Can schools teach character? Should they? And what do we mean by "character," anyway? Three school leaders discuss the theory and practice of character education and debate whether failure is an essential stop on a child's road to success. Co-Presented with NBC News' "Education Nation"
Can Character Be Taught?
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THE ASPEN INSTITUTE
ASPEN IDEAS FESTIVAL 2012
CAN CHARACTER BE TAUGHT?
Doerr-Hosier Center Aspen Meadows Campus Colorado, 81612
Sunday, July 1, 2012
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
(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
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 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.
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 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 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.
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 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 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 another rating system to try and get it so that we could find some actual behaviors that correlate with optimism, not just viewed as from the individual's point of view, the student point of view, but also from the faculty and parents' point of view.
And so, you know, now we've been trying to say, okay, what do we do with this in the schools? And it's playing out slightly differently in the two schools. I mean KIPP's got a character report card that's done, graded on a quarter -- every quarter. They give character ratings and they've been beta-testing this and they're rolling it out across schools.
At Riverdale, it's become much more of a sort of narrative type of feedback, a way -- a language of character that we use in the schools rather than a numerical rating. But it's been very interesting to see it starting to suffuse the culture, I think, of both schools. If you go -- you know, KIPP has it probably more obviously on the walls. When you see -- you go in, you se zest, curiosity, optimism, gratitude all over the place.
I think at Riverdale, it plays out slightly more in a sort of less avert way, but you do see people talking -- English teachers talking about grit, for instance. So we've got lots of different ways we're playing around with it and I'm happy to talk about that. But I'll also let you --
MS. MITCHELL: Well, I want to get to what the outcomes are and how do you measure success, failure and also at a time when our test scores are so abysmal on a global scale, you know, what do you say to people who say, well, wait a second, we have the worst -- you know, we're at 17 in math and science and 27 in -- English, and I may have flipped those in the piece of scores. You know, how do we -- why are we worried about these noncognitive or less measurable qualities at this time?
But I want to ask Russell at Georgetown, how is character taught there? Why is it taught there? What kind of pushback do you get, if any, from students and parents?
MR. SHAW: Thanks. I will start importantly by putting our school in context. We are a K-12 school in Washington. We were founded in 1945 as the first racially and religiously integrated school in D.C. at a time when that was a very big deal. It was a very hard thing to do and that's a story that the kids internalize and live with.
And so we ask our kids, we hand to them the project of going out into the world and making an important difference and we have a summer institute where we train educators from public and independent schools and charter schools called the equity collaborative, which is about making more just, equitable schools.
So this project got under way at GDS. A lot of schools have gone through the process of curriculum mapping and looking at topics like history and math and English from a pre-K to 12 perspective. And those are certainly important skills and it's important to do. When you're 35 if you can talk about the French American war at a cocktail party, that's fine, but it's not going to be a game changer for you.
MR. SHAW: But when you're 35 if you can encounter something difficult, something that you hadn't expected and fall down and rally from that experience and think, okay, what did I take away from that, that is going to be tremendously important. And so we have slightly different nomenclature, but we've defined a set of skills that we want all of our graduates to have when they walk across the stage of graduation, and what does that look like at forth grade, what does that look like at eighth grade, and frankly, what does that look like beyond graduation, and how do we stay connected to alumni and track those skills longitudinally?
MS. MITCHELL: You know, Paul, in tracking this, how is it, if at all, different in affluent environments, with affluent students and with low-income students?
MR. TOUGH: I do think that it's a different story in each of those types of schools and I think what Dominic and Dave have done is look for the commonalities between their two schools and look at the way that the character strengths matter at both of them. But they came into it in a very different way.
So Dave Levin, when he started the KIPP Academy almost 20 years ago, he created this system, a very intensive education that produced amazing test scores in his kids and his first eighth-grade class had the fifth highest test scores in the city from a very low-income neighborhood in the South Bronx. And he sort of felt at that point that he had solved the problem and got lots of accolades for that.
And then what he found as those kids went on through high school and college is that they were dropping out. They -- most of them graduated from high school, but a lot of them dropped out of college. Their graduation rate for college, I think, was 24 percent, which in a low- income neighborhood is quite good. But given that his goal was for all of them to graduate from college, it was disappointing. And that started him thinking, well, what are the skills that kids -- that these kids need to succeed.
It's not just the math that we were teaching them in eighth grade so well, and that started him into looking for this different set of skills. And so one of the nice things for Dave, I think, and for schools that serve in mostly low-income population is that he's got a really handy measurement of success for his kids.
It's college graduation, and that's not the only thing that he wants for his kids, but if you grew up in a low-income neighborhood and you graduate from college, you're in very good shape, much better shape than other kids in your neighborhood and the percentage of kids graduating from a 4-year college in low-income neighborhoods continues to be very small.
So his goal is pretty clear and why he wants to teach these character strengths is to help with that college persistence. For Russell and Dominic, I think it's more complicated because my guess is that many, many, many of their alumni graduate from 4-year colleges. But what I heard from Dominic when I first met him was that he felt like for his population, that wasn't a good enough measure of success, that kids were graduating from college, but then they were feeling lost.
They felt like they didn't have the skills to go out and succeed in the world. So in lots of ways, I think they have a bigger challenge in terms of measuring -- figuring out exactly what they're trying to teach, which character strengths matter and how you measure them, but in lots of ways it's starting at least from the same question.
MR. RANDOLPH: Can I just --
MS. MITCHELL: Dominic, yeah. And surprise us, because I think there are some challenges among affluent kids that we might not have expected that you have encountered?
MR. RANDOLPH: So you know, the mission of, you know, my type of institution is a privileged institution that does have a percentage of kids on financial aid who are getting access to that sort of academically rigorous place, and you know, I'm very proud of the teaching and the students that go to that school. However, I've got stories -- I know I've worked at the Lawrenceville School down just outside of Princeton and was academic dean there.
