Why character is more important than content

I have just been reading a really interesting article on the ever-interesting website “Mindshift“.  The post was called “Can Kids Be Taught Persistence?”

This is a review of Paul Tough’s new book called ” How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character“. This book by an investigative journalist, looks at recent developments in some American schools that have looked for answers to why the U.S.A. is underperforming in the world education stakes (according to PISA statistics that is).

They believe that it is necessary to look at the  of what personality traits are needed to succeed in the 21st century world. They come to the conclusion that the ability to handle failure is a significant factor.

In a filmed interview which Paul Tough attended at the Aspen Ideas Festival  one of the participants states at one point: “if you are thirty-five years of age and are stuck with a real problem to solve at work you probably won’t get far by looking back on what you learnt in American history!”

This is so true! I wonder that we spend so much of our time preoccupied with the content of the curriculum and neglect the key issues of what personal characteristics help our students to survive and cope with an ever changing world.

The London Olympics have arrived and in the next two weeks or so there will be successes and failures at all sorts of sports. Those who win will have experienced setbacks and failure in the past. It is not the setbacks that are important in themselves but the ability of the individual to overcome them and work out how to turn failure into success.

I have spoken elsewhere about the necessity of learning to fail. I feel that  Paul Tough’s book needs to be looked at and discussed. I would wish though to put on record that the idea that characteristics like mental toughness can be graded (as is the practice in some schools following these ideas) is frankly farcical and would detract from those aspects of developing a flexible approach to learning that I would like to see in schools. For a really good retort to grading see Larry Ferlazzo’s article in The Washington Post “Why schools should not grade character traits”.

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