The Social Construction of Virtue

The Moral Life of Schools

By George W. Noblit & Van O. Dempsey

Subjects: Education
Paperback : 9780791430804, 225 pages, September 1996
Hardcover : 9780791430798, 225 pages, September 1996

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Table of contents


1. Education and the Social Construction of Virtue

2. Ideas That Bind and Blind

3. Cedar Grove School

4. Rougemont School

5. Books and the Power of Narrative

6. Reclaiming Moral Life with Schools



Examines how schools function as agents and transmitters of moral life in communities.


It's time to face an inevitable conclusion: School reform does not reform schools. That's because reform movements conceive of schools as being about transmitting knowledge. Yet, schools are not primarily about knowledge. They are about the construction of meaning and morality in the lives of students and communities. In this book, the authors argue that to break this recycling of reform efforts, we must understand how schools construct moral life.

The focus is on two elementary schools: Rougemont, an historically African American school that was closed during school desegregation in the 1970s, and Cedar Grove, an historically white school to which the former Rougemont students were sent. Described are the histories of these schools, the communities in which they are located, and some of the people who influenced and were influenced by the schools. From those contexts the authors then make explicit the "virtues" that these communities and schools constructed and valued, and describe how those virtues came to influence lives.

The oral histories of the two schools and their communities provide the basis of a novel critique of the value conflict that has characterized educational reform in this country. The social construction of virtue offers an alternative perspective on the moral purpose of schooling in America.

George W. Noblit is Professor of Social Foundations of Education with a joint appointment in Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the co-editor (with William Pink) of Schooling in Social Context and co-author (with R. Dwight Hare) of Meta-Ethnography: Synthesizing Qualitative Studies. Van O. Dempsey is Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations at West Virginia University.


"The authors show that building community is at the heart of education, and that the construction of virtue is achieved by ordinary people in ordinary schools, doing things together, experiencing successes, failures, conflict tensions, and celebrations." — Mary E. Henry, Washington State University