Core Virtues

Ascent Classical™ Academies’ mission joins instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue with a rigorous academic program. Virtue requires both a trained mind and a generous heart, uniting our ability to think and reason with our passions, desires, and feelings.

Rarely does a public school speak openly about virtue, since virtue means we judge our actions against an objective standard of beauty or goodness. Today, most people prefer language that does not discriminate between good and bad, emphasizing values rather than virtues. To speak of virtue means we judge some qualities of character to be better than others, taking a stand in their defense and attempting to cultivate them in our students.

Ascent Classical™ Academies focuses on seven Core Virtues: courage, moderation, justice, responsibility, prudence, friendship, and wonder. 

This list is largely inspired by Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, a great book that our students will read before they graduate. We focus on these virtues because they have withstood the test of time. For over 2000 years, these virtues have guided men and women of every kind toward happiness.


The disposition, habit, and choice of confronting fear, pain, or evil

Students display courage when they persevere on hard assignments, offer a comment even when they are not fully confident in themselves, or ask a question when they think it might make them look silly. It is also a virtue of enterprise, drive, grit, determination, tenacity, and productivity. Courage is the most necessary and least leisurely of the virtues.


The disposition, habit, and choice of resisting illegitimate or ignoble pleasures 

Students are moderate when, despite having something to say in class, they raise their hand patiently, and do not get angry or frustrated if they are not called upon. The moderate student also restricts his or her comments to what is useful and edifying, and focuses their attention less with a critical eye than a genuine openness to be taught. Moderation is central to civil conversation.


The disposition, habit, and choice of obeying rules, respecting authority, and treating others fairly

Students show justice when they respect school and class rules in the absence of a teacher, show consideration towards others in the hallway, and refrain from allowing their interest to dictate rules for others.

Another key aspect of justice is giving honor where honor is due. One of the beautiful things inherent in a classical education is that by reading about heroes, in great books and through history, our estimation of man’s worth increases. That means that we can honor excellence rather than shy away from it, seek to emulate greatness rather than envy, deride, and dismantle it. When students read about the great exploits of Aeneas of Camilla, or learn about the statesmanship of Queen Elizabeth or Winston Churchill, their estimation of what human beings can do increases. They learn to see greatness and to appreciate it. All too often this aspect of justice is overlooked or forgotten.


Having a broad and generous view of one’s actions, not only as they relate to one’s own good, but also to the good of others

Responsibility is a quintessentially American excellence of character, first articulated as a virtue in the Federalist Papers. It is responsible to do one’s assigned job well, but even more so to do the job that needs doing but belongs to no one in particular. Responsible students take on those tasks despite the extra effort. Responsibility is, furthermore, the key virtue in starting, maintaining, and improving a charter school, from its founders and donors to its leaders, teachers, parents, and students.


The ability to choose well in changing circumstances and in the absence of a rule

The exercise of prudence depends on the development of the previously discussed virtues and guides their exercise. Students display prudence when they choose what is right without being told, and when they are able to reason well about how rules for the playground or the classroom are best applied in a given situation.


The continual, active cultivation of human relationships based on the love of the same things

It relies on a consistent desire to see another do and fare well, to wish for good things for a friend for the friend’s sake. The highest kind of friendship is rooted in a love of the True, Good, and Beautiful. This is a friendship of the mind, which requires more than the lukewarm “friendliness” that characterizes so much that goes by the name of friendship today. Crucially, a good friend insists on holding friends to these high standards, and encourages others to hold those standards in view so that they may also flourish in life. Students display friendship when they help others make difficult but good choices, and when they do not passively stand by as others make poor or ill-considered choices.


The quality, disposition, and habit of being amazed by and open to all that life has to offer

If courage is the most necessary and least leisurely of the virtues, wonder is the least necessary and most leisurely, and therefore the highest. At its root, wonder means to admire, to behold in awe, and to be humbled by what one does not know. It is the root of philosophy and the highest activities of the mind, the spark of all real learning, and the peak of what we hope to cultivate in our students’ minds. Wonder elevates learning above grades and helps create a persistent, interminable thirst for knowledge.