“Character is higher than intellect” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

At the school where I teach, character is built into our charter. Last year my kids came to me very well-behaved and self-disciplined. I didn’t really get the point of all this “character education” stuff. I was much more interested in my content and all the interesting conversations I was having with my students. We didn’t need to have character education! We just needed engaging content. Only now, as I look back I see that it was because my students last year were such young people of character  we were able to enjoy each other and learning so much.

This year is going to take a little more work for all of us. That’s okay. A habit is a powerful thing. Changing habits is a long and gritty process. This year I’m learning how to make my bed everyday. And I’m making exercise a part of my schedule. And it’s not fun. I can’t say that it’s even very satisfying right now. Okay, the bed thing actually is very satisfying. Exercise…we’re getting there. But I know that in the long run keeping my things relatively neat and orderly and my body healthy will be satisfying.

When I think about character I start to wish that I had paid a bit more attention to my philosophy classes at Hillsdale. Didn’t Aristotle have something to say about all this?

So prosaically, forming new good habits is painful. I have become more disciplined in the classroom than I’ve ever been before (in all my years of teaching, ha!). I think this is harder for the teachers than the students. This means that every time your shirt is untucked I will tell you to tuck it back in. Every time you ask me a question that I’ve already answered I will refuse to repeat myself in order to cultivate the habit of attention. If your work is late, I will mark it late because that is our policy. You get the picture. I’m basically, Helen (Opie’s teacher from The Andy Griffith Show).

However, despite the fact that I feel I’ve turned into a shrew this year, there is a bright spot. I was listening to This American Life while painting my room pink (another post), and the episode was focused on education. According to recent research (found in Paul Tough’s new book How Children Succeed), the biggest factor in future success isn’t intelligence. It’s character. Our educational world has become focused on  cognitive abilities and standardized testing. Tough’s thesis (with research to back him) is that it’s the non-cognitive abilities (perseverance, grit, determination, and self-control) or character that helps kids to succeed. This is why I’m excited about forming character this year. We’ll see how I feel in January.

On another note: The above was circulating the internet. In what world would this ever be Shakespeare? People cite Hamlet 2.2 as the reference. Which, if you’ve read Hamlet 2.2, is ridiculous. But of course I had to comb through the scene just to make sure. It’s not in there. My MLA loving soul is crying out that proper citation matters!



7 thoughts on ““Character is higher than intellect” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

  1. I am very pleased about the bed making and the exercising. These things are great character indeed!

    And when I saw that quote I thought “THAT IS SO BEAUTIFUL…. but how did I miss that in Shakespeare?” Thank you for the clarification. Maybe there is Message version of Shakespeare, kind of like the Bible. That is how I felt when I hear scripture and think, that surely isn’t in there.

  2. You forgot to include setting your timer and cleaning for 20 minutes when you get home. I am thinking about trying it! You are good inspiration.

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