Prof. Seider’s “Character Compass” Reviewed by CommonWealth Magazine

Professor Scott Seider‘s book Character Compass was reviewed by Commonwealth Magazine. Michael Goldstein reviewed Seider’s Character Compass, along with How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough, on January 15th, 2013. An excerpt from the full book review is below.


It’s one thing to conclude that character traits matter a lot. It’s quite another to ask whether they can be explicitly taught. Enter Scott Seider’s Character Compass.

Seider, a professor of education at Boston University, opens by noting that lots of folks seem to think the answer is, yes. Thomas Jefferson wanted public schools because they’d instill civic character, and Horace Mann because they’d instill self-discipline and respect. Phillips Exeter was founded, writes Seider, to promote “minds and morals.”

But Seider has some sobering news on the ability of schools to strengthen important character traits. He de­scribes a mega-study of character education that randomly assigned more than 6,000 students to seven different “research-based” interventions: conflict resolution training, programs to increase “emotional literacy,” curriculum to promote respect, etc. Which one worked best? None. They all failed, concluded the Institute of Education Sciences, the independent research arm of the US Depart­ment of Education.

Perhaps character drives success, but the research shows it’s not easy to teach. This won’t surprise anyone who follows K-12 education. Avoiding cocaine or teen pregnancy is also linked to success. But it’s hard to teach kids in a way that changes their future behavior. Many heralded initiatives, like the anti-drug program DARE, seek to do that. But close examination by scholars shows no effect.

Seider offers a hypothesis. The programs studied by the Institute of Education Sciences were all inserted into schools from the outside. What if we look at schools that have incorporated character education organically, because they believe it’s an essential component of their recipe for educational success?


Visit Commonwealth Magazine for the full book review.

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