At Greenvale Park, academics are an important part of the formula for success for a child in the future. But academics are not enough. During the month of January, we will be working on the character trait of determination. Determination is, “Deciding that it is worth finishing something you’ve started.” In the e-mail version of this Audio Gecko Gazette, parents will find materials to help their children make connections between what they are learning in school about determination and what parents teach about it at home. At Greenvale Park, we incorporate character into a child’s education for a number of reasons. Let me tell you about one of them.
Modern day American schools have been saturated with the notion of success depending primarily on academics—being able to recognize letters and words, to add and subtract—and that the best way to develop these skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible. 1 In the book “How Children Succeed. Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” Paul Tough refers to this idea as the cognitive hypothesis.
Anyone who has had a child in an American public school, since January 8, 2002 when President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) into law, knows that NCLB has in large part been responsible for an emphasis on cognitive learning—especially in the areas of reading and math. For certain skills, I believe we can all agree the cognitive hypothesis is persuasive. An example of this at Greenvale Park can be found in the practice of recording the number of minutes each child reads per day in a reading log. If a child practices reading as much as possible, beginning as early as possible, they will become a better reader. “But when it comes to developing the more subtle elements of the human personality, things aren’t so simple. We can’t get better at overcoming disappointment just by working harder at it for more hours. And children don’t lag behind in curiosity simply because they didn’t start doing curiosity drills at an early enough age.” 2
Character education, rather than cognitive education, imbues a different skill set. Delayed gratification, self-control, being determined, empathy, and perseverance (among many other character traits) are what release the possibilities found in the cognitive tools learned in school. For all intents and purposes, character learning is the key that unlocks a child’s potential. It is what determines who succeeds. Without the key, fewer doors are opened.
1 Tough, Paul. "Introduction." How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. xiii.
2 Ibid. p. xv.