Opinion Brief

Should schools teach character?

Some educators believe building bravery, humor, and zest is just as important as preparing students for standardized tests

Dominic Randolph, headmaster of the prestigious Riverdale Country School in New York, believes character counts — perhaps even more than standardized tests. As documented by Paul Tough in The New York Times, Randolph has refashioned his campus to teach kids character — "those essential traits of mind and habit that were drilled into [Randolph] at boarding school in England and that also have deep roots in American history." In the past, Randolph says, "whether it's the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, you could be successful... Strangely, we've now forgotten that." Now, some schools including Riverdale are downplaying conventional measuring sticks like standardized tests and using a character education program that emphasizes attributes like bravery, humor, wisdom, and zest. Good idea?

Yes. Character is an important part of education: We "should embrace character-building and all-around education not as an alternative to academic attainment but as an essential adjunct of it," says Anthony Seldon at Britain's Guardian. The best schools work to develop character, and more should follow their lead. Already, too many schools have became "exam factories" that put way too much focus on test scores and grades.
"Schools should develop children's character, not just their ability to pass exams"

And character contributes to a civilized society: "Who could possibly be opposed to a community that values character development?" asks Richard R. Pieper Sr. in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. When you look at how kids are behaving today — from the London riots to mayhem at the local shopping mall — it's clear that we're in the midst of a character crisis. If America is to thrive, we must focus on this aspect of education. "If we are not a virtuous society, we may cease to be a free one."
"Character development: Why the virtues matter"

Maybe. But let's be honest about what we're doing here: These "character" programs "cram some middle class white values into the heads of lower class blacks and Hispanics" who demonstrate the most potential, and, I suspect, have the highest IQs, says Steve Sailer at iSteve Blog. That's not a bad thing — "good kids should get some breaks in life, like getting to go to school away from the knuckleheads" — but we shouldn't deny what these programs are really about.
"KIPP, again"

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