Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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Do We Need To Change The Way We Educate Our Children?

Published By: Huffington Post - 14 Oct 2013

Hilary Wilce

All of us want our children to live happy and fulfilled lives.

To that end we do everything possible to make it happen. We get them great pre-school care, fight or pay for places at the best schools we can find, drive them to sports matches, badger them about homework, applaud loudly at school concerts, and help them apply for good university places.

Yet a conference held earlier this month at Wellington College, Berkshire, points our attention in a radically different direction.

‘The Positive Education Summit’ brought together leading psychologists and educators to underline the fact that high achievements alone will not offer success in life. Good old-fashioned strength of character is now known to be the real key to living and learning well.

Researchers and teachers have come to recognise that what children most need in life is not only exposure to great opportunities, but also the inner strength of character to make the best of them.

The ability to take responsibility, be kind, and show grit and perseverance are the kind of qualities that allow children to shine, even in the face of set-backs and difficulties. Multiple studies show that children who are resilient, conscientious and able to exert self-control do better academically, and in terms of making friends and feeling good about themselves, than those who aren’t. Optimism, curiosity and honesty all contribute to helping children be strong, well-balanced, confident – and able to do their best in school.

Some schools, especially private ones, have long helped students develop their inner strength. Now a growing body of educators is calling on all schools to do this. The Wellington College conference brought together major leaders in the field, including the positive psychology guru Martin Seligman, of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the original champions of resilience and optimism, to discuss how. Delegates also visited Number 10 Downing Street to press their case.

Polls show that we parents are already on board with the idea, and are keen for schools to bring in ‘character education’.

But does that mean we don’t need to do it ourselves?

On the contrary. We nurture our children through the very first years of life, and will always have far more influence on them than their teachers and classrooms. What they learn from us will be the foundation that they stand on in the world.

Which is why we need to get up-to-date fast with why character matters so much to children’s welfare and achievements, and why ‘old-fashioned’ virtues like honour, fortitude and self-discipline are coming back into fashion. We need to talk to each other about it, discuss it with our children’s schools, and think hard about how we can encourage our children to grow up loving, resilient, kind, honest, courageous and self-reliant.

None of this is easy – especially when our consumer-and-celebrity driven world seems set to thwart us at every turn. But as schools come to see how much character matters, we would be selling our children very short if we didn’t do so too.

Hilary Wilce is the author of ‘BACKBONE: how to build the character your child needs to succeed’