Character Matters In School

by Ernest Armah

I think the issue of character and intellect have gained much consideration in the various offices of school heads. In most orthodox schools, headmasters and headmistresses have maintained a firm grip on the philosophy that ‘your intellect can get you the job, but your character would keep you there’. In this light, it wouldn’t be out of place to be reticent about the discipline and academic excellence upheld in orthodox schools.

In Ghana, liberal education is getting fat. And lying at the core of it is empiricism, a scientific doctrine which emphasizes belief in what is concrete – what can be seen and felt. Moreover, it advocates for an unfettered freedom of the pupil to explore. And greatest of it all is its disproportionate attention to the development of intellect at the expense of character.

Most of my colleagues coming from private liberal schools whom I sat in class with at junior high, have abandoned their pursuit of education at this moment. The question this made me reflect over and over again was this, “why would such brilliant straight As pupils drop out of school?”

A simple answer occurred to me. Character. They didn’t have the heart to persevere in the face of failure. Their school administrators and  tutors created an environment within which they are taught how to succeed, but not how to handle failure and life’s obstacles Their education was all about bouncing forward, there was nothing like bouncing back.

Even the tone of our curriculum nowadays is impatient. For example, 8 year olds lessons are being forced into the mind of 4 year olds. Prodigious kids are the exceptions not the rule.

We need a balanced integration of character and intellect at school. We can’t only be followers of Steve Jobs and Bill Clinton by upholding the maxim that conduct is of less consequence – hence we experiment with drugs such as psychedelics to beef up creativity and enjoy blow job at the white house respectively. We need Christ, and Gandhi as well.

In their 800-paged book titled ” Character strenghts and values: A handbook and classification”, Seligman and Peterson compiled a set of values and ethics dating from the era of Confucius. It has noble traits like inclusion, tolerance, citizenship, fairness, wisdom, integrity, bravery, etc. Also contained in the book are emotional traits like love, humor, zest, and appreciation of beauty, etc. For our everyday interactions, it has elements like social intelligence, kindness, self regulation, and gratitude.

I think it would be to the interest of school heads to have possession of this book.
In as much as we are focused on getting impressive GPA (Grade Point Average), we shouldn’t chase it at the expense or neglect of CPA (Character Point Average).

I admit there are loopholes in our educational system like leaking of exams papers, bribery, sexual requests, and all that, but when the character of a pupil is trained and highly developed, he or she would not use those loopholes. And eventually, those loopholes would fill themselves up.