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.