And then I became the head of Riverdale, and you know, two very similarly academically rigorous schools with similar types of populations, two stories though of kids and these are the -- there's a number of kids behind each of these stories.
So one story is of the kid that you bring from a family that's never had access to a school like that, has only dreamt of going to a school like that, but a kid is really motivated to come who's -- probably has no family member that's gone to college, but is just really, really interested in coming to a school like that.
And the interesting thing in watching that kid, those groups of kids come through the school is that the standardized test scores are just not a good read, right, on that kid, whether that kid will be successful over 4 years of high school or not and I think that's a really, really difficult question.
Because if you can't succeed bringing in kids from nontraditional independent school families and bring them in and have them to be successful, so that's a really big question, like, what went wrong when you're bringing in these kids with 95th percentile and 96th percentile who've been really prepped to go to a place like that, but then they end up really not thriving and not thriving very quickly within their first year of being in a place like that. That's one story.
The other story though is, I think, of kids who come from -- you know, really they've got a lot of resources in their backgrounds and they've had a lot of care and attention, people looking after them. And they go -- they come to a very rigorous environment and for some reason or another, they end up not thriving. It's not they've got high test scores; they've got high grades from middle school. But something's happening that when they meet challenges, they're not able to actually rise up to that challenge.
I think both of those stories are actually really, really difficult and need to be solved and therefore, you know, looking and saying, okay, we're just going to have more standardized test scores, that's not the answer to that.
It's saying what are these other capacities that Paul has written so eloquently about? What are these other capacities? And I think David and I and Angela Duckworth were very interested in trying to define it and then say, okay, can you actually teach it?
MS. MITCHELL: Do you have any way of measuring yet how -- what you've implemented works among those who graduate from Riverdale and go on to school, go into high school, college?
MR. RANDOLPH: Yeah. I mean I think we're on a multiquest on this. I mean we really started actually in elementary and middle school. We've not done as much implementing this. I mean you can imagine that telling a sort of a it didn't high-school, you know, junior to be more zesty, really go over very well as a sort of -- (Laughter) MS. MITCHELL: I can just imagine the response. MR. RANDOLPH: Yeah, yeah, it's a great response. really focused in on that and trying to get this language in and trying to put it as part of our reporting But you know, with the younger kids, we've structure. So I think it's going to be interesting to see if our attrition rates, you know, how that works out, tracking individual kids, seeing if this type of thing helps, seeing if -- you know, there's actually even some interesting research about how this type of focus on noncognitives improves standardized test scores.
If you think about Walter Mischel's marshmallow test, that actually demonstrated an increase of 210 points higher on the SAT 12 years after these kids were tested. So I think it's -- it will be interesting to see we're certainly intent on that. We are -- we're trying to develop sort of a center with Angela and David in New York City to try and continue research on this so we can actually, let's say, give the data behind what we're doing. But we see it as a long, longitudinal sort of a fight, I guess.
MS. MITCHELL: And Russell, what about your experiences?
MR. SHAW: One of the places that's been in focus for us for years is around social intelligence and around what we call collaborating across difference. And we recognize that collaborative skills are going to be increasingly important for kids in a world that's getting smaller.
There's a fascinating study by a guy named Richard Light at Harvard Ed's School and he writes about the fact that they did a study on what are the factors that contribute most of success in college, and they looked at the professor and they looked at the time of the class and they looked at different kinds of preparation. The number one factor contributing to success in college was whether kids knew how to form or join a study group. That was a game changer for kids.
And so the ability of kids to pull people together and increasingly, people who are different from them is absolutely essential. And so we spent a lot of times -- we're a very intentionally diverse school. We think that and we know that there's quite a bit of research, that that makes a much more effective school.
When kids are in classes with classmates who are different from them, they learn significantly more and so they have a lot of practice in engaging, wrestling, bumping up against different ideas and different perspectives.
What we've been tracking now is those kids head off to college and some of them in -- across the country in different places, is there success in engaging with people who are different from them and how do they carry that skill into their life and how do they use it to understand different people's perspectives, to put themselves in their shoes and to really build contacts, to create contacts in which disparate people can learn from each other.
MS. MITCHELL: Paul, what about the other research being done in this field of persistence and grit? What are you seeing among your colleagues in terms of conclusions? Is it very early-stage but -- MR. TOUGH: It is. I mean -- but I think the
one place where this research is really coming into fruition is about college persistence and particularly college persistence among low-income kids. There's a researcher at the University of Chicago named Melissa Roderick who has done some really persuasive research building on the ideas of noncognitive skills, about how -- exactly what it is that will help a low-income kid graduate from a 4-year college and again, those numbers are really low.
So outside of Chicago where I did a lot of my reporting, it is 6 or 7 percent of -- no, I'm sorry. It's less than that. It's 2 or 3 percent of high school freshmen who are graduating from a 4-year college. And when they look at why those kids are dropping out, money is certainly part of it, test scores is part of it, but the biggest part is noncognitive skills.
It's having the ability to deal with what is for most of those kids, a very different environment, to work with people who are very different than they are, to get over disappointments, to deal with a bad test score, to deal with problems at home especially for kids who go away to college. And so there are lots of organizations or a few organizations.
Anyway I wrote about one called OneGoal in Chicago that's working very specifically with low-income, high-school juniors and seniors and what they're trying to do is teach the noncognitive skills that will lead to college graduation. They're also at the early stage of their work, but my sense is that they're -- the numbers that they're showing are really persuasive, that this could make a big difference in terms of college graduation rates for low-income kids.
MS. MITCHELL: And Dominic, I read and I don't know if this is still the case, that did you get rid of AP classes at Riverdale?
