From my work as a superintendent, a headmaster and as the the U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Education, I found that assessing our students’ character was overlooked much of the time. Yet, there are such strong reasons to assess students’ character in a more formal way, such as establishing consistent standards, students having knowledge of progress, teachers having knowledge of effect. The most important reason, though, is that the formation of good character plays a major role in each student’s destiny.
As Teddy Roosevelt said, “To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” No one wants smart and corrupt students. The survival of our Republic rests on what our Founding Fathers listed as a founding principle, to have “a moral and virtuous citizenry.” One of the most moving reasons I have ever heard for teaching character in schools comes from Boston University’s former Vice-President, Jon Westling:
"Unless our students know something about the problems of good and evil they will be unarmed before the fashionable moral and cultural relativism of our age. The view that the good is merely what your culture approves of or what you sincerely believe, will mean that the students are incapable of guiding themselves through the ethical tangles of drugs, personal relationships, careers, and all the rest."
Important reasons, but it still seems we have many barriers to actually assessing our students’ character. Here are 5 barriers that I’ve come across:
Signs on walls, e.g., “Be Good!,” teacher exhortation, speakers, character awards, and cute character games don’t engage students to reflect deeply on how they are forming good character.
Too many academic report cards “wave” at assessment of character by including such items as “works well with other students.” If the formation of good character is important, and most educators acknowledge that, than why is there not more formative and summative assessment of students’ character on report cards?
Many teachers may not want to get involved, or don’t feel competent or confident, with assessing students’ character and do not always have the opportunity to observe all the signals of good or bad formation of student character.
Character education has become too elusive and less defined. Character education may mean “social-emotional learning,” “anti-bullying,” “service learning,” “social justice,” “equality,” “diversity,” “sustainability,” and other formulations that make character a moving target for even willing teachers.
Many teachers are fed up with constant focus on assessment in the academics, so why add to teachers’ burdens with assessment of something “fuzzy,” i.e., character?
Because of these reasons and many more, is why I put together the Character Report Card; a way for students to reflect on their own formation of good character and for teachers to help their students to do so.