The Character Building Project

Michael J. Kerrigan


pyramid-of-successIf, as I propose, we are not going to leave teaching character solely to the experts in our universities, where do we begin? One psychologist friend shared with me the notion that many elementary teachers love their children, many high school teachers love their subjects and many but not all university professors love themselves. Therefore, I suggest we begin by help preparing elementary and secondary schoolteachers to teach character building skills to their students.

Having begun my career as a high school teacher and basketball coach at St. Benedicts High School in Chicago, I have the greatest admiration for teachers and coaches. In fact, in my 32 years as a lobbyist advocating for clients in Washington, D.C., I now know my skill set as a lobbyist was based on foundation early in my career as a teacher and coach.

Just as teachers and coaches listen to the needs of… Continue reading


After reading scores of books in the character genre and speaking directly with many authors, I was motivated to initiate my own research and demonstrate what might be achieved from the bottom up involving laypeople like myself. I wondered whether a layperson could construct the questionnaire, convince a broad range of citizens to respond to the survey questions, and determine if the responses would be interesting and meaningful. I was especially curious whether those who took the character survey would confirm my suspicion that character greatness is not born but grown and can be developed. The reader can judge whether this exercise was worthwhile as the entire survey is  at

Initially, I contacted fifty friends and colleagues I have known to be highly respected, many of whom I met during my advocacy career. Thirty of those invited agreed to participate in the survey. The occupations of these men… Continue reading





Having been educated in 18 plus years of orthodox Roman Catholic teaching (i.e. the Dominican Sisters, Irish Christian Brothers, Jesuits and later the Dominican Friars), it should not be surprising my interest in character development is based largely on the of works classical, (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero) biblical, (Job, Proverbs, Sirach) and scholastic (Augustine, Boethius, Thomas Aquinas) scholars.


Writing Character in America made me better appreciate the richness and excellence of character in our Greco, Judeo, Roman and Christian traditions. My views are based on the cultivation of the classical virtues of Western civilization.  Some of the most insightful thinking about character is rather old. The cornerstone of my belief in building character in America is the argument that virtue is acquired in much the same way as other skills and abilities, through purposeful practice. Aristotle in a passage from his Nicomachean Ethics stated…


“And… Continue reading


Rather than debate whether Colin Kaepernick chose the proper venue to express his first amendment right to sit rather than stand at attention for the singing of the National Anthem I propose the former starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, set aside his free time to read the last sermon given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” The sermon was delivered on March 31, 1968 in Washington D.C. at the National Cathedral five days before Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis Tennessee.

Dr. King invoked Washington Irving’s character Rip Van Winkle who slept through the American Revolution. Lest Mr. Kaepernick fall asleep while riding the bench, permit me to quote the closing parts of Dr. King’s last sermon in the hope we are all re-awakened to the unfinished work of Dr. King and our nation.

 I say to you our goal is freedom,… Continue reading

Image is of the current monument at Thermopylae

Image is of the current monument at Thermopylae


“Go, stranger, and to Lacedaemon tell
That here, obeying her behests, we fell.”
Spartan Monument at Thermopylae, as recorded by Herodotus in The Histories

Few stories in our history so capture the imagination.

One king with three hundred men, another king with three hundred thousand. Spartan King Leonidas, hand-picking those to go meet the advancing Mede and Persian hordes in Attica, made sure his men all had living sons—so no household would be left desolate. There was no illusion as to what might lie ahead.

Xerxes, on the other hand, could not see what was coming. Confident that the Spartans would retreat in the face of his countless army, he waited. And waited. His spies reported that the Spartans weren’t retreating; some were engaging in gymnastic exercises, others were grooming their hair. Confused, Xerxes sought someone who could explain… Continue reading

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Mottoes & Quotes

The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.

— Anne Frank

For the Visually Impaired

Courage in America has been aurally transcribed for the visually impaired, thanks to Volunteers of Vacaville, California. Tel: 704.448.6841 ext 2044.