MR. RANDOLPH: Yes. MS. MITCHELL: Tell us why. MR. RANDOLPH: I'm not sure it's -- I mean I think there's an overlap with this work. I'm not sure that it's completely the same. I mean basically the AP sort of has concentrated -- they're in the midst of changing things a bit now, but they have concentrated on content coverage and, you know, I think that that's what a lot of their tests, you know, measure, is how well can you take on this content and then, you know, sort of regurgitate it back at the end of the year?
And so you know, I don't necessarily believe that's a very good learning. I mean there's a lot of evidence in cognitive psychology. That's not a very effectively way of learning something, going through massive amounts of content doesn't necessarily lead to enduring understanding, whether it's in disciplines or across disciplines.
So I felt that -- you know, I don't think that it -- a lot of colleges are actually -- and universities are actually questioning the validity of the AP as far what it actually correlates with success and the various disciplines that it offers. I do think that the type of skills -- I mean it was interesting just listening to a bit -- the previous discussion and Thomas Friedman talking about, you know, he's written extensively about the different type of skill set that these kids will need.
I don't think we really -- I mean I just think it's an impoverished view of expecting kids just to sort of learn a bunch of stuff, parrot it back to you and that's the end of it. I mean these kids have to better critical thinkers, they have to be better communicators, they have to understand, like, if they, you know, the final exam of high school shouldn't be just filling in a sort of you know, bubble test or taking an AP, but it should be how can you go out and solve an unstructured problem that doesn't have easy answers and do you have the capacities to be able to do that? Some of those capacities are more, let's say,
you know, critical thinking. I mean so this is not opposed. I mean some of the people out there have said, well, he's focused on character stuff. So that's not as academically or intellectually challenging, and I actually really push back on that.
These are the means whereby to up the ante about a high-school education should be and these type of capacities, zest, persistence, self control are sort of the things if you go to a place like IVO, which we've been doing some work with them and you look and see what type of projects they do and how well they do those projects, these are more mapped on to those types of skill sets that those people are utilizing there.
And I think we've got to change the educational system, whether it be at Riverdale or KIPP or Georgetown, at any of the schools. We need to change the educational system to think about different outcomes, different capacities. So that was linked to this, I'd say.
the shift from AP. It's sort of
And did the parents buy into it?
MR. RANDOLPH: evidence. I mean I've done it -- helped to do it at two different schools and there's really no evidence to show that it affects college admissions. I mean, you know, Stanford puts very much broadly on its admissions page that they don't count APs. And so I just think they want you to take the most rigorous course that you can take within your institution.
If you have AP -- APs in your curriculum, then everything else is not judged as rigorous. It doesn't matter what it's named. So that's a real problem for schools. So getting rid of APs allows you to have really rigorous interdisciplinary courses, things that you wouldn't normally see at a high school that allow kids to exercise some of these capacities and also really stretch them intellectually, I think.
Well, I think there's a lot of
MR. SHAW: Can -- MS. MITCHELL: Yeah, Russell. MR. SHAW: I'd love to build on that, Dominic.
One of the challenges but opportunities for us in education is to provide students with authentic learning experiences. I began my education career as an instructor for Outward Bound and I would take kids into the backcountry for up to a month at a time, many of them who didn't want to be there. And one of the --
MS. MITCHELL: You're telling me that parents would send their kids to Outward Bound without a --
MR. SHAW: Well, it was that and in some cases, it was actually kids who were there in lieu of serving in a juvenile detention facility. So it was both extremes. One of the first things that we did was we taught them how to put up their tent, because you had to have a place to sleep and some of the kids were engaged and ready to do that and others were not paying the least bit of attention.
They didn't care and didn't want to be with me and didn't want to be with -- where they were and then it became nighttime and everybody went to sleep and some nights, it would rain. And if it rained and you hadn't put up your tent well, you would wake up soaking wet, cold with a wet sleeping bag and all of a sudden, you'd be much more interested in learning how do you put up a tent.
And it wasn't because I said, you know, oh, you've got to see mine, it's on tents. They had this very authentic experience of having done something poorly. We in our high school right now are engaged in a collaboration -- we have a sister school in Beijing and there's a fish called the snakehead, which is invasive in the Potomac River and is eating all of the other native fish.
It turns out that the fish is local to Beijing and so our kids are collaborating with kids in China, studying this fish in two different ecosystems and working
with the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and they're skyping back and forth, sometimes in English, sometimes in Chinese to solve this very authentic problem. It's cool, it's interesting and they're doing something real rather than something that's, you know, did I get a four or five on my AP for that? They have this very authentic experience of tackling a problem that they know is real.
MS. MITCHELL: Paul, when you look at the difference between moral character and this kind of character education, explain to us performance character versus moral character and, you know, how you evaluate that in devising curricula?
MR. TOUGH: I think in lots of ways, there are not even in the same --
MS. MITCHELL: Universe.
MR. TOUGH: -- group of skills and we call them both character and they're often confused. But this division between moral character and performance character, so moral character is things that are more
moral, so judgment, integrity, kindness, being good to your neighbor, all really important things, but not necessarily the things that are going to lead you to success in life.
Performance character, more about how to -- all the things that these guys have been talking about, how to perform under pressure, how to back -- bounce back from disappointment. And so in lots of ways, I feel like they're different. I feel like the early -- there was an earlier era of character education in the Clinton administration when lots of schools started talking about character education and there were a lot of controversies about that and a lot of them were very politicized.
And I think people on the left felt like character education was all about trying to -- make kids Evangelicals and people on the right felt like it was the government trying to convince kids that diversity was important. And so a lot of the programs from that era got watered down into sort of mushy values of the month.
And I think that what this new generation of character educators is doing is trying to think about it in a very different way and trying to draw on the language and the research around noncognitive skills instead of the ideas around values.
