Character & Education

September 21, 2011


For those of us interested in the importance of good character, a number of recent items in the media have proven particularly thought-provoking.

A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly was titled “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy.”  (See:  Just about any article that refers to Wendy Mogel (author of The Blessings of a Skinned Knee) deserves mention in my book.  Those of you who have read previous postings in this blog know that I think we need to develop of resilience in children.

Kirk Cousins, who plays quarterback for the Michigan State football team, was the player’s representative at the annual Big-Ten media luncheon.  In a marvelous speech, he reflected upon the privilege of playing football in the Big Ten as well as the responsibilities that come with that (or any) privilege.  (See:  This is stuff to warm the heart of any educator!

Paul Tough wrote a fascinating article for The New York Times on September 17:  “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?”  (See:  The article documents efforts to incorporate the development of good character at two very different New York schools: Riverdale, an independent school in the Bronx, and the KIPP Academy network of charter schools.  With the help of psychology professors at the Universities of Michigan and Pennsylvania, leaders of both schools developed a list of character strengths especially likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement.  They are: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.

The common thread here is that education is about more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Schools and parents must work in partnership so that children develop character skills that will well serve them and the society of which they are a part.

At Tower, we seek to instill character first through “The Tower Code:”

  1. Respect all people: teachers, students, staff, parents, visitors, and others.
  2. Respect the rights of students to learn and teachers to teach.
  3. Be kind and helpful. Include others.
  4. Be honest with yourself and others.
  5. Respect school and personal property, and help keep Tower clean.

Referring again to Tough’s article in The New York Times, our Code provides Tower’s backbone in “moral character.”  Perhaps we should develop a code for “performance character” as well.

Zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity appear very good starters to Tower’s code for performance character.  I would add at least two others.

  • All of us associated with Tower are privileged.  And so, we must work carefully to develop the sense of responsibility that comes with that privilege.
  • We must intentionally develop community spirit.  I’m old fashioned enough to believe that people are at their best when they share a sense of purpose to the common good.  One of the greatest dangers our modern world faces is the loss of community spirit as individuals increasingly focus on their own special interests.  Schools like Tower can instill in our students the value of cooperative work.  We should teach our students the habit of partnership.

What do you think about the idea of a “performance code” for Tower?  What items do you think should be included on that code?

About Tower School, Marblehead MA 01945

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One Comment on “Character & Education”

  1. Trish Newhall Says:

    Thank you, Peter, for writing about this! The idea of a “performance code” is a good one–highlighting the importance of self-work as well as community-building. In my work, I present “self-efficacy” as being one of the three essential components of academic success (in addition to language/literacy skills, and study skills). Self-efficacy is the awareness and understanding that “what I do makes a difference”–in my character, in my interactions with others, in my learning and work, and in the larger community. Character work as you and the articles describe it plays a major role in building self-efficacy! And Huzzah to your final point about the need for shared goals and community building…have you read the now-oldish book called, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” by Robert Putnam (2000)?


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