In today's NYTimes, What if the Secret to Success is Failure?, about attempts to teach good character traits.
At a KIPP school, they've designed a report card:
Logistically, the character report card had been a challenge to pull off. Teachers at all four KIPP middle schools in New York City had to grade every one of their students, on a scale of 1 to 5, on every one of the 24 character indicators, and more than a few of them found the process a little daunting. And now that report-card night had arrived, they had an even bigger challenge: explaining to parents just how those precise figures, rounded to the second decimal place, summed up their children’s character. I sat for a while with Mike Witter, a 31-year-old eighth-grade English teacher, as he talked through the character report card with Faith Flemister and her son Juaquin Bennett, a tall, hefty eighth grader in a gray hooded sweatshirt.
... Witter pulled out a green felt-tip marker and circled one indicator on Juaquin’s report card. “ ‘Pays attention and resists distraction,’ ” Witter read aloud, an indicator for academic self-control. “That’s a little lower than some of the other numbers. Why do you think that is?”
“I talk too much in class,” Juaquin said, a little sheepishly, looking down at his black sneakers. “I sometimes stare off into space and don’t pay attention.”
Oh, please. Is there no end to the meddling our schools engage in? If I were Juaquin, I would never want to step foot in school again, after such an invasive and humiliating experience.
Meanwhile, at an affluent private school in the Bronx:
[Guidance Counselor] Cohen said that in the middle school, “if a kid is a C student, and their parents think that they’re all-A’s, we do get a lot of pushback: ‘What are you talking about? This is a great paper!’ We have parents calling in and saying, for their kids, ‘Can’t you just give them two more days on this paper?’ Overindulging kids, with the intention of giving them everything and being loving, but at the expense of their character — that’s huge in our population. I think that’s one of the biggest problems we have at Riverdale.”
I am extremely skeptical of the alleged character-building effects of bad grades. Bad grades are just as likely to provoke depression and despair as hard work and persistence, especially if the child perceives them as unfair.
For kids to grow as complete human beings, they need autonomy, privacy, and free time. They need the chance to figure things out for themselves and develop their own point of view. No report card can help kids achieve this goal. The only way for kids to develop true character is to have genuine, real-life experiences that grow naturally from their own interests.
I fear that at this rate, the first genuine, unmediated experience our kids are likely to have is post-graduate unemployment.