Character is hard to measure, but it’s easy to see when it’s missing. The recent college admission cheating scandals are a perfect example. Some of the people involved seemed to have everything. Yet, a lack of integrity threatens to end their successful careers and those of their children.
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While most of us wouldn’t think of doing something so unethical (even if we had the means), their stories should cause us to pause and question what we value most.
What Are We Trying to Achieve?
You and I probably agree that integrity is one of the most important things our children can possess—and yet it’s so easy to spend most of our time focused on things that don’t really matter. In order to make what matters most the center of our children’s educations, we need to fully grasp the value and practicality of getting our priorities right.
It’s hard to know what those wealthy parents were thinking when they decided to bribe their children’s way into prestigious schools, but they do have something in common with parents the world over: a tendency to measure their success as parents by their children’s measurable achievements.
How do we measure success in education?
Many Chinese parents would seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum. After all, their kids may spend their high school years studying for 17 hours a day. In extreme cases, near exam time, some students will get nourishment from an IV in the classroom—so the students don’t have to stop studying to eat.
While competition might seem healthy—and I would argue it is in economics—measuring our value, and that of our children, by how we compare to others is a dangerous game. We risk making the things that matter least the focal point of our children’s education.
For years we may spend hours a day drilling our children to prepare them to get the perfect score on a college entrance exam. What message are we sending? What matters most? Getting the perfect score? Getting into the right school? Getting the right job? We may successfully train them to compete— and to do well by some measures. But when we do that we’re shortchanging them in the long run. Because life isn’t a competition. You can try to make it into one, but is that the future you want for your child?
What really matters in education?
Rather than helping our kids “win” at life, we need to help them learn to recognize what matters most— and make it the central focus during the years they spend with us.
In her book, Consider This, Karen Glass makes an argument that an educated child should have three things: 1) a humble spirit, 2) a good character and 3) a love for learning.
I can simplify it even more: character is all that really matters.
When our kids know that they don’t know it all, they will be teachable. Once they develop integrity, they will also have the grit to do a job well. When they know they are treasured by their creator, they will want to learn more about His world.
Where can we look for educational guidance?
Character is not only difficult to measure— it can also feel elusive to impart to our children. We can teach them all the right things and end up trapped in a legalistic model with an arrogant child. And yet it’s easy to tell when a child is grasping something deep and meaningful. It rarely happens when filling out worksheet pages. It will likely be sparked by an observation made when we’re going through life with our kids at our sides.
In a world where the things that matter least tend to get the most attention, we can turn to the Bible for guidance. In the book of Luke, Jesus is quoted as saying, “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” (NKJV)
We live in a world where competition is fierce, but we can trust our God to give us everything needed!
The Secret to Building Our Children’s Character
So how do you make sure genuine character growth is at the heart of your child’s education? Every child and parent will have their share of challenges. I use those opportunities to take my child’s “spiritual temperature.” I know I can’t teach my children everything they should know. Instead, my goal is to teach them to love learning and love people. Sometimes a child needs to develop the discipline to sit down and work through a lesson. At other times a child may need to be challenged to think about others. The right story might help her see the world in a new way.
Most importantly, your children will learn by watching you do life in your own imperfect way. Character may be difficult to measure and challenging to teach, but your kids will recognize it when they see it in you.
Teri Capshaw is an author, developmental editor, former journalist, and homeschooling mom on a mission to help families thrive in an overstressed world. In her book Dying to Win she takes a big-picture look at factors pushing students too hard—and provides parents with practical strategies to ignite and inspire their children’s love of learning.