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Character Education: New Twists on an Ongoing Concern

What constitutes character education in your school?  You may be interested to know that character education is evolving in the research community– suggesting that good old-fashioned “true grit” plays a powerful role in academic achievement.

In fact, Dr. Angela Duckworth, has developed a grit scale.  Imagine if your students graduated from school with not only a G.P.A. but also a C.P.A. for  character  point average.  That’s one of the ideas explored in What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? by Paul Tough in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

Tough’s article raises questions about the way character education often has been addressed in school focusing on things like respect, honesty, tolerance, and kindness.  Instead the reporter puts the focus on zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, optimism and curiosity.

He chronicles the extent to which some school administrators have gone to acquire a system of teaching character.  Tough interviews experts like Dr. Duckworth whose recent studies have shown character to be a better indicator of academic success than standardized tests.

In the article, one administrator reports that his students who did well in college had character strengths like optimism, persistence and social intelligence.  They weren’t the ones who were at the head of the class before college.

Dr. Duckworth is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.  According to Tough’s article, she developed a Grit Scale to measure passion and dedication to a goal no matter the obstacles.  Her Grit Scale was a more accurate predictor of cadet success at West Point than the academy’s own methods.

Tough’s reporting indicates that some administrators have teachers using examples of these traits in their lessons.  Not only have historical figures been dissected, but math word problems have been re-worded to include these character traits.  Also there’s much in-school focus to assess students from the early grades on – all in an attempt to build character to attain success in life.

The grit scale seems to put a focus on persistence and having young people learn to take failure as a part of building toward  success.  Do you think learning to fail well is a skill?  We’d like to hear your thoughts.  Do you think the experience of failure is necessary to build character? And how should you be teaching character-building in your schools?

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