True Grit, and Other Virtues

The recent education issue of the New York Times had lots of great fodder for discussion and / or blogging. After the Russian pieces, I read an excellent feature that brings together two highly-rated headmasters — one from a charter school in low-income Harlem, one from a staggeringly expensive country school in Riverdale — to discuss the difference between great students and great people.

The difference, of course (of course!) is character.  And they have admirably narrowed down that nebulous category to eight key ideas like zest (enthusiasm,) grit (perseverence,) and my favority, curiosity (wanting to know just for the sake of knowing.)  They promote these virtues with posters, lessons and even a character report card on which each student is ranked by all of his teachers.

Can you teach virtue, as such? It’s a perplexing question, one I’m sure every parent would love to be able to answer.  Children need to see examples of it in action, of course, but they also need to learn what “it” is and why it is not only honorable, but useful (the charter program first began studying character in an effort to learn why more of their students didn’t go on to finish college.)  Maybe this is the way, or the way to the way.