Care (“meléte”) and Virtue (“areté”): A “Melarete” Project for Children in Italy
Luigina Mortari is the Scientific Director of the Center of Educational and Didactic Research at the University of Verona in Italy. In the post below, she shares details of a curriculum she and her colleagues developed that emphasizes care and virtue.
Educating to care and educating to virtue—these are the fundamental ideas behind of the Melarete project, a project developed by my colleagues and I in order to encourage virtues in young people, particularly the ethic of care. The word Melarete may sound strange, but if we examine its etymological foundation, we discover its meaning: the union of the Greek terms meléte (care) and areté (virtue).
The main theoretical references underpinnings of the project are: 1) the ethics of care (Held, 2006; Mortari, 2015; Noddings, 1984, 1992), according to which acting “good” means caring for others; and 2) Aristotelian ethics, according to which it is important to practice virtues to learn them. Melarete is an educative and research-based curriculum designed for primary-school children, based on the epistemological approach of “naturalistic inquiry” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), which asserts that phenomena must be investigated in the context in which they appear. Our context is the school, where children spend a great deal of time, build significant relationships, and are involved in learning experiences.
Our project is further defined as follows:
-“educative research” (Mortari, 2009), because it offers children educative experiences as the object of the research;
-“transformative research” (Mortari, 2007, 2009), because it aims to improve the quality of the context in which it is conducted;
-“research for children” (Mortari, 2009), and not merely “research with children,” because it aims to involve children in positive and meaningful experiences in order to facilitate their flourishing.
The goal of Melarete is to encourage children to reflect on their personal experiences to explore the essential meaning of important ethical concepts, such as good, care, virtue, courage, generosity, respect, and justice. The heuristic goal is to investigate how children’s thinking develops in relation to ethical concepts and potentialities. Adopting a naturalistic epistemology requires searching for research instruments that are as similar as possible to the objects and activities used in the school. Our instruments are therefore similar to those that teachers use for everyday class work.
Currently, this curriculum is being implemented in schools in two cities in Italy. Six primary school fourth-grade classes are participating. Below, we share some examples of our activities, which include stories, games, and vignettes intended to spark conversation and reflection among the students about the general concepts of good, care, and virtue, and on the virtues of courage, generosity, respect, and justice.
-Reading a story to focus attention on acting with care in order to search for what is good; after the reading, the children are asked if they liked the story and why, and a discussion about the meanings of “good” and “care” occurs.
-Two introductory activities: a game called “The Basket of Virtues” which helps the children define the specific virtues of courage, generosity, respect, and justice; and a story called “The Story of Alcibiades,” designed to motivate the children to reflect on virtues and how they are learned.
-Concluding activities, which are designed to determine if and how the children’s thinking has developed due to the project.
Activity Spotlight: The “Diary of Virtues” and “Tree of Virtues”
One activity, “Diary of Virtues,” is presented after the introduction of these concepts and is carried out by children until the end of the educative path. The children are invited to keep a diary at least once a week in which they narrate a virtuous action they have done or that they have seen other people do. If the children have no virtuous actions to narrate, they can freely write as they please. The topics considered most suitable for the diary are those on which Melarete focuses (i.e. courage, generosity, respect, and justice).
Furthermore, whenever the children do a virtuous action, they attach a leaf to their “Tree of Virtues,” a diagram drawn at the beginning of their diary. The leaves have different colors based on the different virtues they represent (i.e. red for generosity, yellow for courage, blue for respect, and purple for justice).
Whenever the children narrate a virtuous action in their diary and attach the leaf of the relative virtue to the tree in their diary, they also attach another leaf, identical to the first one, to the “Tree of the Trees” that is in the classroom for public display.
I would like to conclude by presenting some examples written by children in their diaries, powerful illustrations of children learning about the meaning of doing “good” in the world:
- “Yesterday, I saw a courageous person who went into the street to save three doggies.” (courage)
- “When I was little, one day I was in the mountains and went for a walk. We had to go in a wood, but I didn’t want to. Nevertheless, I then took courage and went in the wood.” (courage)
- “When I was little, I was afraid of the dark, and then I faced it.” (courage)
- “I painted the yellow leaf because I told the truth to my mom.” (courage)
- “The virtue about which I want to tell you is generosity. Today I carried out an act of generosity when I gave a balloon to a child, and I felt good.” (generosity)
- “Yesterday my brother asked me if I could lend my pencil to him, and I lent him it.” (generosity)
- “My brother did an act of generosity: he gave a biscuit to his cousin because he was hungry.” (generosity)
- “I saw a gentlemen giving a pizza to a poor person.” (generosity)
- “When my brother threw paper on the ground, I picked up it and threw it into the garbage pail.” (respect)
- “I started to say please and thanks and to ask for permission before doing something.” (respect)
- “I saw a child in a park who was having a snack with two other friends. This child was eating all of it, but his friend stopped him, and they divided the snack.” (justice)
- “Yesterday, my brother and I divided our TV time.” (justice)
Held, V. (2006). The Ethics of Care. Personal, Political, and Global. Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press.
Lincoln, Y.S. & Guba, E.G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Newbury Park (CA): Sage.
Mortari, L. (2007). Cultura della ricerca e pedagogia. Prospettive epistemologiche. Roma: Carocci.
Mortari, L. (ed.) (2009). La ricerca per i bambini. Milano: Mondadori.
Mortari, L. (2015). Filosofia della cura. Milano: Raffaello Cortina.
Noddings, N. (1984). Caring. A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Noddings, N. (1992). The Challenge to Care in School. An Alternative Approach to Education. New York: Teachers College Press.