Friday, October 19, 2012

Character Counts

Imagine opening a parent-teacher conference with “Let’s discuss your child’s character.” The first time I heard this prompt was a few weeks ago at the PwC KWHS Seminar for High School Educators on Business and Financial Responsibility. The presentation was an attempt to tie in character traits to financial behavior. The presenter used the KIPP Character Report Card as the foundation for his presentation, which emphasized the content area I teach.

Earlier in the year I wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post on the dangers of not teaching personal finance to kids. These frightening statistics illustrate the consequences of not equipping our students with basic personal finance tools and concepts — and Americans know it. Eighty-two percent of American parents agree that personal finance should be a graduation requirement, and 89% of teachers feel the same way.

Personal finance is still in the infancy stages of development in our schools. A challenge of teaching the course well is preparing students to put knowledge into action. I enjoy using games and simulations to bridge content with behavior, I even created my own. Although I have yet to assign a grade to the character traits sometimes necessary to making an understood financial choice as KIPP does.

Relative to personal finance, the character traits discussed at the seminar that stood out for me were grit, self-control, and kindness. Grit is defined as the ability to finish what one starts; complete something despite obstacles; a combination of persistence and resilience. Self-control is defined as the ability to regulate what one feels and does; being self-disciplined. Kindness is defined as doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.

You need grit to balance a budget on poverty wages. It takes grit to manage job losses or deaths in the family. It takes self-control to restrain from using your credit card to buy something now you really cannot afford. You need self-control, which as you can see in this video is not always innate, to save and wait to buy something later. Living a family budget that prioritizes other members of your family before yourself takes genuine kindness.

Teaching to the whole child is challenging and personal. Most would agree that someone’s character is one of the most important factors in their own success. At a minimum, our students should understand what character traits are necessary to reach their goals. So although a character report card may not feel right to me, neither does an education that all together avoids developing a student’s character. 

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