Institute for Educational Initiatives
University of Notre Dame
Alesha Seroczynski is a Research Associate at the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She
moved into this position after five years in administration, most recently as Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences at Bethel
College, Indiana. Alesha also served as Director of Research at Indiana’s largest community mental health center where
she facilitated over a dozen research projects. Winner of the 1999 Distinguished Graduate Student Scholar Award at the
University of Notre Dame, she has published and presented at several international venues, including the Journal of Abnormal
Psychology, Psychiatry Research, the Association for Moral Education, the Association for General and Liberal Studies,
and the American Occupational Therapy Association. Her graduate training in developmental and counseling psychology
also included clinical work with ADHD and aggressive adolescents. Long-standing literary, philosophical and theological
interests led Alesha to pursue some post-graduate study of several great thinkers, including Aristotle, Aquinas, Pascal, W.
James, C. S. Lewis, and Peter Kreeft. Papers that emerged from these studies were presented at several national conferences,
including Baylor’s forum on the Christian Mind and Imagination in 2006. Conceptualizing and developing Reading for Life
has enabled Alesha to integrate her clinical training with great books in a new and unique intervention for at-risk youth.
F. Clark Power
Professor, Program of Liberal Studies (PLS), Psychology
University of Notre Dame
Senior Project Manager, Reading for Life
University of Notre Dame
Andrew T. Kostielney
Associate Director of the Youth Justice Project
Robinson Community Learning Center
Professor, Philosophy of Education
University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Reading for Life: A Narrative Charact er Educ ation Intervention for First-Time Offending Juvenile Delinquents
Delinquency provides a natural arena for the study of moral knowledge and moral action. By definition, delinquents have committed an illegal act, and this action is often assumed to be the result of a breakdown in moral development or functioning. Most studies in this area have been built around a Kantian system of deontological ethics, especially that of justice (Carr, 1995, 1996a, 1996b, 2003). The limitations of such an approach can be overcome under a theoretical orientation of virtue ethics, especially one that uses narrative to facilitate virtuous character development.
Concerned with the moral agent behind the moral action, virtue theory promotes the cultivation of virtue in the moral agent, suggesting that this will, in turn, produce moral action (Rae, 2000). Virtue theory is grounded in context (Rae, 2000), social in nature (Carr, 1996b) and affective as well as cognitive in process (Carr, 2005; Sherman, 1999). Most scholars acknowledge two specific lines of development in this area: four “cardinal” Aristotelian virtues of justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude, and three “theological” Thomist virtues of fidelity, hope, and charity (Kreeft, 1986; Lewis, 1943; MacIntyre, 1984; Meilander, 1984; Pieper, 1966).
For centuries, both oral and written narrative has been used to foster moral development, and there has been a relatively recent revival of interest in the use of stories for this purpose (Bennett, 1993; Bettelheim, 1976; Carr & Steutel, 1999; Coles, 1989; Cunningham, 2001; Kilpatrick, Wolfe, & Wolfe, 1994; Kupperman, 1999; MacIntyre, 1981; Vitz, 1990). Literature is uniquely suited to facilitate moral development because of the vicarious experiences and contextual relationships provided within (Cunningham, 2001; Vitz, 1990). Narratives activate biological, cognitive, and emotional systems that increase the likelihood that the virtuous behavior seen in stories will be internalized and utilized.
Reading for Life (RFL) is an intervention that uses literature to foster virtuous character development in first-time offending juveniles. Since August 2007, the staff at Reading for Life have been working with the St. Joseph County Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) in South Bend, Indiana to provide a 12-week program that teaches the seven cardinal and theological virtues in twice-weekly meetings with trained mentors. Students also complete a thematic community service project and final presentation for their parents and RFL staff. Juveniles are randomly assigned to RFL or a control condition of 25 hours of community service (CS) as an alternative to prosecution. A battery of pre- and posttest assessments are collected from students and parents.
Results are promising. In addition to outstanding qualitative reports from parents and students who complete RFL, significantly more students complete RFL than CS, RFL students report increases in prudence and hope, and parents report significant changes on all seven areas of the Youth Virtues Scale (Seroczynski et al., 2011). This grant has enabled Reading for Life to more than triple its study participants in the last two years (current N=315), to strengthen the research bond between the University of Notre Dame and the JJC, and to gain a broader international audience for our ideas and intervention.
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