This morning, the “most e-mailed” article on the New York Times website is about the quest for character education at two very different New York City schools. Dominic Randolph heads an elite private school that serves privileged children of high-achieving parents, while David Levin is superintendent of New York’s KIPP charter schools, where the students are poor and parents generally have little education. But both principals believe that character is essential to their pupils’ future success, and have collaborated to implement comprehensive character education programs.
A few highlights:
- After the first cohort of KIPP alumni got to college, 33% of them completed a bachelor’s degree, far short of KIPP’s goal of 75%. When Levin and his colleagues analyzed who graduated and who didn’t, they found that students who “persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence.”
- Indeed, research by psychologist Angela Duckworth has shown that “measures of self-control can be a more reliable predictor of students’ grade-point averages than their I.Q.’s.” She looked at a full-range of character traits that lead to success in populations as various as West Point cadets and New York middle-schoolers, and named the overall quality “grit,” or the combination of a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission.
- Levin and his KIPP schools use a “character report card” to rate each student on 24 different “character indicators.” (For example, indicators for good Self-Control include “Is polite to adults and peers,” “Keeps temper in check,” “Pays attention and resists distraction”)
- The Character Education Partnership, an umbrella advocacy group of which CHARACTER COUNTS! is a member, categorizes character education programs as focusing on either “moral character “ (including ethical values like fairness, generosity, integrity) or “performance character” (including traits that are more closely linked to achievement, like effort, diligence, and perseverance).
- At the private school, it is unquestioned that virtually all the students will go to college, and that they have a strong support network that will ensure that they reach a certain level of achievement. Nevertheless, Headmaster Randolph sees a strong need for character education in order for these children to grow into happy and fulfilled human beings, and not just reasonably successful earners and employees. He finds parents “who, while pushing their children to excel, also inadvertently shield them from exactly the kind of experience that can lead to character growth. ..What kids need more than anything is a little hardship; some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can.”
Poor kids may have too much hardship at times, and rich kids not enough, but both groups need to learn how to cope with the difficulties that will inevitably face them as adults. That’s where character education comes in.
Image: Stephen Doyle and Stephen Wilkes for The New York Times