A fascinating discussion at the Aspen Ideas Festival around the question of character education, and whether that should be, or can be, integrated into curriculum. Author Paul Tough, who wrote the provocative article “What if the Secret to Success is Failure,” says his research shows that things like perseverance, grit, resourcefulness, integrity, willpower — what he summarizes in the word “character,” can be learned. In this context, how do we then measure success and failure?

Others also weigh in: Dominic Randolph, the head of school at Riverdale Country Day School, a progressive private school in New York; and Russell Shaw, Head of School at Georgetown Day School.

And for further thought, read educator Larry Ferlazzo’s retort to the idea of grading character: “Why corrupt the process by assigning numerical values to elements of character? We should focus on encouragement and self-reflection, and help students see how developing these qualities are in their short and long-term self interest.”

NBC News Education Nation: Can Character Be Taught? from The Aspen Institute and The Aspen Institute on FORA.tv

Can Character Be Taught? 3 July,2012MindShift
  • Teach character (encourage character development). But grade character? It’s a trap.

    Long ago, when I was in elementary school, our grading system was E, G, S and the dreaded N (not satisfactory). Character was on the report card, paired at the top with Behavior. Teachers were expected to explain any N grade on the report card (which was sent home every six weeks).

    Looking back at some of those cards from upper elementary, I can see that sometimes the teacher explained an N in Behavior as “talks too much in class.” And sometimes she explained an N in Character as “talks too much in class.” In those days, it’s fair to say, most adults didn’t see a lot of difference between behavior and character. How very wrong they were.

    Talking too much in class turned out not to be a very good indicator of character. With the advantage of hindsight, I can see that in my little school, it was a trait shared by future journalists, confidence artists, lawyers, actors and ministers of the faith. Oh – and quite a few teachers!

  • Anonymous

    You should ask Sister Mary Patrick how to teach character… There was no doubt in her mind that character was behavior and behavior was character. And no doubt about which side of the reportcard was the most important. She would also have told you what part of your character was in need of a kick if you were talking at all in class. She would be wondering what we thought we were doing up to this point and why we are suddenly “discovering” that some character traits help people be successful. Remember Stick-to-it- ivness?     

    I also am sick of hearing how badly American schools score when we are up against other countries. No one ever looks at who we are educating and who other countries are educating. What measures are being used and whose scores are in the pot. Some countries only educate a narrow group of children. Other countries are hugely supportive of their teachers and schools which we are not. Take a look at the innovations of the digital age and they are American.  

  • THIS is the conversation that is so desperately needed in ed reform discourse. I like how Dominic framed character ed as the means by which to ACTUALLY up the ante in reform circles. Character ed also has the potential to, like he said, offer a truly valuable answer to what it is a high school education should be about exactly.

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