Monday, October 24, 2011

Defining Character

The concept of Character has so many facets that it can be a tough concept to define. We know it when we see it, but it occurs in so many different ways and at different levels. The KDS Core Values are meant, in part, to cut through this fog and specify critical dimensions of character for our community. A total list of desirable virtues and values would compromise the simplicity and focus that is necessary to making forward progress by being able to generate concrete applications.

A recent NYT Sunday magazine article added another very helpful way to look at character. In comparing an elite NYC private school with an under-resourced inner city school, it became clear that for students of privilege character often translates as higher - and perhaps more vague - virtues such as fairness, generosity, and tolerance. Schools that serve students who face a long and steep climb out of difficult urban challenges tend to define character as grit, gratitude, self-control, and social intelligence. These terms are essential for survival and sustained success in the world of urban education.

Paul Tough (interesting name given the article), creates the distinction of moral and performance character. When facing difficult, persistent, immediate, and forceful challenges it is performance character that comes to bear if success is to be achieved and sustained. Moral character then provides a higher level of inspiration and guidance to measure the worth of a course of action, particularly if meeting one's daily needs is assured. I am hopeful that students at Kent Denver learn both.

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