Friday, August 15, 2008

Teaching Character

When American universities were first founded, the classroom was used not just for teaching science, but character as well. Today, professors seem ambivalent about what "character" even refers to. Consequently, character is left out of the classroom.

Yet I would argue that we have a duty to encourage the development of a few key character traits which lead to success in the workplace, and perhaps personal happiness as well. In 2006, Shida Henneberry and I published an article in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics titled Show Me the Money! showing that when making hiring decisions, employers place more emphasis on the job candidate's character than they do internship experience, communication skills, grades, academic awards, and any other qualification we could think of.

A recent essay in Prospect Magazine titled, A question of character discusses the renewed interest in character development. Citing other studies, author Richard Reeves states...

measured levels of "application"—defined as dedication and a capacity for concentration—at the age of ten have a bigger impact on earnings by the age of 30 than ability in maths. Similarly, what psychologists call an "internal locus of control"—a sense of personal agency—at the age of ten has a bigger impact than reading ability on earnings.

Serious teachers want to see their students succeed in life. Recent evidence suggests that character development is essential to this success. The kind of character development I am thinking of has nothing to do with religion, it has to do with personal control and emotional intelligience. I think Richard Reeves summarizes the three important character traits well when he states...

The three key ingredients of a good character are: a sense of personal agency or self-direction; an acceptance of personal responsibility; and effective regulation of one's own emotions, in particular the ability to resist temptation or at least defer gratification.

How we instill such character traits is the hard question, one I will try to discuss in future blogs. Do not be disappointed if no such blogs results, as I am deeply conflicted and confused as to why character development can and should be obtained. If the reader has thoughts, please let me know!