BOOK REVIEW: Principled Education. By Mose Durst. San Francisco: Principled Academy, 1998.

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 2, 1998 - Pages 153-154

“There is no more honorable activity in a democratic culture than educating children toward the ideals of building a virtuous life and a virtuous society.” This statement aptly summarizes the focus of Principled Education written by Mose Durst. Principled Education, while not offering any new concepts in the field of character education, provides a heartfelt reminder of the desired purpose of education: intellectual growth and maturity that occurs on the foundation of a moral loving individual who reflects the image of God.

This latest publication from Mose Durst reflects his research in support of the work of the Principled Academy, a private religious school in the Bay area of Northern California. The Academy, which covers grades K through 9, is based on the concepts outlined in the book. These concepts include “drawing out the full value of a human being who is a child of God, created in the image of God, and who has a divine potential.”

The book begins by making a case for the type of character-forming education which was prevalent in American schools and which emphasized the common values of truth, virtue and the common good. Durst then moves on to defining the historical development and key changes which have taken place during the past two centuries in public education. Ultimately, Durst points to the separation of God and our Judeo-Christian values from public education as the true beginning of our social and ethical problems today.

To emphasize his point, Durst devotes a great deal of time and space to the benefits of religious schools, demonstrating that because they unashamedly base their curriculum on moral and religious values as practiced and taught in Judaism, Christianity and most of the worlds’ religions they succeed where public schools fail in producing well-educated students who are virtuous, loving, and ethical. This then becomes the spring¬board to the next several chapters in which Durst focuses on the Principled Academy directly as a clear example of what he calls principled education in action. By using anecdotal experiences and conversations with the Academy’s staff, the reader can appreciate the challenges of creating a new school with a relatively innovative curriculum.

Of particular interest is the discussion of special programs and events utilized by the Academy to support their character education efforts. These special programs include daily morning assemblies, special holiday events and themes, and service projects. This was probably the most instructive aspect of the book. An aspect of character education that is sometimes ignored in the literature is the need to manifest one’s learning in order to heighten integration and learning. Service learning achieves this integration well. If I were to find fault with the book’s insights or the Principled Academy’s work, it would be in confining their educational outreach to volunteerism rather than a strong service learning program.

Where this book differs from the usual character education publications is the inclusion of a chapter on “Principled Education at Home.” Two families share their experiences with providing strong moral education in the home and the challenges they face daily in their endeavor. While the families draw on Durst’s view of principled education as the foundation of their teaching, the families also offer the reader other resources and support activities that they have found to be particularly beneficial—which was most instructive.

The book concludes with a description of how the author uses literature as one means to teach character to his students. Durst then submits a brief annotated bibliography of character education literature that he has found to be most valuable in his work.

In essence, the book is a simplified and brief explanation of the beginning point of Unification Thought’s view of education. Though not indulging in the complexities and philosophy of Unification Thought, Principled Education does present the basic message of Unification Thought’s concept of education of heart and norm. While introductory in its content, it at least supports Unification Thought’s contention that education of heart and norm must be the basis of intellectual development and mastery education. In addition, the book also offers a laymen’s version of the “principle of creation,” one of the primary chapters in Unificationism. Does the book present new insights into Unification Thought? No. Does it clarify some of the complexities of the view of education within Unification Thought? Again, no. Does the book offer new insights into character education? Not really. But then, I don’t believe that that is the purpose of the book. For me, the book is more a gentle call to action or, at least an encouragement for our schools to return to a more traditional philosophy of education which embraces our commonly held religious virtues and values.

As an educator, I found the book to be a nice collection of inspirational essays written by a man who profoundly loves God, who loves his students, and who is deeply concerned about the unhealthy direction toward which our society is moving. If you are looking for a more substantial study of the dynamics of character education, I would suggest that you select one of the books from the bibliography provided at the end of the book such as Lickona’s or Ryan’s books. However, if you are interested in reading how one educator has applied Unificationist philosophy to the field of education and how one school is succeeding in utilizing this philosophy, then Principled Education is one place to start.