MS. MITCHELL: And ideally, when you're thinking about the curriculum, does this become melded into teaching math, science, English, whatever, is -- you know, is it a separate category or is it just part of the thought process that the teacher brings to the classroom?
MR. TOUGH: I think the schools -- certainly the schools I looked at, KIPP and Riverdale are still figuring that out. So at KIPP, I went to math classes and English classes and history classes where the teachers were talking about this stuff. But I think that -- you know,
it's hard grateful,
to figure out how to teach someone to be how to teach someone to have self control. And in lots of ways, I think it may look very than teaching in the way that we generally think
about teaching. I mean one way I think at KIPP that it plays out is actually in the discipline process. And so when kids get in trouble, they now use the character language to try to get kids to think about why they made the mistakes they made, how they could do things differently and it's almost -- I mean it reminded me of a lot of the metacognitive techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy.
It's really getting kids to slow down and think about what they're doing, think about why they're making the mistakes they're making and change themselves. So that is really different than traditional teaching in the classroom. But my sense actually at KIPP and other places is that that is going to be the tool that's most effective to help get these skills.
MS. MITCHELL: Dominic, take us into the classroom. How do you see it unfolding?
MR. RANDOLPH: Right. So I think that's -- I mean I'm seeing it -- I think it's do you want to sort of
make it viral. You sort of want to make it a part of the culture so that it becomes part of the -- I mean we've tried to put it into the -- some of the language into our faculty evaluation systems because I think if the faculty are actually not modeling these character strengths, then you can't expect the kids to do that.
In a classroom I saw just recently an eighth- grade teacher that was asking -- she had asked the kids halfway through the year to think about what -- which one of these strengths had played out in their writing workshops? They were doing some revisions of writing and these kids were writing these sort of metanarratives about that piece of work they were finishing up and saying, okay, I, you know, felt that because I was really curious about this subject. Therefore the writing turned out better.
And when they actually cared to revisit -- they sort of had to revisit this process at the end of the year picking out a strength or two that was good for them, that
was really supportive of their work and a strength or two that they had problems with. And I think again, it's sort of suffused in the school I think is the way that they shouldn't -- you know, a lot of educational ideas, it's like you've got to develop a new course, a new program, buy some new technology, I mean something like this, it's, like, just how do we change our language? How do we change our focus a bit?
There's a lot of things going on in schools. How can you focus on on these noncognitive strengths in a way that's sort of cultural and pervasive and sort of viral and teachers run with this stuff. I mean it's sort of amazing. I mean teachers have been using this on the playground during recess and talking to kids and about how they need to be more self controlled and using that language even with very, very young -- very, very young kids. And I think the earlier you do this, the research shows the better it is, so.
MS. MITCHELL: Russell?
MR. SHAW: Two things, one is we absolutely integrate this into academic studies so that when you're in ninth-grade English, you start off by learning about Carol Dweck's work on mindset and that the idea being that is intelligence fixed or is intelligence something that if you practice, you get better. And there is a lot of research that growth mindset makes a tremendous difference in terms of learning outcomes and actually, simply knowing that language and simply understanding the research makes a difference in learning outcomes.
So as ninth graders, they learn about these concepts and then they both look at it through the characters they're reading about. So they're reading the Odyssey and did Odysseus have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? And then they're thinking about their own actual work throughout the year. I want to circle back for a moment to this dichotomy between moral character and performance character though because I think it's interesting.
And I think that while they are, in fact, distinct, they -- one informs the other. Oftentimes for example, when we are talking about curiosity, we use the phrase, mastery learning. We are working with an organization called Challenge Success out of Stanford and they talk about mastery learning versus performance learning and they're using performance in a different way, performance as in did you get an A versus mastery as in were you engaged simply for the sake of learning?
And so it -- mastery learning really correlates to curiosity and grit as well. Mastery learners cheat far less than performance learners. Mastery learners are actually interested in learning and they recognize if they get the answers from somebody else, they won't ever understand what it was that they were going about.
So these two things actually tie together and there are ways that similarly kids who are empathic or who learn about some of the different challenges that the kids in their classrooms are bringing to school with them are much better at forming collaborative groups with people who are different. And so one of those might be as a moral skill, but it actually then can segue into a very effective, I would argue, performance skill.
MR. RANDOLPH: I totally agree with you and I'm not like antiintegrity.
MR. RANDOLPH: But, you know, I mean to be honest, having got up in front of kids a lot and said you know, talked -- and we've heard even adults talking about kids and says, you know, that kid there doesn't have any integrity or that kid has a lot of integrity, I'm like well, actually could you really define it for me because I don't honestly know what that means.
And I think the thing is that that's -- I mean I'm not saying, I think probably the people that are brighter than I and more informed than I that might be able to really define it well, and certainly the Greeks were able to do that, I think, probably better than I can.
But we've really tried to focus in on things that you could actually sort of really observe in kids and were not so morally valenced.
I mean, you know, I think the thing is is even things like respect, I mean it's very different if you've traveled the world to see different people show respect or have different ways that they show respect. And when you've got a diverse student body that plays out in sort of really odd ways at times. So people feeling they're not being respected by a kid because he's not looking the teacher in the eye or not.
So we try to try and figure out things that would get us less into those sort of phony moral issues, but, you know, I'm not saying that I'm antimorality, but we did try and want to make it really concrete and tangible and for both the teachers and the students and also the parents as well.
MR. TOUGH: One of the things that I found interesting about reporting at Riverdale is that -- and Dominic, correct me if I'm wrong --
MR. RANDOLPH: Yeah.
MR. TOUGH: -- but that is not a settled question at Riverdale.
MR. RANDOLPH: Oh no, not at all.
MR. TOUGH: And that I think among -- it's, in fact, a big debate and a really interesting one among a lot of teachers, parents.
MR. RANDOLPH: Yeah.
