A great education is concerned with students’ intellectual growth, emotional development, and that old-fashioned word, character. As educators, we must help equip our students to make good and ethical decisions, to know right from wrong, not just because wrong will be punished but because right is right.
From a young age, our students experience undue and often unfair cultural pressures and need the strength of character and habits of mind to withstand them. We can highlight these habits of mind, praise acts of kindness, have conversations in and out of class, and encourage students in their talks to the community to focus on being positive, empathetic and authentic. Honesty, integrity, and the now-famous grit and resilience are all attributes we want for our students as they make their way through school, college and beyond.
In The App Generation, by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, the authors caution against young people “yoking identity too closely to certain characteristics of these technologies, and thereby lacking the time, opportunity, or inclination to explore life and lives offline, which may result in an impoverished sense of self.”
We want to encourage the kind of deep connections that sustain relationships and nourish character, and for our students to inhabit a world where there is accountability for behavior, and where face-to-face conversations trump shallow, often transient online connections.
In an article in the New York Times, Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT and author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, writes: “across generations, technology is implicated in an assault on empathy.” She cites a 2014 study of children at a device-free outdoor camp. After five days, these campers were able to read facial emotions and correctly identify the emotions of actors in videotaped scenes significantly better than a control group. What fostered these new empathic responses? They talked to one another.
In conversation, things go best if you pay attention and learn how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is easier to do without your phone in hand. Conversation is the most human and humanizing thing that we do.
We want our students to be fueled by excitement about the great reservoir of possibilities the world holds for them, and by the indomitable nature of the human spirit, and to be inspired by their education, all supported by the foundation of a strong character.