We asked for questions in reaction to Paul Tough's article in The New York Times Magazine about how character education is being taught at KIPP New York and Riverdale Country School, and they poured in. Here is the last round of questions and answers.
Thanks again to David Levin, the superintendent of KIPP New York, and Dominic Randolph, Riverdale's headmaster, for answering your queries. It has been a fascinating conversation, and we thank them for their time and attention.
David Doolittle : I wonder if in your studies of various character-driven cultures and enterprises you studied the works of Kurt Hahn? He founded some progressive charter schools in early 20th century Germany and Great Britain, eventually leading to the foundation of the current Outward Bound Schools. At the Gordonstoun School he implemented a report card similar to the 24 question character evaluation. I think this type of reform is absolutely imperative to the success of our nation's students. I am deeply interested in this type of education and wonder if anyone might suggest some resources where I can explore more information?
D.R.: I have always been inspired by Kurt Hahn and Outward Bound. Kurt Hahn was an inspired educator. Nonetheless, I would still say that his work was not informed particularly by science, but rather by his experiences and own thoughts. I do think, though, that Outward Bound, grounded in the ideas of Hahn, is a great experience that does align with this work on character development. We sent three teachers to an educator's program at North Carolina Outward Bound this summer. The program gives teachers an Outward Bound experience and continues with ongoing contact and retreats for the participants during the school year. I think that experiential education connected to the outdoors is a strong way of building these strengths in adults and children working in schools.
Suresh Srinivas : This is a fascinating article. How come resilience is not a key character trait? I was reading the Social Animal by David Brooks recently and the ability to make and maintain connections with other humans is an important trait as well. The ability to pause and reflect maybe it is under self-control, is another key trait, that the practice of ancient traditions of meditation, yoga can bring. I am really curious how to develop the eight traits that is mentioned here effectively in ourselves, in our children, and in our community. They seem to be all round good stuff and the more people in the community can develop the better we will be.
For some of us educated in a different culture, the opportunities for social interaction, resilience was a natural part of our life style. Be it on the playground, or in the classroom, picking ourselves and moving on was an integral part of our education. I never gave it much of a thought until I started to get more involved with my daughters school.
I am a volunteer and a board member at Street Yoga where we teach yoga as a tool for kids that are undergoing trauma such as homelessness. I also volunteer and teach kids at a top private school. And I look forward to hearing more about how the Character Traits can be developed in teens
D.R.: Resilience is deeply a part of our work. The Penn Resiliency Program run by Karen Reivich and Jane Gillham inspired this work as well. Self-Control and Grit are intimately connected to resilience and building resiliency in our students. You should read their book, The Resilience Factor if you are interested in this work more specifically. As far as developing these strengths via programs in schools, I don't believe that it will come from any one intervention but rather a set of interventions and experiences that suffuses schools. Having a "language of character" and the inventory to help provide feedback around these strengths was a crucial step, but I think we are now auditing what we do as a school community that relates to these strengths and getting faculty to connect what they do already, such as studying literature, to link in more explicit ways with this work.
Lynn Franz I'm curious as to how we might apply performance character to brands and organizations. Could there be performance character attributes that brands/leadership can evaluate themselves on?
D.R.: One would imagine that in schools as in other organizations performance character should be aligned completely with the mission and "brand" of the organization. . We have made "building character" focused on the specific strengths an essential part of our mission and a part of the schools identity. Our "keywords" that are part of how we present ourselves publicly are now: Mind, Character, Commitment and Community. Therefore, this work is essential to our mission and identity as a school. I am sure some of that process of bringing "performance character" to the core and "brand" of an organization would translate into more corporate settings. Once building these capacities is part of the core of an organization, evaluation needs to reflect that central purpose and on giving feedback and evaluating performance as connected to the character "goals" the organization believes in. We have been trying to do that as well at Riverdale.
Bob Bowerman Curious as to how Introverts test out in Character studies.
D.R.: I don't think that it matters if your are an introvert or extrovert, the work is more focused on providing self-knowledge and understanding about how one might go about shifting, in good ways, one's behaviors linked to the strengths. We are trying to get people to understand that it is not as much about I am high in this strength and low in this other, but rather, what is my unique profile of strengths and how can I work to understand my strengths and weaknesses. I do think that the strengths we have chosen offer people who are introverted or extroverted ways to express those strengths in strong ways: curiosity, optimism, gratitude are not necessarily only the domain of the extroverted.
Thom Dougherty Secondary school teacher envy the arts teachers who can design their own rubric, into which character traits are factored more prominently than milepost achievements. Making the KIPP experiences publicly available to educators nationwide should help the advancement of experiential learning and result in fewer kids left behind. Is there a site where we can learn from your group?
D.R.: We have tried to share our work, but we have not developed a central Web site on which to put our work and allow people to share ideas--it may be a good idea. I think that we both hope that teachers worldwide might feel empowered to start thinking about including character strengths in their daily work in their classrooms since it is clear that these capacities have a strong affect on performance. I have not been arguing that this work is primary, but rather it is neglected in being an intentional part of our educational programs at all schools.
Lorin Labardee I was disappointed to see the article never addresses Habits of Mind, a similar character traits index and program to academic success we embrace at the public school where I teach seventh grade. The question I have as an educator isn't, "Are character traits valuable to teach?" but rather, "How can I best integrate yet another very important bit of content into the same short school day?"
D.R.: I do think that there is overlap, but we have a separate and overlapping set of "habits of mind" that we work with as well. The character work is slightly different in my mind than "habits of mind" since these involve "habits of heart" as well. However, a strength such as curiosity is a habit of mind. The work is reinforcing, but not completely the same.