What If Schools Graded on Character?

Working on character development in childhood can mean the difference between adult success and failure.


This won't be the first time you’ve heard that our conventional wisdom around child development and education needs a makeover. It might, however, be the first time you’ve considered the idea of a "character report card" being rolled out in schools.

Author and New York Times Magazine editor Paul Tough recently visited Los Angeles, and in this series of short talks, he explains some pretty profound findings by psychologists, economists, and neuroscientists—all of them related to the link between childhood stress and adult success.

Some schools Tough studies—one is a charter school serving mostly low-income students and another is a private school where one year of tuition is roughly $42,000 a year—are working to change this with character report cards. They’re basing this on the idea that the sum of seven qualities are a better indicator of success than any other measurement tool we’ve used in the past. 

What neuroscientists call "executive function"—or what educators and the rest of us call "character"—is said to be just as important as a child’s IQ (maybe even more important).

In his reporting, Tough reveals a formula for predicting the extent to which a child will be successful later in life: 

Optimism + Zest + Curiosity + Social Intelligence + Gratitude + Self-Control + Grit = Adult Success.

 Too much childhood stress has a lifetime impact on later-in-life outcomes (check out what one pediatrician Tough interviews in Bayview Hunters Point has to say about this). 

Some stress is good for kids, but too much wreaks havoc. While a little stress gives us an opportunity to practice failing, significant amounts of trauma in childhood amount to cancer, heart disease, and emphysema rates twice as high as normal, and suicide rates 12 times as high.

If we want to intervene and manage any existing trauma that will inhibit a child’s adult success, there are two key periods in which we must act. One is in early childhood, when a child’s brain is plastic. The other is in adolescence, when metacognition (or "thinking about thinking") kicks in and adolescents are able to reflect deeply on their own thought processes. 

During adolescence, character report cards make success attainable for all kids—not just the super-smart ones.

The reports send a signal that through developing kids' resilience, they aren’t stuck being any way they don’t want to be (“You don’t have to remain the slow kid,” for instance). They create a sense of personal agency, and moreover, transplant focus from tweens needing to improve intelligence to their working harder on character development (and that true smartness can be a byproduct of their character). 

Even the things we typically consider innate can be worked on and changed.

At the end of the day, working on character development in childhood, along with helping manage instances of extreme adverse experiences, can mean the difference between adult success and failure. Now, just consider the implications for you, your current life, and what it could mean for the community in which you live.

via Barry Schapiro / Twitter

The phrase "stay in your lane" is usually lobbed at celebrities who talk about politics on Twitter by people who disagree with them. People in the sports world will often get a "stick to sports" when they try to have an opinion that lies outside of the field of play.

Keep Reading

The Free the Nipple movement is trying to remove the stigma on women's breasts by making it culturally acceptable and legal for women to go topless in public. But it turns out, Free the Nipple might be fighting on the wrong front and should be focusing on freeing the nipple in a place you'd never expect. Your own home.

A woman in Utah is facing criminal charges for not wearing a shirt in her house, with prosecutors arguing that women's chests are culturally considered lewd.

Keep Reading

In August, the Recording Academy hired their first female CEO, Deborah Dugan. Ten days before the Grammys, Dugan was placed on administrative leave for misconduct allegations after a female employee said Dugan was "abusive" and created a "toxic and intolerable" work environment. However, Dugan says she was actually removed from her position for complaining to human resources about sexual harassment, pay disparities, and conflicts of interest in the award show's nomination process.

Just five days before the Grammys, Dugan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and her claims are many. Dugan says she was paid less than former CEO Neil Portnow. In 2018, Portnow received criticism for saying women need to "step up" when only two female acts won Grammys. Portnow decided to not renew his contract shortly after. Dugan says she was also asked to hire Portnow as a consultant for $750,000 a year, which she refused to do.

Keep Reading