Many of my friends have commented that they were surprised at class reunions that the people with the best academic performance were not the most successful.
The Sept. 18, 2011 NY Times Magazine cover page asked "What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?" Paul Tough's article, The Character Test: Why our kids' success - and happiness - may depend less on perfect performance than on learning how to deal with failure talks about how Dominic Randolph, headmaster at Riverdale Country School in NY City, investigated the role of character in long-term success.
He felt character was missing in our education system. It embodies 'those essential traits of mind and habit that were drilled into him at boarding school in England and that also have deep roots in American history. "Whether it's the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful," he said. "Strangely, we've now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT's, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they're doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure.'
In 2005 Randolph went to the Univ. of Pennsylvania to talk to Martin Seligman, whose 1990 book Learned Optimism helped establish the Positive Psychology movement. While there he met David Levin, the co-founder of the KIPP network of charter schools and superintendent of the KIPP schools in New York City. Together they started investigating the role of character and how it could be integrated into curriculum.
"As Levin watched the progress of KIPP alumni, he noticed something curious: the students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class. "
They looked at Christopher Peterson and Seligman's book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, where they came up with a list of 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras. Peterson consulted works from Aristotle to Confucius, from the Upanishads to the Torah, from the Boy Scout Handbook to profiles of Pokemon characters to come up with the list.
Levin and Randolph also turned Angela Duckworth, who at the time was a graduate student in Seligman's department (she is now an assistant professor).
She developed a test to measure grit, which she called the Grit Scale. It is a deceptively simple test, in that it requires you to rate yourself on just 12 questions, from "I finish whatever I begin" to "I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one."
Duckworth's research convinced Levin and Randolph that they should try to foster self-control and grit in their students. They asked Peterson if he could narrow the list of 24 down to a more manageable handful. They came up with seven strengths:
In 2008, a national organization called the Character Education Partnership published a paper that divided character education into two categories: programs that develop "moral character," which embodies ethical values like fairness, generosity and integrity; and those that address "performance character," which includes values like effort, diligence and perseverance.
Stephen R. Covey's book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", first published in 1989 continues to be a popular self-help book. The seven habits are:
Independence or Self-Mastery
The First Three Habits surround moving from dependence to independence (i.e. self mastery)
The next three have to do with Interdependence (i.e. working with others)
Haas School at Berkeley:
One of the countries leading business schools has established the following Defining Principles (culture):
"Learned Optimism" by Martin Seligman
"Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification," by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman
Return to Society