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Transcript of THE ASPEN INSTITUTE - Aspen Ideas Festival · PDF fileTHE ASPEN INSTITUTE ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL...

  • THE ASPEN INSTITUTE

    ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2012

    CAN CHARACTER BE TAUGHT?

    Doerr-Hosier CenterAspen Meadows Campus

    Colorado, 81612

    Sunday, July 1, 2012

    11

  • 22

  • LIST OF PARTICIPANTS

    ANDREA MITCHELL Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for NBC News Host of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports

    DOMINIC RANDOLPH Sixth Head of the Riverdale Country School Former Assistant Headmaster at the Lawrenceville School

    PAUL TOUGH Author of How Children Succeed: Rethinking Character and Intelligence, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, Editor at The New York Times Magazine and Harper's Magazine, Reporter and Producer for the Public-Radio Program This American Life.

    RUSSELL SHAW Head of Georgetown Day School Former Legislative Assistant to Congressman Henry Waxman, Former Outward Bound Instructor

    * * * * *

    33

  • P R O C E E D I N G S

    (1:15 p.m.)

    MS. MITCHELL: I am so happy to be here and so

    excited to read -- first of all, having read the article

    by Paul Tough and excited about reading his book, Can

    Character Be Taught. A lot of new thinking on this; Paul

    is on the cutting edge of what's being done in this arena.

    And we at NBC are partnering this year with Aspen, with

    the Ideas Festival, for our Education Nation panels,

    leading in our case to a summit in New York City in the

    fall for Education Nation; you'll see these on your seats.

    So we're looking forward to continuing this

    conversation and in fact, I think you've sat down already

    with Brain Williams and been talking about some of these

    issues with him as well for Rock Center. Can character be

    taught? Can schools teach character, should they? What

    do we mean by character anyway?

    Paul Tough, for those who didn't see the New

    York Times piece, is a journalist and author of Whatever

    44

  • It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and

    America as well as this new book coming out as we say in

    September, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the

    Hidden Power of Character. His work has appeared in the

    New York Times, the magazine cover story entitled What if

    the Secret to Success is Failure?

    Dominic Randolph is the head of school at

    Riverdale Country School, a pre-K through twelfth grade

    independent school, about 1,100 students, located in New

    York City. Dominic began thinking about character

    education when he moved to the United States. He was

    educated at British boarding schools where there was as

    much focus on teaching character as there was on teaching

    academic subjects.

    And Russell Shaw, known to many of you, I think,

    in this audience from the Washington area is the head of

    school at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C.

    Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown Day incorporates character

    education in its day instruction and a belief that school

    55

  • curriculum is as important -- that the character

    curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.

    So let's talk about what we mean by character.

    In this case, we're not talking about what you would think

    of character, honesty, truth, judgment. We're thinking

    about something else when I throw out the words to you,

    conscientiousness, grit, resilience, perseverance,

    optimism, resourcefulness, professionalism, integrity,

    self control, willpower, zest, gratitude, curiosity,

    social intelligence. As we go through this discussion,

    we'll see that those words have a particular significance

    when we talk about teaching character in education.

    Paul, what does your research show and how did

    you come to this? And largely, we want to also talk about

    the work that Dave Levin has done with KIPP, because he

    was key to this, in bringing this into the KIPP schools

    and in going to the research done by Martin Seligman at

    the University of Pennsylvania.

    66

  • MR. TOUGH: So when I started working on this

    book, I was starting from this idea that there were skills

    out there that seemed to matter in kids' success that

    didn't have to do with IQ. It didn't have to do with

    scores on straight cognitive tests. But there aren't a

    lot of good words for those skills. And so I start -- my

    first inroads into this idea was through economics and

    economists called these noncognitive skills.

    So for a while I thought I was writing a book

    about noncognitive skills. The problem with the

    phrase "noncognitive skills," one is that it puts

    everybody right to sleep and the other is that when you

    talk to psychologists who are also very involved in this,

    they point out that some of these so-called noncognitive

    skills are, in fact, cognitive so that noncognitive skills

    is a really, really bad word for it.

    And then I met Dave Levin of KIPP and Dominic

    Randolph of Riverdale and I found that they were embarked

    on this project to try to teach some of these noncognitive

    77

  • skills and they had a different word for it and that

    phrase was character strengths. But the character

    strengths that they were talking about were very similar

    to the noncognitive skills that these economists were

    talking about, things like perseverance, grit, gratitude,

    curiosity, self control, things that we've learned through

    the scientific method can actually predict how well kids

    do in school.

    So that was the word I started using; character

    instead of noncognitive skills. The problem with

    character is that it is a word that most of us think of as

    something fixed, that character is something you get at

    birth and never really changes, and they are talking about

    a very different definition of character as something that

    is very malleable, something you can learn, something you

    can teach, something that parents absolutely instill in

    their kids but that teachers can teach as well.

    And so the more time that I spent with them, the

    more I came to believe that what they're doing is exactly

    88

  • what these economists were looking for, ways to instill

    exactly the skills that kids need to succeed in all sorts

    of ways.

    MS. MITCHELL: And Dominic, you were working

    with Dave Levin.

    MR. RANDOLPH: Right.

    MS. MITCHELL: And you were searching for a way

    to teach this?

    MR. RANDOLPH: Yeah.

    MS. MITCHELL: And you found that there as

    actually an academic bible of this, Seligman's work and

    then Angela Duckworth, his student and now a professor as

    well.

    MR. RANDOLPH: Right.

    MS. MITCHELL: So tell me a little bit about the

    practical application at Riverdale.

    MR. RANDOLPH: Right.

    99

  • MS. MITCHELL: And as you have had experience

    through your own students and through working with Dave at

    the KIPP Schools.

    MR. RANDOLPH: Right. So let me -- I'll tell

    you just a bit about the process whereby we -- the sort of

    sheet that was handed out of character, the sort of

    character growth card. That's actually what we developed

    with Angela, Marty Seligman, Chris Peterson, you know,

    mainly Upenn out of the Positive Psychology Center.

    And it looks like a very simple list, but it

    actually really took us about 2 to 3 years of discussion

    and trying out how to take some of Marty Seligman's ideas

    in positive psychology, which really do annunciate along

    with Chris Peterson a set of 24 strengths that sort of

    supposedly encompasses all of human endeavor, lots of

    different belief systems, lots of different philosophies.

    And so we tried to see if we could -- how we'd

    extrapolate, how we get into discussion to see how we take

    that and move that into a school in a real way and it took

    1010

  • us some time to figure that out. We were interested. We

    didn't feel that we could actually work at KIPP and

    Riverdale, two very different schools with some overlap in

    populations with kids. You know, I've got kids on

    financial aid who are coming from KIPP to Riverdale.

    How could we bring a common set of strengths

    that we were going to focus in on in two very different

    schools? So we spent a long time trying to hash out if we

    could knock it down from 24 to some manageable list and

    basically got down to this, the list that you have in

    front of you that's got ones like optimism, curiosity.

    We were very interested, as sort of Paul was

    saying and Andrea was talking about, of moving away from

    the sort of moral character of honesty and, you know,

    integrity that seemed very, very vague and trying to make

    it much more concrete. And so even though that looks

    really simple, the way that we actually got the indicators

    and I'd really point you to look on that sort of right-

    hand side of the sheet of the student behaviors was, let's

    1111

  • say for optimism, we asked kids, faculty, parents, what is

    it like when you're optimistic.

    And we got lists of over 200 to 300 behaviors,

    then basically we -- the Upenn group, statisticians have

    knocked it down to about 50 nonredundant behaviors and

    then we went through ano