11.26.2011

Character Counts...but should it be graded?

As adults we often read books or see movies about "if you build it, they will come" or adventures that almost go awry but succeed in the end because of the expedition leader's tenacity, grit, moxie. The "stay alive I will find you" aspect of love and romance is heavily emphasized as well. However, far too often in our society our children just expect "greatness" or "success" to happen. Kids today automatically expect that the latest/greatest tech gadget, the newest clothing, music player will be not just appearing this holiday season in their stocking, but even when it's NOT the holidays. It's hard to keep up with all the gadgetry that our children not just want, but are starting to require as we move further into 21st century education. 



But today, it's not just about the tech that our kids want (and let's face it, our kids will never know a world without cell phones, ipads, or e-readers, in fact look at all the products that are being marketed to our pre-k learners to help them learn to read: they all look exactly like tablets, cell phones, etc. We are "pre-programing our children to be tech compatible before they understand what technology actually is) it is the expectations that they "deserve" it. Sometimes I know the "back when I was a kid" speech falls on deaf ears, but really, back when I was a kid I earned the latest and greatest "whatever" it was-it wasn't automatically given but certainly if abused it was automatically taken away. 


As writer Paul Tough points out in his New York Times article " What if the Secret to Success is Failure?"  far too often our students are just "expecting" good grades which will enable them to get into the high school or college that they want to attend and that after college their "dream" job is literally just waiting for them to apply for it. And because we instinctively want the very best for our children, we tend (far to often) to "help" them navigate situations, that quite frankly they need to figure out on their own. For example, my oldest son knows that his 8th grade Language Arts teacher is a stickler on due dates for assignments and that are consequences for turning in late work. Seth's plan of action should be to be less cavalier about keeping track of those assignments, and when he is he needs to take the lower grade and not act as if the lower grade is "personal." He needs to learn to be responsible and act accordingly when his lack of responsibility impacts his GPA. Certainly I reinforce that one missed assignment won't cause his college/career plans to go off track. But several missed assignments, several moments of lax responsibility will. And it isn't as if this was sprung on him mid-year. We all knew the process of homework for this class, and agreed to respect this teacher's rules. Furthermore, I could intervene, but that would set up a pattern of reliance on someone else to fix your problems. I won't be there when he's in his 20s in college, or at a job/career. I won't call his astronomy professor or his boss and say, hey, give Seth a break, he's a good kid, this won't happen again...because that doesn't build character does it?


I also think that far too often if an adult has had a bad educational experience (for whatever reason) they pass those sentiments/attitudes along to their children, thus creating another generation of students who feel that learning/school doesn't have value. Read further in the article about "grit." I like to call it moxie myself. Sure, school is hard, academically, socially, emotionally. Especially middle school when all those hormones kick into high gear. But LIFE is hard. There are sweet moments of success and satisfaction, but on a regular basis there are more mountains to climb. Far too often I believe, students expect to be "given" the highest grades even when they do the minimum amount of work. That if they only climb the mountain halfway and plant the flag, that is good enough. And sadly, many adults who are supposed to be enthusiastically encouraging those students to strive harder to achieve more, just accept status quo as well. We need to shift that thinking from both adults and children. So character building is not just a school responsibility but a family responsibility thus we need to create stronger communities of learning which encourage families to reinforce and teach critical social skills which are also taught within our schools.



While I don't think we should give a separate report card solely about character (read the article), I do recognize that our report cards (at least in our school district) does grade a student's behavior (outstanding! satisfactory! needs improvement) and our district participates in the CARE for kids program (written about in an Edutopia article Louisville SEL Social Emotional Learning) which encourages community connectivity, respect, etc. I know that far too often because our culture is a "win at any cost" and "failure is not an option" we  need to help our children understand that failure doesn't mean they are a failure. We can't always make excuses for our children's poor behavior or choices, and we can't always "rescue" them, but we  do need to help them navigate their world now, while they are young, so they are confident to navigate it on their own when we won't be there to help.


In our house we call it "making judicious* choices." Thinking before you speak (one of my favorite quotes "Before you speak, think-is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?"-Sri Sathva Sai Babaces") is essential. Thinking about consequences is critical. Far too often our culture celebrates (and encourages by monetary reward) bad behavior and poor choices. And because so many of these examples of bad behavior are framed as "family television time" our youngest and most impressionable are learning from these "role models" instead of seeing respectful, caring, responsible, behavior.


As a community we need to understand that "grit" is certainly an internal trait, but external factors will shape it to be "true."



*Judicious: having, showing, or done with good judgment or sense. Being wise, sensible, reasonable, prudent, and SANE.









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