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Classroom Character

From “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?” by Paul Tough, New York Times Magazine, Education Issue:

“But as Levin watched the progress of those KIPP alumni, he noticed something curious: the 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. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class [...]

“It is a central paradox of contemporary parenting, in fact: we have an acute, almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both large and small. And yet we all know ? on some level, at least — that 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.”

In sum, the article investigates character development (as an addition and complement to academic development) at the Riverdale Country Day School in the Bronx and the KIPP Infinity Charter School. Both Levin and Riverdale headmaster Dominic Randolph investigate whether character can be “taught” and which characteristics are most critical and valuable — settling upon, among others, “bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom, and integrity.”

I tweeted the article yesterday before I’d even finished it. So it sure invites an array of questions: what characteristics are most indicative of future success? Which of these can and should be cultivated in the classroom, or does that depend on the location of the school and make-up of the student body? Riverdale and KIPP certainly take related, but not identical, approaches. Moreover, does it make sense to add this psychological dimension to middle school academics; and should teachers “grade” character along with math and literature skills?

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