MelArete is the development of the project “educate to virtue”.
Statrting from a philosophical reflection on ethics, according to classical and contemporary philophers, we designed an educative path on virtues, aimed at involging children in an “ethical thinking”, intended as a reflection on virtuos actions recognized in their lived experience. This educative path has become the objet for our empirical qualitative research aimed at understanding children’s ethical thinking, and at identifying which are the activities able to nurture their thoughts.
The word “MelArete” originates from the union of the Greek terms “meléte” (which means “care”) and “areté” (which means “virtue”). The project is aimed at educating children to virtue ethics and exploring their ethical thinking (Mortari and Mazzoni, 2014). The theoretical background is grounded in the Aristotelian and Socratic ethical visions. Important references are also found in the philosophy of care (Held, 2006; Mortari, 2015; Noddings, 1984, 1992) and in the concept of Ricoeur (1990) about the distinction between ethics and morality. MelArete can be considered an ethical educative theory because philosophers studying care consider virtue as an important element of that practice.
The activities designed to reach these educative aims and collect data for the research are the following: class conversations, narratives, and the “diary of virtue”, a journal where children reflect on their everyday ethical experience.
As research, MelArete assumes the epistemological background of ‘naturalistic inquiry’ (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), according to which, the phenomenon under study should be investigated in the context of where it appears. Therefore, this study was conducted in the primary school and kindergarten classes.
Setting the research in a naturalistic context requires the capability to design the research method on the basis of the specific characteristics and necessities of the context that hosts the research. Since the educative context is unpredictable, because each classroom is unique and original, it is useful to avoid a formulistic and aprioristic conception of the method in favour of an emerging and evolutive one. This entails deciding in advance some key epistemological tenets, and then rethinking and redesigning the method by considering what occurs in the field (Mortari, 2006b, 2007, 2009a).
In pedagogy, it is possible to find two typologies of empirical research: the recognitive-constatative one, which aims to increase scientific knowledge by investigating not yet explored aspects of a phenomenon; and the experiential-transformative one, which promotes and investigates new experiences in order to enhance people flourishing and improve the educative contexts (Mortari, 2007, 2009b). MelArete can be described as experiential-transformative research because it aims to design new activities for ethical education and then to investigate their educative effectiveness in schools. Furthermore, the project can also be defined as ‘research for children’ (Mortari, 2009b) and not merely as ‘research with children’, because it is designed to offer positive and significant experiences to the children involved. This purpose arises from the application of the care ethics to the research: the core principle is the necessity to promote the good of the participants.
Coherent with the characterisation of educative research, MelArete has both educative and heuristic aims by encouraging and exploring children’s ethical thinking. For this reason, instruments are designed to have an educative and a heuristic valence: promoting children’s ethical reflection and collecting data about their ethical ideas. All the data we collected through the different instruments were of a qualitative-type.