Aretaic pedagogy is suggested as a refreshing paradigm of good teaching, putting at its centre, instead of a knowledge-based perspective, a virtue-based approach to education. Its origins are in Aristotelian virtue ethics, which consider the acquisition of intellectual and ethical virtues as the highest good of the good life. Given this notion, Sockett (2012) argues that a democratic society needs not simply citizens with critical thinking or social skills, but citizens who are critical thinkers, holding intellectual and ethical virtues as a prerequisite to flourishing both as human beings and citizens.
In light of this theory, students’ aretaic growth is considered as a phenomenon that can be taught. It necessitates a robust epistemological context, which permits the students to acquire a virtuous-dispositional learning. Virtuous dispositions, as inner states driven by free will that act consciously and purposefully, compose the preparatory stage of aretaic development and, by extension, the heart of aretaic pedagogy.
The epistemology of aretaic pedagogy
Aretaic pedagogy calls attention to the building of an experiential and interpersonal learning environment that will enable students to develop a personal ecology of virtuous dispositions. This approach to learning is of the utmost importance, since it provides a potent space of practical work and a flexible scope of experimentation, within which the students can accommodate their experiences, initiatives and emotions. In such epistemological surroundings, largely dependent on social and real-life conditions, learning can turn out to be a virtue-guided space for, as Carr (2005: 152) corroborates, the ‘practical experience is a key component of practical knowledge or wisdom… we learn to be honest or courageous much as a craftsman improves by practice’.
More particularly, the construction of this epistemological environment needs to be founded upon three interrelated epistemological principles. The first is that teaching as a social practice ‘grow[s] out of social life and remain[s] cooperative in execution’ (MacIntyre, 2007, p.50). Therefore, it has the tendency to evolve into a distinctive ethical world, wherein all the participants – teacher and students – undergo an interpersonal journey. Given this supposition, teaching premises the creation of a community, in the sense of a shared partnership.
The second epistemological inception of aretaic pedagogy is the achievement of excellence by the accession of internal goods within teaching, which its participants consciously and steadily apply and try to extend. In this regard, its internal goods are built upon three key areas of the learning process concerned with the challenges, initiatives and energies, which are enclosed in the practical work that the students undertake and encourage them to develop virtuous dispositions; the emotions that they embody, express and communicate during teaching and as an outcome of their learning labour; and, moreover, the motives, intentions and interests that they acquire with respect to their learning, and their selves and lives as wholes.
The third epistemological element of aretaic pedagogy arises from the nature per se of the internal goods, and is the integration of the students’ private knowledge into the learning process. Sockett (2012) construes private knowledge as a form of knowledge that leads students not just to experience not just the subject matter of a given topic but, more importantly, to develop a personal connection with it. In so doing, students are heartened to identify their own position with respect to the knowledge they are being taught. Aretaic pedagogy therefore targets the structure of a dialectical learning among knowledge, consciousness and understanding of self.
Considering this set of epistemological traits, aretaic pedagogy adopts a nexus of internal goods that derive from real-life activities and require a social vitality and interactivity. These are dialogue, beauty and play. They are proposed as integral to the methodology and the instructive approaches taken within the context of any teaching. However, their combination in teaching constitutes a fundamental assumption, for their synergetic dynamics can intensify the virtuous-dispositional learning. The merge of dialogue, beauty and play can build a dialectic of interrelationships, fabricating a vigorous epistemological environment that can arouse effortlessly and naturally the students’ virtuous dispositions. The attachment to this inherent treaty of aretaic pedagogy is a primordial prerequisite for its practice.
This blog post is based on the article ‘Aretaic pedagogy: how we can transform the aesthetics of good teaching’ by Angela Hadjipanteli, which is published in the Curriculum Journal.
Carr, D. (2005). Virtues, Akrasia and Moral Weakness, in D. Carr & J. Steutel (Eds.), Virtue Ethics and Moral Education (pp. 143–156). London and New York: Routledge.
MacIntyre, A. (2007). After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. London: Duckworth.
Sockett, H. (2012). Knowledge and Virtue in Teaching and Learning: The Primacy of Dispositions. New York: Routledge.