MR. TOUGH: I think there is this feeling that the -- the stuff that's on the moral character side is more important. That's what we should be teaching.
MR. RANDOLPH: I mean we tend to -- I mean I think a lot of my faulty tend to revert to that. That's the sort of status quo that we're talking about honesty and I don't think we're really clear with the kids on what it means to be honest. You know, we have -- you know,
I'll be blunt. I mean I think that, you know, it's pretty pathetic when there's a lot of educators who are talking about plagiarism and you know, we put keynotes and all sorts of stuff up with none of the credits marked on where we got this, just filter it off the Internet.
And so the thing is it's sort of an interesting thing about how you're living your -- these type of character strengths or even your morality within a school.
MS. MITCHELL: Paul, when we talk about college completion rates, which is of such concern, how do you see this kind of education improving what is really a national crisis of completion rates?
MR. TOUGH: So -- and I hadn't really understood the data on completion rates until I started working on this book.
MS. MITCHELL: It's pretty shocking.
MR. TOUGH: It is shocking and I think that that, you know, for a long time, the people who were interested in college as an issue were very focused on getting kids to college and certainly people who were focused on low-income kids in KIPP -- you know, when KIPP started, it was all about getting kids to college with the assumption that once kids got to college, they wouldn't drop out.
And the place where the United States really differs from other countries, we've been overtaken in terms of our college graduation rate and that is not so much about our -- the number of kids going to college, it's about the number of kids who graduated from college once they started. We have the highest college drop-out rate in the world and the research that's out there is that so getting to college might not necessarily take a lot of noncognitive skills.
You can get to college -- you can get through high school with just sort of sitting in your seat and doing the right thing and doing well on tests. Once you get to college, you need a very different set of skills and the high schools that we have right now are, in many cases, not preparing kids with those -- with that set of skills.
And so I think this is a new and really important question and it's one that has national implications, because if we want to increase our college graduation rate, which I think we do, the answer is not getting more kids to college. It's getting more college through college.
MR. SHAW: And interestingly, I would argue that this is an issue not just among low-income kids but among affluent kids as well. I -- my best friend teaches at Stanford and recently he, at the end of the semester, was handing back final papers and there were students sort of milling around the podium and a student walked up to him and handed him a cell phone. And he said, what's this for? And she said, somebody needs to talk to you. And it was the child's mother, who was concerned about the grade on the paper. This is a true story.
And so you have kids who you have this massive spike in treatment for anxiety and depression on college campuses across the country and part of that is how does one learn to affectively advocate for oneself and how does one feel like they're ultimately in control of their learning rather than just being, you know, guided through the learning process?
MS. MITCHELL: I want to bring in the audience. We do have microphones and so please become engaged and raise your hands and identify yourself and wait for the mic, if you can. Yes, right up front here. Thank you.
MS. GALINSKY: Thank you. I'm Ellen Galinsky and I've spent the last 11 years looking at the research on this zero to eight spectrum of these issues. I want to push back really strongly about the notion that these are noncognitive.
What there is or there are series of studies that show -- longitudinal studies, that show that if you promote these characteristics or these -- I call them life skills -- when children are young, that they help them thrive now and help them thrive later and they all involve executive functions of the brain, which is the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that brings together our social, emotional and cognitive capacities and enables us to use what we know, which is what you all have been saying.
Even take the notion of the marshmallow test which you talked about, what Walter Mischel is doing now with the marshmallow test is that he's teaching children cognitive strategies to delay gratification. So I think that we're going to get into an either/or debate that's not terribly useful, cognitive versus noncognitive, even like the moral versus character kind of a discussion.
If we can understand that these are social, emotional and cognitive skills, the researchers who do brain mapping and who look at perspective taking, which you've all been talking about a lot, understanding how other people think and feel, find that the part of the brains that are involved in cognition as well as social relationships are involved.
MS. GALINSKY: So I just would love your reaction to the noncognitive skill notion.
MS. MITCHELL: Paul, is it a matter of language? Do we not have the vocabulary to really define what we're talking about?
MR. TOUGH: I think that's part of it. So -- and when I was saying that, you know, psychologists get upset about when you use noncognitive skills, I was talking about you, I think.
MS. MITCHELL: He's talking to you, Ellen.
MR. TOUGH: And you're quite right. And I think -- and so executive functions, I think, is another really important word in this and I think executive functions and noncognitive skills and character strengths are all in the same universe and they are slightly different and sometimes they're contradictory. So yeah, we don't have a great language for talking about this. I think all three of those are useful terms in a certain way.
But I do think that there -- that it's useful to think that there's -- about skills that are different than IQ, there are skills that are different than sort of that strict cognition. And so finding the right language, yes, as I wrote my book, was a big struggle and I'm sure you found it research help. Dominic? in your writing as well and more clarity in the and more clarity in the writing would certainly
MS. MITCHELL: It's such a good question.
MR. RANDOLPH: And certainly I see it as like a thing. I mean we're not saying to teachers here are cognitive strengths, here are noncognitive strengths. holistic
I mean we are saying these just -- we need to be a bit more intentional in giving feedback around these types of strengths in order to actually help kids become better students and then live better lives. That's all. So it seemed very much from my perspective, and Walter has been very informed -- has informed some of this and has been really great ally in thinking about how do you put it into a school setting, so.
MS. MITCHELL: Yes, over there and toward the window? Thank you.
MR. SPIRO: Don Spiro (phonetic), Bethesda, Maryland. Russell, my wife, Nancy, and I are lucky to be parents of GDS graduates. I have a question for you, but first a comment for Dominic. We were here last weekend, someone sitting in the same chair you are, Craig Robinson, answered perhaps your question about how to define morality. He said he learned from his mother that it was - - what you did when no one was watching. So you can think about that from Craig's use -- speaker too.
