Templeton Wants to Figure Out What Makes Good Kids

It's no secret that the John Templeton Foundation takes an unorthodox approach to the projects it funds, looking for ideas that relate to the big picture questions of science, philosophy, and religion. A recent grant award from this foundation, named for the late investor Sir John Templeton, extended Templeton's style of grant-making into the realm of K-12 education. The funder recently awarded a $1.9 million grant to a Boston College professor for a three-year study on factors that contribute to the moral development of elementary and secondary school children.

Jacqueline Lerner, a professor of counseling, developmental, and education psychology at BC's Lynch School of Education, is interested in the importance of self-control, self-regulation, and adult role models in the moral development of youth. Templeton's support will help Lerner build on her previous research into child and adolescent behavior.

"We know that young people generally know the difference between right and wrong," Lerner told the Boston College Chronicle. "But what promotes the ability to actually do the right thing?" She believes the answer lies in what she calls internal assets, such as the ability to develop the skills to avoid poor choices. Research by other scholars has suggested that internal assets play an important role in positive youth development, leading to success in school and later in life.

One thing is for sure: The gift from Templeton will help Lerner fully explore these issues. Her study, titled "Doing the Right Thing: Intentional Self-Regulation and the Promotion of Character Development," will assess 900 students in grades 5, 7, and 9.

A grant award related to an area of K-12 education is not typical for Templeton, but then again, this is a funder known for its love of projects that unite separate disciplines, such as information technology and literature, or natural sciences and theology. In many ways, the grant to Lerner is consistent with Templeton's funding interests, which include studies related to character and virtue development. In the past, the funder has supported research on habits of mind, as well as on the development of character in young men. The key to securing support from this funder is a willingness to think big, outside the box, and to develop ideas that go beyond the basic questions of elementary and secondary education to some of the more fundamental issues of "life, the universe, and everything."