The Program on Culture and Formation

The Moral Foundations of Education Project

“Formal education…presents pictures or maps of reality that reflect, unavoidably, particular choices about what is certain and what in question, what is significant and what unworthy of notice. No aspect of schooling can be truly neutral.”

—Charles Glenn, The Myth of the Common School

American schools have been tasked with forming children who are engaged and curious, fully prepared to live honorable lives, and capable of meaningful contributions to the welfare of others and the betterment of the world. It is a tall task. The problem is that the contemporary educational establishment—its theory, institutions, and practices—is deeply flawed in design and failing in practice. The challenges facing American education are grave and numerous, including academic underachievement, unequal distribution of resources, and resistance to innovation. What is missing in the diagnosis of these problems, and in all proposed solutions, is an understanding of the deeper normative dynamics that permeate the educational system.

Since at least the 1960s, American education has assumed that moral neutrality is both possible and desirable in the classroom. The “thin” view of pluralism in contemporary educational theory and practice rides roughshod over the diverse beliefs and needs of parents and children. Further, American educational theory about the child is overly dependent upon early to mid-twentieth century Western psychology, with models and assumptions that are not only flawed, but have seen little innovation for over a half-century. All of these developments contribute to a denial of the moral or “normative” foundations of education and child-formation. These, in turn, result in a denial of the depth and complexity of the child, leaving us with an institution whose goals are small, instrumentalist, and inadequate to the task of forming children into thriving human beings.

The Moral Foundations of Education Project is committed to changing the national conversation around education from one focused on fixing the existing system to one that raises foundational questions about the system itself, and to equipping parents, teachers, children, and communities with a clear educational framework that acknowledges the child’s full nature, affirms the variety of parental beliefs and values, and responds to the realities of contemporary culture.

Associated Faculty and Fellows:

Current Initiatives

View a list of select publications >>


Berner, Ashley Rogers. “Is English Education Secular?” Redefining Christian Britain: Post-1945 Perspectives. Ed. Jane Garnett et al. Norwich: SCM, 2006. 222–232.

Berner, “School Systems and Finance,” in Charles Glenn and Tilburg De Groof, eds. Balancing Freedom, Autonomy, and Accountability in Education. Wolf Legal Publishers. Netherlands. 2012.

Berner and Hunter, “Educating Citizens in America: The Paradoxes of Difference and Democracy,” in Bridging, Bonding, or Dividing? The Role of Religious and Public Ethical Education in Providing an Overlapping Consensus for Citizenship in Deep Plural Societies, ed. Adam Seligman (forthcoming).

Dill, Jeffrey S. “Durkheim and Dewey and the Challenges of Contemporary Moral Education.” Journal of Moral Education 36.2 (2007): 221–237.

Hunter, James Davison. The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil. New York: Basic, 2000.

Johnson, Daniel C., Van D. Westervelt, Mark D. Westervelt, and Scott Murrill. “Changes in Self Concept and Academic Skills during a Multimodal Summer Camp Program.” Annals of Dyslexia 48 (2008): 191–212.

Jones, Steven L. Religious Schooling in America: Private Education and Public Life. Westport: Praeger, 2008.

Owens, Erik. “Disestablishment as Legal Paideia: Assessing Michael McConnell’s Educational and Religious Pluralism.” Philosophy of Education Yearbook 2008. Ed. Ronald Davis Glass. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008. 132–140.

Issue of The Hedgehog Review

Who We Are

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture is an interdisciplinary research center and intellectual community at the University of Virginia committed to understanding contemporary cultural change and its individual and social consequences, training young scholars, and providing intellectual leadership in service to the public good.

Newsletter Signup

First Name Last Name Email Address

follow Us . . .RSS FeedLinked InTwitterFacebook