Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Roads less traveled…Character Development

In an article for's Education Blog entitled Character Development- Opportunity Costs and Roads Less Traveled by Bruce Smith, he states:

One of the first things you learn studying economics is that you can't have it all. Opportunity costs, they call it: given finite amounts of time and other resources, pursuing any course of action means doing without certain things. English classes typically find this concept in Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken"..."And sorry I could not travel both/And be one traveler."

Bruce Smith says there are 2 roads for schools to take:

the roads of content and character

Conventional schools devote vast amounts of time to content, to academic knowledge and skills. Everywhere you look, people are declaring what every Nth grader should know. Endless hours are spent drilling

Covering content requires so much time partially due to students' resistance, but also because the amount of information keeps increasing exponentially. Not to mention, what little time isn't spent on instruction is consumed with assessing how well students have ingested the material. In a manner reminiscent of weeds, homework and tests become so prevalent as to choke nearly all the life out of learning.

He continues that this is a

most unfortunate consequence…

this fixation on academics means discounting character development, a truly critical function of education. In most schools, things like integrity, initiative, persistence and responsibility are supposed to develop spontaneously, a happy side effect of regular academic instruction.

Yet character development takes at least as much time as academics, and is too important to simply squeeze in on the side. Acquiring decision-making, problem-solving and interpersonal skills takes practice. Self-discipline, goal-setting, flexibility and resourcefulness are hamstrung when students are busy assimilating knowledge others have deemed important.

Overexposure to content means a relative neglect of character development—but does the opposite hold true?

There will always be gaps in people's learning—always opportunity costs, always roads we cannot take.

The good news is, gaps in knowledge can be filled with relative ease by those of strong character.

The increasing amount of information to be absorbed/learned is overwhelming. No one can know everything they need to know in this day and age. Thus, the internet can be the friend of all, but especially of the student (even the lifelong learner!)

If we teach students a love of learning, a curiosity for learning, and skills for information seeking, their  need for learning will win!

Nashworld wrote on his blog about the importance of play.  He also mentions how the natural curiosity of babies, young learners, allows them to learn many things on their own in their own little worlds.

True, certain opportunities need to be in place, but all babies learn. Some babies learn certain facts and other babies learn other facts depending upon what they have in their environments and what they are allowed to experience, and how they are encouraged. The knowledge they learn does depend on the environment they are put into, the opportunities that they can be exposed to, but they still are learning. (Unfortunately, for some, their experiences may be negative learning experiences depending upon their situations.) 

What do you think is more important…

        … academics or character development?

How do you balance these two skill sets?

[As always, in my author quotes, the underlines, color changes, and bold type is mine, not the author’s!]

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