MR. SPIRO: My question for Russell and maybe others is to what extent -- I mean, the school has obviously advanced great deals in the 12 years since our kids were there and graduated. To what extent are you measuring the methodologies you're introducing by actually tracking results from graduates more than anecdotally, which I know you do pretty well that way, but are you actually developing any data in that direction?
MR. SHAW: It's a great question and I think it's something that our schools have historically done a really poor job of. We are beginning to put together longitudinal surveys of our alumni and it's going to take a while before we have any meaningful data for that, but we know we need to start by asking the questions.
So thus far, it's been focus groups, it's been conversations and I think that all of our schools want to be paying attention not just to how our kids do, you know, the 2 and 3 years after they finish school, but 10 or 15 years after they finish school.
MS. MITCHELL: Yes, ma'am?
SPEAKER: Would you give us an example of how you teach kids to be gritty and zesty?
MS. MITCHELL: Because maybe some of us could take advantage of it too.
MR. RANDOLPH: Well, I mean I'll give you sort of -- I mean, again, I don't think -- I'm not saying like we've got all these wonderful answers, I mean, so we haven't not figured this out. I mean we've started this work for like 3, 4 years and we're going to continue hopefully. If we get things sort of funded for the next phase of this with some research around it, we'll learn more about actual interventions.
But you know, we -- this guy David Rockwell invented this interesting playground called Imagination Playground, right, which is basically these big blue foam blocks, right that you play around with Fulton Fish Market that is down South Street Seaport in New York got one, and New York's got one. And you know, famously he sort of said there are no instructions.
And it was interesting to see a group of really, you know, young kids and I think they were sort of kindergarteners, first graders when they saw these blocks basically their first sort of view was looking to the teacher to say, where are the instructions, I mean, how do we play with these. And when they were told just to sort of like play with it, they really go at it.
And it's really interesting, but then the question is what is the -- what is the level that you have to come in as a teacher and interfere with that. And I think it's the same sort of model for parents; it's like, when do you come in with your kids and say, okay, something has to change here or something has to -- and I think that we're learning and talking about what is the level when you -- when a faculty member has to say, okay,
I need to linked to when they support this kid because they do think that's grit. You know, it's the same thing for an 11th grader are doing difficult math problems. When does
the teacher say, okay, you know, you over there you've got the -- you've got the right answer to tell this kid the answer. I mean how long do you allow kids to sort of persevere and struggle with something. And I think we're learning to think more about we maybe did in the past, but I don't think the answers to how you do it, but thinking about that than we've got persistence I think is an interesting question in our school systems right now.
MR. SHAW: I want to agree that a lot of -- MR. RANDOLPH: Yeah. MR. SHAW: -- a lot of the work is with faculty.
We use the phrase "productive struggle" and when we're watching kids one of the hardest things for teachers is actually knowing how to back off that not to jump in too soon, but let a child struggle with a problem.
Another very important thing that as adults, as teachers, and as parents we do is we frame kids' experiences in really powerful ways. We know that we do this when they're toddlers. If you've ever had a child running on the driveway and they fall the first thing they do is they turn to look at you to see if they are hurt.
MR. SHAW: And if you say, oh, then they start to cry and if you smile and say, you're okay, then they pop up and they keep walking. So we know that and we have that experience, but as kids grow up we forget that. We forget that we frame their experiences and so when a child encounters trouble and the first thing that the parent does is, don't worry, I'm going to call legal counsel --
MR. SHAW: -- then that's sending one message to that child about what you do when you encounter difficulty in life versus, gee, it seems like you screwed up, what are you going to do? And empowering the child to think critically about that and feel like actually I'm ultimately responsible and ultimately I can be resilient and come up with some good solutions for this problem.
MR. TOUGH: If I could just sort of channel -- MS. MITCHELL: Please. MR. TOUGH: -- David Levin in what I think he would do say -- (Laughter)
MR. TOUGH: -- in response to that question. I think he would talk about the character report cards. So this is what at KIPP, the character report card is much more of a real concrete document than it is --
MS. MITCHELL: It's more structured than in the other instances.
MR. TOUGH: -- and so four times a year kids get their character report card and they get numbers on each of these -- on each of these traits. And it started like
being called the character the character growth card. And I think what conversation card and that report card, he's changed it to it really is, is a character
that's what he doesn't think that, you know, kids should fail and have to repeat a year if they don't get high grit and zest scores. But he thinks that by having this as a document that at report card night you're sitting there with your child, you're sitting there with your parent and your teacher and everyone is talking about your zest, he thinks that that itself is really powerful.
And I think there is lot's of evidence about that. If you're -- that tells you this is something that the adults around me care about. It's something that I can change, it's something I can work on. And so just that alone I think he thinks will help teach those kids.
MR. RANDOLPH: Can I just add one small thing? So we had students rate themselves one through five on each one of those behaviors on the side of that thing, each of the strengths there, teachers did the same blind and had discussions. The teachers -- we didn't share this with the parents, we just allowed the teachers to see the differences between the ratings on those different behaviors.
Because I think a lot of this is sometimes we delude ourselves to thinking like we're really the most energetic person in the world and when you ask people around you they may not find that you're quite as energetic as you think you are. So, that actually, those types of discussions around differences even with the teachers, see their regard to in evaluating teachers it's been interesting to differences on how they view themselves in these strengths. MS. MITCHELL: Yes, sir.
MR. GARDNER: Howard Gardner from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I've a very direct question for Dominic. Do you think moral character can be taught? And I'm going to give you multiple choices. You could say, it was born -- something that's inborn that was mentioned earlier.
MR. RANDOLPH: Right.
MR. GARDNER: You could say well, you get it from family or religion.
MR. RANDOLPH: Right.
