Paul Tough

Writer & Speaker

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Character response

Some response from around the web to my article in the New York Times Magazine on character education at KIPP and Riverdale Country School. The magazine published a few letters to the editor here. On this blog, part of the Times’s Learning Network, 536 high-school students weighed in with their comments. And on the Classroom as Microcosm blog, a writing teacher in Montreal known, pseudonymously, as Siobhan Curious writes that the article gave her some ideas about how to better instruct failure-averse students in her class:

According to Tough and some of his subjects, the key ingredient is grit, the ability to persist in the face of obstacles and even failure.

GRIT! I thought.  This is what I’ve been saying all along!  If I can face down my limitations, if I can labour to be, not perfect, but better – I will be … happy?  Is grit something we can learn?  If so, how can we teach it? …

Teaching them how to write a commentary is all very well, but what is it for?  Maybe the main thing is for is to help them practice grit: Yes, it’s hard.  Just keep going.  If you fail, fail as well as you can, and then try again.

We need to spend less time talking about literary techniques and more time talking about grit.

Curious’s blog post has so far collected 219 comments.

2 comments on “Character response

  1. Norman S says:

    The message in Ontario public schools is definitely around moral, not performance, character. There also doesn’t really seem to be an effort at teaching the purpose of working on character: instead, it’s mostly vague aphorisms similar to what you mention in your article. The method of learning at the schools still highly pedagogical too – trying to pour knowledge into the kids (as in RSA Animate’s video on Changing Education Paradigms at ).

    Do you see any relation with the themes in your article (positive psychology, performance character, happiness) to Mark Kingwell’s book on happiness, or on the Strengths “movement” (Clifton / Buckingham, through work at Gallup)?

    Thanks for the great article, Paul. I’ve seen mentions about it all over the place.

  2. Bob Wolf says:

    The Character Test is “right on” the mark! I’ve been teaching students what I call “4 Skills Every Student Needs” …noted in our website and would like to speak with you. Please contact me. Also, you should look into the De La Salle Schools …they are educating young men in a way that prepares them both academically and socially …and, these young men are children of poverty. This is a special school which deserves greater recognition, especially in terms of what your article states about dealing with failure. I’ve created many acronyms that students love and use to remember my message of “active” HOPE ..i.e. – THINK: This Helps Inspire New Knolwedge. Thanks for your time and response, I look forward to hearing from you.

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