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'Character education' growing within schools | Deseret News National
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Ben Brewer, Deseret News
Education

'Character education' growing within schools

In the attempt to gauge educational achievement by “real-world standards,” educators are trying to instill in their students “grit.”

The belief that kids need to be gritty was brought to fame by aptly named Paul Tough, who wrote the book “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.”

Inspired by positive psychology, as outlined by the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, in his book, Tough listed seven characteristics that he claims lead to academic success better than I.Q.: grit, zest, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence and curiosity.

Tough argued that the way educators measure success doesn’t groove with how the world interprets success. Since his book’s publication, “character education” has popped up in charter and private schools across the country. New curriculum instruction guides have been created over the years to help integrate the philosophy into public schools.

For some educators, character education is what they’ve waited for, while for others it remains questionable.

“What we need in education is a much better understanding of students and learning from a motivational perspective, from a psychological perspective,” Angela Lee Duckworth said in her TED talk. “In education the one thing we know how to measure best is I.Q. But what if doing well in school and life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and efficiently?”

According to Duckworth, grit means “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” and if parents and educators want their students to succeed, they need to teach them the character traits Tough wrote about.

It’s hard to argue that perseverance and self-control aren’t natural indicators of ultimate success, but some are questioning whether or not such qualities can be taught.

“Imagine attending a high school where your teachers grade you on how well you handle disappointments and failures; respond to the feelings of your peers; and adapt to different social situations,” Jeffery Aaron Snyder wrote in New Republic. “Imagine, too, that the results are tabulated in a document called a ‘character growth card’ and sent home to your parents along with your report card.”

Snyder became critical of character education after implementing it in his own classroom.

“There are three major problems with the new character education,” Snyder said. “The first is that we do not know how to teach character. The second is that character-based education is untethered from any conception of morality. And lastly, this mode of education drastically constricts the overall purpose of education.”

Even Duckworth admits she doesn’t know how some students develop success-related characteristics. The psychologists who developed the theory on the Big Five Personality Traits say they know exactly why some people have grit and others don’t: They are inherited traits.

Additionally, new research published in UCHICAGOCCR explains that knowing which characteristics make for success and knowing how to develop them are two totally different things, maybe wholly unrelated. Even so, for those who claim they’ve reaped the benefits of implementing these standards into classrooms and schools, the results are remarkable and undeniable.

“Educators at [Capitol West Academy] insist this focus is paying off,” Greg Peck wrote in GazetteExtra. “Twice as many students in the high-poverty school are proficient at reading compared to four years ago. Discipline problems prompting trips to the principal's office have been cut in half.”