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In education and life, character counts

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Character education may help struggling children.

Character education may help struggling children.


Kewauna Lerma is a successful college student, on track to graduate. A few years ago, in her first year of high school, her GPA was 1.8 and she was arrested for punching a police officer. She credits character education with making the difference. Ira Glass of This American Life spoke with Lerma, who changed her life with the support of OneGoal, a nonprofit organization working in Chicago schools to help students build character.

With the national conversation on education focused on cognitive skills and academic test scores, new research suggests non-cognitive skills might make the difference in school and life success. Educators and researchers use many different words to refer to this skill set, including executive function, perseverance, leadership and character.

Paul Tough, former editor of The New York Times Magazine, discusses his research on these skills in his new book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. He asserts that students who experience chronic stress from poverty, violence, and isolation often fail to develop character traits such as impulse control and resilience. Without these non-cognitive skills, he says, students lack the capacity to learn the cognitive skills taught and tested in schools.

There are many ways to approach character education in schools. OneGoal teaches teens leadership skills in Chicago, Hyde Leadership Academy gets families involved in community development in the Bronx, and Roots of Empathy uses babies to teach kids to care across the globe.

Gretchen Krebs has taught general and special education in New York and Utah. She is passionate about finding innovative approaches to meet the needs of all students. Contact her at gkrebs@deseretnews.com