Developing the Conscience of Craft

The "conscience of craft": Developing students' sense of
academic responsibility and the habit of doing their work well.

Key Ideas

  1. One of the most common ways our character affects the lives of others is through the quality of the work we do. When we do our work well, others benefit; when we do it poorly, others suffer.
  2. One of the most important "voices" of conscience, therefore, is the conscience of craft, the voice that says: "Do a good job." It is a mark of people's character when they take care to perform their jobs and other tasks well.
  3. A student's schoolwork affords the opportunity to develop work-related character traits that have lifelong importance:
    • Self-discipline, including the ability to delay gratification in order to pursue future goals
    • Persistence in the face of discouragement or failure
    • Dependability, including a public sense of work as affecting the lives of others
    • Diligence, concern to do a good job
    • Academic responsibility (e.g., making the most of one's education).


Teachers help students develop these work-related character qualities when they:

  1. Set a good example of responsible work through their own teaching -- being well-prepared and on time, returning student work promptly and with comments, giving extra help where needed, etc. Writes Ed Wynne: "A teacher's first obligation as a moral educator is to teach well."
  2. Combine high expectations and high support -- the belief that every child can learn and teaching strategies that enable every student to learn.
  3. Challenge students to develop real expertise. (Jerome Bruner: "Students must be able to probe a subject deeply. They should not have an education of the fingertips that touches everything but seizes nothing.")
  4. Provide a meaningful curriculum, including teaching to students' interests and strengths. Says Ann Halpern, a 2nd- and 3rd-grade teacher: "Valuing children's interests is one of the most authentic ways of helping them to value themselves."
  5. Assign regular and meaningful homework.