We don’t know how to teach character, and we should be wary of grading students on their character.
Teaching students “grit” and other character traits seems to be all the rage in K-12 education. New York and other states actually mandate character education in public schools, with sometimes clumsy attempts to weave this instruction into academic content courses. Education professor Jeffrey Aaron Snyder sees problems with these efforts, a primary one being that “we do not know how to teach character”
There may be an increasingly cogent “science of character,” as Levin says in the introductory video to his online class, but there is no science of teaching character. “Do we even know for sure that you can teach it?” Duckworth asks about grit in the same online video. Her answer: “No, we don’t.” We may discover that the most “desirable” character traits are largely inherited; stubbornly resistant to educational interventions; or both. We already know that grit is strongly correlated with “conscientiousness,” one of the Big Five personality traits that psychologists view as stable and hereditary. A recent report emphasizes that simply “knowing that noncognitive factors matter is not the same as knowing how to develop them in students.” The report concludes that “clear, actionable strategies for classroom practice” are few and far between. Consider the fact that the world’s “grittiest” students, including Chinese students who log some of the longest hours on their homework, have never been exposed to a formal curriculum that teaches perseverance.
How do you grade a student’s character?
Character education becomes an even more problematic issue when a significant component of grading is based on character. It’s bad enough that there’s “no science of teaching character”, but it gets worse when teachers are giving grades on a such traits as a student’s effort, enthusiasm, curiosity, or gratitude. Thanks, but no thanks. Please stick to academic outputs when grading my child in school.