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The Intellectual Virtues Academy Blog

3 IVA High Students prepare for biology lab. One student writes in notebook, one student reads a notebook, and one student prepares lab equipment.

What are Intellectual Virtues? And why do they matter?


They’re in our school name and they are a central part of our curriculum: intellectual virtues are integral to our mission at IVA High. But what exactly are intellectual virtues? And why are they important to high school students? Let’s dig into the transformative power of an education focused on intellectual virtues. 

What are Intellectual Virtues?

Intellectual virtues are characteristics that enable individuals to effectively engage in thinking, learning, problem-solving, and decision-making. When strengthened with intention, these virtues can cultivate a well-rounded intellect, enabling one to think critically, deepen understanding, and make sound decisions.

At IVA High, nine virtues are thoughtfully woven into the fabric of our learning community. Each course includes instruction, practice and reflection on these nine virtues. Intellectual virtues are the heart of our curriculum, but it’s important to note that while these virtues take center stage, they do not crowd out essential skills and knowledge.  


“Importantly, educating for intellectual virtues is not an alternative to instruction in traditional academic subjects like math, English, history, and science. Rather, it is a way of helping students approach and engage with these subjects–a way that is personal, thoughtful, and active.” –Jason Baehr, IVA Founder & Author of Deep Thought

When presented with new information like a mathematical theorem or a literature perspective, we encourage students to approach the unknown with a sense of wonder and curiosity. When working through a difficult problem, IVA High students practice the virtue of tenacity and even humility if the task is beyond their current scope of ability. And when engaged in a debate with conflicting arguments, IVA students are asked to show up courageously and listen with care and attention

Why Do Intellectual Virtues Matter? 

The great challenge of education is our collective inability to predict the future. Skills and knowledge in any given field change rapidly, rendering it nearly impossible to fully prepare for a career that may not exist yet. 

However, an education that focuses on capacity for learning opens up greater opportunities for one to adapt and grow in an ever-changing world. Intellectual virtues cultivate the best practices of human thinking across all disciplines, making them essential for developing well-rounded, capable and competent participants in college, career and life.

Our model of education has been praised by researchers as inspiring a paradigm shift in educational reform for our focus on nurturing students as learners and thinkers. The New York Times bestselling author, Jonathan Haidt, says in his book The Coddling of the American Mind, that IVA High students are “wiser and stronger” and urges “prestigious universities” to “admit more students who have attended schools that teach the intellectual virtues.” 


How are Intellectual Virtues Taught at IVA High?

First and foremost, the IVA High community nurtures a safe environment conducive to student growth, reflection and connection. This means we have deep respect for each one of our students who engage in this deeply personal type of education. In his book Deep In Thought, Jason Baehr recognizes IVA High leadership and staff for listening to and acting upon the needs, goals and strengths of our students:

The work they're doing is critical and inspiring. They have taught me, among other things, how one's approach to teaching for intellectual virtues must be guided by the unique identity or identities of one's students. 

Teachers at IVA High thoughtfully introduce students to the language of intellectual virtues and facilitate students to reflect on the progress of their own intellectual characteristics. As students grow through our program, they are provided opportunities to practice target virtues, focusing on strengthening areas that need improvement while celebrating the virtues that come naturally. 

Each month, our school comes together to celebrate student success. Teachers share constructive feedback, personal stories and examples of students’ growth. Here are a few examples of how we’ve recognized students for demonstrating intellectual virtues at IVA High: 

"Your courage and willingness to share sets an example for your peers to do the same."

"You have even stayed after the bell to finish your thoughts with thoroughness and meaning."

"This student has shown tenacity by working constantly, regardless of barriers and challenges and has shown motivation to keep striving for more; more bagels, more connections, more ideas."

"In English class when we were working on grammar, you asked careful questions to make sure you understood the exercise, and checked in with me to see whether you were understanding the concepts correctly."

IVA High empowers students not just with knowledge, but with invaluable tools that will support them long beyond their high school years. We are paving the way for a future generation of thinkers, innovators, and compassionate leaders. If this sounds like the type of education you seek, we encourage you to reach out and learn more. We’re enrolling for 2024-25 and we’d love to meet you. 

About IVA High

IVA High is a fully accredited, tuition-free public high school in Long Beach, California with a mission to empower students to think well: creatively, critically, and with a capacity for self-growth. Our learner-centered approach puts students in charge of their education, while dual enrollment and paid internships transform learning into action. Students come for college prep, STEAM and limitless options for their future; they stay for smaller, safer learning in a vibrant, caring community. IVA High - Curious Minds, Empowered Community - Join Us.