As a recent article in the New Republic points out, teaching kids “performance character” qualities like grit, optimism and social intelligence is all the rage.
The increasingly popular Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) is a leading proponent of this “new character education.” Teachers at KIPP charter schools even issue a regular Character Growth Card to assess students in these seven “character skills”: grit, zest, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence and curiosity.
In the New Republic article, author Jeffrey Aaron Snyder takes issue with this approach, arguing that this kind of character education “is untethered from any conception of morality.” (He also claims that “we do not know how to teach character” and that “this mode of education drastically constricts the overall purpose of education” — but let’s set those two points aside for now.)
As Snyder puts it: “Today’s grit and self-control are basically industry and temperance in the guise of psychological constructs rather than moral imperatives. Why is this distinction important? While it takes grit and self-control to be a successful heart surgeon, the same could be said about a suicide bomber. When your character education scheme fails to distinguish between doctors and terrorists, heroes and villains, it would appear to have a basic flaw. Following the KIPP growth card protocol, Bernie Madoff’s character point average, for instance, would be stellar. He was, by most accounts, an extremely hard working, charming, wildly optimistic man.”
What do you think about teaching “performance character” that is divorced from ethics and morality? Take the poll and share a comment below.