MR. GARDNER: And to sharpen the question, let's say, people who went to Riverdale in 20 years were running Enron and they had all of these skills. Would you say, well, we succeeded. Would you say, well, we failed, but it wasn't the school's problem. Or would you say, we need to rethink what we're doing with these character traits.
MR. RANDOLPH: Right. MR. GARDNER: Thanks. (Applause) MR. RANDOLPH: So, I don't think it's either/or,
to be honest. I mean I think we're working on these cognitive strengths on one side. I also think you need to have let's say, ethics I mean we do teach ethics very clearly throughout our whole curriculum. It's actually been sort of a strength of the school. So I actually don't deny that you can teach, I think you can teach moral character.
I guess what I was -- what I was more concerned with and sort of -- so I think we actually do try and get kids to be more respectful, more honest, understand their interactions, be more empathetic with others. But what I thought was missing is actually more in regard to the academic program. And I think this is where this work is more focused on supplying some means towards getting kids to be successful on the academic side of things.
So I don't think it's necessarily an either/or. I'm sorry maybe I was a bit provocative on that. I don't necessarily believe, I mean, I just think sometimes peoples' eyes do glaze over though when I think you talk about honesty. And I think it's very, very differently interpreted depending on where and who you are where you are coming from and who you are, so.
MS. MITCHELL: Anybody else wants to jump in? I'm having little trouble.
MR. RANDOLPH: There is one right here. MS. MITCHELL: David Brooks.
SPEAKER: Hi, I'm a public educator for a long time and now work with what the public school deems the most at-risk kids. And you started to allude to it, Dominic, I think a little bit about the impact of culturally informed character traits and what kind of role that plays.
And I just bring to you a real challenge. I've come to deeply believe that character education is critical for kids. And yet kind of come again -- up against this issue of how to make it inclusive of multiple, cultural, and racial perspectives.
MR. RANDOLPH: Right.
SPEAKER: I think of just two comments that kind of left me speechless. One coming out of being in a KIPP school for quite some time and observing over a number of days with my colleagues of color. And they just simply said, oh, they're teaching these kids how to blend in with rich white folks. And I was like, okay.
And then I bring to you a second moment in a KIPP school as well where an African-American boy was not allowed to wear the KIPP T-shirt because his character had not been worthy of what a KIPP character is supposed to represent and so he had to wear a different outfit.
And so I just sat with him for a while and tried to understand it, and he's like, "It's just really hard for me because when I'm loud or too loud, or if I ever interrupt, or if I act like myself or my mom, I have bad character." So how do you teach character without kind of developing self-loathing, or loathing of identity, or family at home?
(Applause) MR. SHAW: Can I take it? MS. MITCHELL: Paul, if you could take that on
because you're familiar well with the KIPP experience. MR. TOUGH: Sure. So, and again in Dave Levin's
absence I'll do my best to represent what he said to me about what's going on at KIPP. I think in some ways what
I think you might have been seeing at KIPP is a change in culture that's going on there. So before the character report card came along there was this idea -- this still exists in KIPP schools of SLANT.
And it -- certain ways of sitting, tracking the teacher with your eyes, paying attention. And what Dave Levin and Mike Fienberg, when they started KIPP, believed was that a lot of the kids they were teaching needed help with some of these arguably cultural ideas about how to pay attention, how to behave in school.
It's connected with the idea of code switching which I think is something that a lot of KIPP teachers believe, and something I think a lot of people believe that when you're growing up in a nondominant culture, if you want to fit in, in the dominant culture you need to learn how to fake it at the very least, if not actually take on those traits.
But I think that in lots of ways the character report card is trying to supplant those ideas that those
ideas I think often do seem very culturally defiant. In some ways, they are culturally defiant, in some ways they are about fitting in with a different culture. And it is very hard on kids very often. I think those things can be taught in a sensitive and intelligent way, but I know there is lots of painful moments in all of those schools as a result.
And I think by trying to focus on these less culturally determined ideas like social intelligence, like self-control I think that, you know, what Marty Seligman and Chris Peterson in the book that affected Dominic and Dave wrote was that these are not at all cultural. These are the character strengths that work in every culture, at every era of history.
And so in teaching you to -- you students to get better at these this is something that has nothing to do with our culture and your culture. It's a trial and error process and it doesn't always work. And its still I think leads to painful conversations, but I think that what they're trying to do is get better at that. I think they are trying to get better at finding ways to help kids learn these skills, learn these ways of fitting into cultures that they're not familiar with without it being an attack on them.
MR. RANDOLPH: I think there is just two points I'd just like to make. One I think this actually validates some kids' experience who've had really, really difficult lives and have learnt some of these skills on their own really very much on their own. And that isn't validated by SAT schools. And I think we need to balance out the idea that the -- I'm not -- I think the SATs is important, but I think this -- these type of skills and capacities are also important and need to be validated.
I've worked with kids who had incredibly low testing and yet have turned out to be incredibly brilliant students who've gone on and been incredibly successful. So you know I think we've got to validate that type of course through our systems.
The other thing is, I think character and I think KIPP is having dialog around this. Character can also be a sense of compliance. And I don't think, you know, we want to bring up our generation thinking that you have to be compliant. That's actually -- I don't think that's very good at all. And I think some of these things the idea of showing curiosity, the idea of sort of saying, okay, you can be zesty and you may not be compliant at that point is a way of pushing back on the idea of character as complaint so sort of behavior.
MR. SHAW: Can I add one other point which is, Paul talked about code switching. And in a diverse school setting like ours typically the kids of color are much better at code switching than the white kids because they've actually had to learn how to engage and be successful in different environments.
And as the dominant culture becomes a less dominant culture in this country maybe even globally I think it's going to be increasingly incumbent on people who're going to be able to have an impact in the world to be able to do more of that code switching or understand where other peoples' experience what that brings to the table.
