Since Angela Duckworth’s widely-watched TED talk on grit in 2013, there has been growing attention to character education and, moreover, to the role of character in how colleges and universities decide who gets in. One result was the creation of the Character Collaborative in 2016 with the mission to elevate the role of character attributes in admission. Today, the Collaborative membership includes 75 colleges and secondary schools, research entities, educational reform organizations, and professional associations.
If you were to write a letter to your students, what would you want them to know?
I mainly teach students in the physical sciences, but I have some advice to share with those who are studying subjects centered more broadly around problem-solving.
First and foremost, remember that there are many ways to be extraordinary. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that ability in a particular discipline lies along a single axis, and that any two people in that discipline can be lined up and compared. But getting stuck in this mindset discourages cooperation and leads to a sense of competition, a feeling that we have to demonstrate that we’re better or more capable than those around us, and a constant fear of not measuring up. Just as importantly, this attitude is contrary to the history of scholarship in many disciplines.