By Shimon Waronker, Ed.D
There are many opinions as to what education really is. If you ask ten different people, you might get ten different answers. Shimon Waronker, EdD, believes education is primarily the development of character traits in a child.
If children are resilient, courageous, humble, and empathetic, then a parent has succeeded because no matter what challenge is thrown at them, they will have the tools they need to meet that challenge and overcome it. Character traits are critical in education and are really primary to academics. A lot of people will say, “What do you mean? Education is all about the academics!” But in truth, academics are secondary to the development of positive traits because a child with no resilience will give up and quit, and it makes no difference what challenging course material they receive—they will always have a propensity to quit.
Because of this, being resilient is of far greater importance than any particular academic subject. When parents and the entire school community understand that the primary goal for education is the building of character traits and the secondary one is academics, they can focus on what is really important. In Hebrew this is known as the Ikar, the main thing. The Ikar of education is to help our children develop courage, empathy, confidence and humility.
Courage is a very important character trait. Children need to overcome their fears. They need to recognize that while experiencing fear is normal and nothing to be ashamed of, they also cannot let their fears control them.
Humble students are willing to learn from others and are not afraid to admit they do not know something. Humble students learn to excel without alienating their peers, but they also learn the importance of recognizing that everyone has something to offer. Related to the ability to recognize the value in others is the ability to be empathetic. Children with this trait think about other people and not just themselves. They are sensitive to the needs of others.
To ensure our children have all the traits that will make them successful and contributing members of society, we must have laser focus on the goal of fostering these traits.. Often, parents will look at the grades on a report card first because they believe grades take precedence. Instead, parents should first read the comments. How is the child behaving? What are the character traits that will help the child excel? Children who have not done well academically have gone on to become CEOs of major corporations because they have the people skills and the ability to interact with fellow human beings in a collaborative, empathetic fashion with humility.
These are the traits people look for in leaders. These are the traits employers look for in their teams. Children with these traits are the ones who will grow up to succeed and be able to provide for their families. When parents look through the lenses of resilience, humility, empathy and courage when measuring a child’s development, they will understand what the child needs at each step of his or her development. An educated child is one who has developed desirable character traits.
By Shimon Waronker, Ed.D received his BA from the Univ. of Maryland; and Ph.D. from Harvard. He is the former Principal of the Jordan L. Mott School, S. Bronx.