The one other thing I would say is we share a lot of research with our kids as a way of informing their learning and one of the things we talk about is stereotype threat, which is that as kids of color and women typically perform -- this is Claude Steele's research -- a lot worse on standardized tests than white students because of all of the societal messages that they have received around their own performance.
And one of the things that you can do to mitigate stereotype threat is you can teach about it. And kids who've learned about that actually will end up performing better. And so I think there's a responsibility in all of our schools to think very critically about what are the things that are getting in kids' ways and how can we remove some of those.
MS. MITCHELL: David.
MR. BROOKS: I'm going to ask this as provocatively as possible since Paul is a colleague and Russell is the head of my kid's school. So if you're going to offend someone it might as well be someone who is close to you.
And it's on this question of the redefinition of the word character. Now when James Bryant Conant redefined the meritocracy 60 years ago or so they had this gigantic fear that the language of professionalism would overshadow the language of morality. And I think Conant would be rolling over in his grave after the last hour. And I guess I would make two comments.
If you define the things we've been talking about as character. The first thing you do is you give permission to students who are already over- professionalized, to become extremely smug about that attitude. They do not need more encouragement to think how can I get into Harvard better. They are really good at that.
And the second thing, I think it's scientifically sort of incomplete that this stuff you quote about Mitchell and all that is true. What Jonathan Haidt's work, Jessie Graham all these other work suggest that moral sentiments are not detachable from anything else. And that kids will not work hard really in the way we want them to unless they feel it is toward righteousness and toward themselves as good people.
And so if you don't envelope explicit character taught into education you're really not getting the kind of learning you want. And then the final distinction I draw is that character usually involves self-sacrifice. And that's the opposite of what we've been hearing about for the last hour. And that I would say what you're talking about are life skills which are important, but they are not character.
MS. MITCHELL: Paul.
MR. TOUGH: So I mean I have to say as I have read various David Brook's columns over the last few months, I find myself wondering about the distinction between moral character and performance character and having some of the same concerns that you're describing.
I think some of this comes out of the fact that in this previous generation of character education, I feel like schools tried to teach moral character and I think they didn't do a good job. I don't think we -- I don't think we have -- I don't know anyone who's figured out how to in a replicable way use schools to teach moral character.
And when the National Center on Education statistics studied seven of the big existing character education programs they found they did nothing. They had - - and these are the ones that are trying to teach moral character. They had no affect on the way schools work, the way kids thought, the way -- how well kids did in school.
And so I think partly, it is a question of what we can do with schools or at least what we can do in a replicable way. I agree absolutely when I think about, you know, my own son or when I think about the kids who I'm reporting on, I don't want them to be immoral or amoral at all. I absolutely think that those skills are important for success.
But I do think that there's something in this idea -- and for me it's especially with low-income kids of teaching these character strengths, noncognitive skills these skills that are -- especially for these low-income kids, going to be absolutely necessary for them to succeed the way that I want them to succeed and their teachers want them to succeed.
I think there is something very valuable about looking at those as a set of skills. And in lots of ways because of the cultural differences sometimes in these schools separating those from morality at least in that conversation I think can be really valuable.
MR. SHAW: And David, as a tuition-paying parent I want to say that I thought everything you said was brilliant and I couldn't have said it better myself. And we're happy to extend the turn-in date for the annual fund.
So I do think that these are skills and capacities -- and I call them skills and capacities that are about how do we empower kids to go out and have an impact in the world -- in a world that needs their impact. And for us it's placing kids in a context and in a story of, you inherited this legacy of a school which was about social justice. What does it mean to go out and have an impact in the world that you're moving into as a citizen?
And so I agree that if this is all about you know the organization kid and how do you -- how do you best navigate the bureaucracy in order to advance your own interests then what are we doing. It's got to be about how do you be effective. And anybody who is going to try to make an impact in the world is going to encounter obstacles and they're going to have to learn how to navigate those, but it has to be to some end, it can't just be to advance one's own interests.
MS. MITCHELL: But can it be to the end of learning more, of being a better student. I think, you know, is the challenge. I mean we're trying to educate people to be better people and to acquire knowledge that is useful in society.
MR. RANDOLPH: You know, I guess sometimes I think we talk on a moral level, but it's just unreachable. It's very, very hard to figure out like how do you get the means to be, let's say, a really honest person that's got wonderful integrity that the person that you see is the person that's privately the same person.
But I think for a lot of us it's really difficult to think of what steps do you take to do that. And I don't think the culture, I actually would disagree with you. I don't think the culture, the corporations or the sort of organization person is actually very related to these strengths right now. I don't see a lot of self control out there, I don't see a lot of zest. I don't see a lot of optimism necessarily.
I see let's say a lot of people telling us how terrible the world is, and there is not going to be much of a solution to it. So I think for a lot of us we need to know like are there sort of mini steps that you can take. I think if you can start being more self-controlled in your life actually that allows you to open up to much bigger questions about human nature and how humans work and the dignity of human kind and these much bigger moral questions.
So I don't -- I guess I don't necessarily want to be too much about sort of differentiating. I think in a culture of a school they are all together and they are shoved all together. But I don't think we've given people enough of the sort of mini steps of how do you sort of live the good life in a small way.
I mean it really is towards living a meaningful and purposeful life, but how do you start that tomorrow rather than talking of these terms at a very, very lofty level which I think a lot of kids and a lot of adults don't even -- can't really comprehend and don't know how to actually implement, so.
MS. MITCHELL: Now with that we have to conclude what has been -- I think a very gritty conversation.
(Laughter) (Applause) And I want to thank Paul Tough, (inaudible), the
book is coming out next month -- and Russell Shaw and Dominic Randolph. And I think you very well channeled Dave Levin and the KIPP schools as well. He participated de facto. Thank you. This conversation will be on our website Education Nation on NBC and also of course on Aspen Ideas and thank you all for being here.