Harrogate High School’s English department is piloting a project led by the University of Leeds to teach students the importance of evidencing the moral and social values reflected in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series.
Over 12 weeks Year 7 students will study the 12 virtues presented in the first three Narnia novels: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. These virtues are love, wisdom, integrity, forgiveness, gratitude, humility, justice, courage, fortitude, curiosity, hard work and self-control. Students will be given a list of the virtues and a stamp will be put next to each one to mark when someone has incorporated a particular virtue into their everyday life.
Head of English at the school, Jane Moss-Blundell, sees the Narnian Virtues project as being part of an ethos which fosters well-rounded individuals.
She said: “As a school, and as encapsulated in our vision statement, we look at students holistically and aim to foster good and responsible members of society, so these virtues chime well. We look at the whole person, and we’re about more than just getting students A*’s and higher grades, it’s about them being a well-rounded person.”
C.S. Lewis depicts a world that is governed by innate and universal moral laws. The Narnian Virtues project also aims to emphasise that there are a set of core moral and social values that everyone should nurture and share.
Mrs Moss-Blundell said: “Good literature can be about eternal truths. The project is based around the principle of character education - a deliberate effort to foster virtues through every stage of school life, where virtues are defined as objectively good human qualities for both individuals and for society. Reading characters in literature can help you to read characters in life. The values of the project can translate into being a good person.”
The project provides working definitions of the virtues based on C.S. Lewis’s work. Justice is defined as: “the habit of treating all persons with respect and fairness; giving people what they are due; not playing favourites”, and fortitude is defined as: “the habit of doing what is right in the face of difficulty; the mental and emotional strength to handle hardship, overcome obstacles, and endure suffering; showing confidence, courage, patience, perseverance, endurance or resilience in challenging circumstances.”
Although Mrs Moss-Blundell acknowledges that some of the values could be more abstract to interpret, she believes that the school’s classroom environment nurtures a space where students can develop their understanding of the virtues.
She said: “We will discuss the virtues in class, and when we do it’s about having tolerance and respect for each other and listening to people’s views. By discussing them together students can hear each other’s take on the virtues.”
Mrs Moss-Blundell believes that exploring and analysing the virtues shown by the characters in the Narnia novels is a good way of helping students to open up and more freely discuss their own opinions and perspectives of the twelve virtues.
She said: “Focusing on the values of fictional characters in the project means that it is one stage removed. People can ask questions about the virtues and discuss their thoughts, but with the additional safety blanket of it not being about their own personal experiences. They might have a mutual discussion about bravery for example, talking about standing up against bullying.
"Students can read about a virtue, write about the characters and think of an area in their life in which they might be able to improve on a virtue.”
Harrogate High School will run the Narnian Virtues project for three years, and during this time the project’s coordinators from the University of Leeds will be coming into school to film the delivery of some of the lessons. The plan is for these videos to then be used as a training resource when the project goes worldwide - something which excites Mrs Moss-Blundell.
She said: “It’s just absolutely phenomenal to think that something we are a part of at an embryonic stage will continue to grow and grow to be worldwide.”
Teaching of the ‘literature-based character education curriculum’ begins this month, with two hours of teaching dedicated to it each week. Both students and parents will be integral to making the project a success in school.
“We are relying on parents to evidence the values and virtues, but the school will also help in recognising when someone has shown evidence of a virtue at things like our homework club”, Mrs Moss-Blundell said.
“The Year 7s seem really excited about the project. They have said that they find the Narnia books ‘magical’. The books are cracking, they are great reads. The project is a good way of getting students hooked on engaging literature.
“I am looking forward to the students being really engaged in the project and it will be a great opportunity for them to develop their love of literature. The project will also be good in helping them develop a core set of values that is applicable to their everyday lives. This is a very prestigious collaboration with Leeds University and we are all very excited to be involved and a part of it. We have a duty to ensure that the moral, social and cultural needs of our students are met, and the fact that students are asked to evidence these virtues in their own lives makes them very real.”
To find out more about the Narnian Virtues project, which is directed by Professor Mark Pike at the University of Leeds, visit: www.narnianvirtues.leeds.ac.uk. The project aims to reach 5,000 students over a three year phase from autumn 2016 to autumn 2018 - a significant increase from the 200 students taking part in their initial pilot study.