a narrative approach and a life history method of inquiry, including individual in-depth interviews with a focus group of former students of Sands, a British democratic school. The key method of analysis was developing and comparing portrayals of the participants’ narratives of their life journeys, in order to explore and identify a typology of their courses of action in everyday life, in relation to their moral character and how they have understood the impact of their school experiences on the development of their moral character. The data show a strong overlap in the participants’ understandings of what has enabled their capacity to practice and enact moral character in everyday life. This has been contributed to by three key factors in their schooling and educational experiences – which seemingly remain relevant and even supportive to their pursuing on-going meaningful living: (a) having the freedom to explore and express who one really is as a person, (b) having the opportunity to take responsibility for one’s own life, (c) becoming aware that there is always an option or choice in any situation, thus one has the ability to enact change in one’s life. The key finding of this inquiry is that all three identified factors are anchored in the school’s commitment to itself as a personal learning community and the democratic pedagogy of freedom. This thesis concludes that the significance of moral education in schools lies in its emphasis on how this is taught rather than what is taught. The considerations of the school as a community and a democratic pedagogy of freedom are therefore recommended for future determinations of moral education programs considering the profound importance of the students’ moral character development and their flourishing.
Date of AwardJun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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