Sow­ing the Seeds of Char­ac­ter: The Moral Edu­ca­tion of Ado­les­cents in Pub­lic and Pri­vate Schools

Judd Kruger Levingston
  • Review
By – September 9, 2011

The cri­sis in char­ac­ter and cit­i­zen­ship is acute in con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­ca. There are ver­i­ta­ble cot­tage indus­tries (Char­ac­ter Counts, Mentschlichkeit Mat­ters to name just two) of edu­ca­tion­al inter­ven­tions to fur­ther char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. Rab­bi Judd Kruger Levingston’s Sow­ing the Seeds of Char­ac­ter stands out as an excep­tion­al con­tri­bu­tion to this grow­ing body of lit­er­a­ture both in the depth and breadth of its concerns. 

Whether Jew­ish, Chris­t­ian, Islam­ic, or Chi­nese, edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions for ado­les­cents are capa­ble of hav­ing a deep moral impact on the lives of stu­dents. They do so through the dia­logues they engen­der, the ques­tions they ask, and the role mod­els they pro­vide. Fur­ther, their moral char­ac­ter is seen as much in the school’s halls and play­ground as in its class­rooms. Lev­ingston chron­i­cles the suc­cess­es and chal­lenges of these schools in thought­ful and empa­thet­ic ways. He wants us to under­stand the pro­found impact of school on the moral life of the child even apart from the obvi­ous influ­ences of fam­i­ly and the inter­nal psy­cho­log­i­cal forces of moral development. 

Lis­ten­ing to the young adults in these schools dis­cuss moral dilem­mas, the author detects three mas­ter ori­en­ta­tions in the voic­es of the stu­dents. He labels these ori­en­ta­tions authen­tic and assured, bridg­ing and bind­ing, and con­struct­ing and con­sid­er­ing. It is unclear in the end whether Lev­ingston believes that all three ori­en­ta­tions can live in some mea­sure with­in each individual. 

Clear­ly, Sow­ing the Seeds of Char­ac­ter is a par­tic­u­lar­ly time­ly schol­ar­ly con­tri­bu­tion in an era that is like­ly to mea­sure school suc­cess by test scores. The only cri­tique I might offer per­tains to the title itself. It cer­tain­ly can be argued that by ado­les­cence one is actu­al­ly reap­ing the seeds of char­ac­ter” sown at a much ear­li­er age.

Jef­frey Schein is Pro­fes­sor and Direc­tor of Jew­ish edu­ca­tion at the Sie­gal Col­lege in Cleve­land. He is the author of numer­ous arti­cles and books in Jew­ish edu­ca­tion. His doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion was in the are­na of moral edu­ca­tion, the same top­ic as in the book reviewed.

Discussion Questions