Would You Rather Your Kids Be Smart OR Virtuous?

Would You Rather Your Kids Be Smart OR Virtuous? September 28, 2012

I eat this stuff up. I get juiced when a major secular publication such as The Wall Street Journal leans toward an aspect of biblical truth.

The issue? Character. And, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Tough, it turns out it really does count.

For several generations now the focus of parenting in America has been on cognitive development. The idea has been that if our children can simply develop their powers of reason and intellect they will have the best chance of becoming integrated, whole, and happy beings. In psychological language, this is referred to by some as the “cognitive hypothesis.”

Pragmatically, the strategy has been to cram as much knowledge into our children’s minds as we can. Add in the competitive flavor of our culture, and the goal for many parents has been to help our child learn more than the child next door. This, we have believed, will help our child have the best possible chance at a high quality of life. Two economists from the University of California called this competition between parents for their children’s intellectual gigantism the “Rug Rat Race.”

But the WSJ’s Paul Tough presents a, dare I say tough, counter-argument to this philosophy when he suggests that parents should focus more on character development than on cognitive development. Tough primarily references the work and research of James Heckman, a Nobel Memorial Prize-winning economist who has found that children need both cognitive abilities AND character to develop into healthy, functioning, capable adults. From Heckman’s research, Tough concludes:

What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us often think of them as character.

Hold that list of “qualities” up to the “fruit of the Spirit” mentioned in Galatians 5, and there are some curious parallels. It almost sounds as if The Wall Street Journal is saying that a full, content, and enjoyable life is found in the virtues motivated by faith, empowered by the Spirit, and described in the Scriptures.

Did I mention that I eat this stuff up? Thanks, Paul!

This entire article is worth reading – you can find it here.

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