Character Education Shouldn’t Be “Mental Conditioning For The Poor”
I’m going to post two thought-provoking pieces today on the subject of “non-cognitive skills.” The first is by Mike Rose, a professor of education at UCLA, who writes in the Christian Science Monitor:
“There is an emerging opinion about poverty and the achievement gap that holds that America can boost the academic success of poor people through psychological and educational interventions that will help them develop the qualities of personality or character needed to overcome their circumstances—qualities like perseverance, self control, and belief in one’s ability.
No doubt these are powerful attributes, and they contribute mightily to a successful life, regardless of where you sit on the socioeconomic ladder. But policymakers need to be careful not assume that character education is the long-awaited key to helping the poor overcome the assaults of poverty. My worry is that we will embrace programs that are essentially individual and technocratic fixes—mental conditioning for the poor—and abandon broader social policy aimed at poverty itself.
It is difficult for enrichment programs alone to lead to educational mobility. Children from poor communities need social policy that involves schools and enrichment programs, but also need programs to address the conditions that devastate students’ lives: poor nutrition and healthcare, inadequate housing, parental unemployment, violent streets, and a dysfunctional immigration system. When we ignore these broader conditions, we turn an ungenerous scrutiny on the children themselves.
Given the political tenor of our time, we can easily fall into the trap of blaming the poor for their circumstances – attributing them to character deficiencies and championing character development as the way out of their problems. There’s as much variability among the poor as in any group, and we have to keep that fact squarely in our sights, for we tend toward one-dimensional generalities about poor people’s character and motivation.” (Read more here.)
Rose is exactly right about this—character-building programs are all well and good, but we also need to address the deeper problems that make poor children’s lives unnecessarily and almost impossibly difficult.