The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, has announced a grant of more than $1.1 million from the John Templeton Foundation to evaluate the Laws of Life Essay Contest, which the foundation originally created twenty-five years ago as a way to promote moral character among students in Franklin County, Tennessee.
Led by Sherry Hamby, research associate professor in the university's department of psychology, the study will include a comprehensive mixed-methods evaluation of the contest, which each year invites more than one hundred thousand students around the world to explain which of the "Laws of Life" — things like the Golden Rule or "honesty is the best policy" — are most important to them. As part of the evaluation, Hamby and her team will interview as many as three thousand people of all ages from Franklin and surrounding counties in Tennessee who have participated in the contest, as well as a control group that has not participated in the contest, in order to compile a comprehensive assessment of the effects of writing an essay for the contest as well as how expressive writing on the Laws of Life might help people as they experience challenges over the course of a lifetime.
Researchers also will examine the developmental trajectory of the contest's outcomes, including whether short-term outcomes differ from long-term outcomes and whether participants who are now in middle adulthood reflect on the experience differently from more recent participants.
"Most importantly," said Hamby, "we hope that the results of the project will provide new insight and impetus to efforts promoting positive character development among young people in Franklin County and beyond."