As if on cue, an ASFA alum this morning (last night?) posted a link on Facebook referencing the NYT (aka: NY Times) article below. Said alum attached this one-line gloss: “Sort of the key to the ASFA curse.”
Dramatis Personae + Pull Quotes from the NYT Article
First let me give you a few important players from the piece:
- Dominic Randolph: head master of an exclusive private school in New York.
- David Levin: co-founder of the KIPP charter schools.
- Christopher Peterson: University of Michigan psychology professor, education researcher, and co-author of a book called Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification.
- Martin Seligman: University of Pennsylvania psychology professor and co-author of a book called Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.
- Sharon Duckworth: formerly Seligman’s graduate assistant at the University of Pennsylvania, now an assistant professor herself.
All of these folks kind of gravitated toward each other because they are all interested in education and they all believe that there’s more to successful human development than reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Broadly defined, they’re interested in the role of character/mind-set in contemporary teaching and learning.
Here’s an interesting pull quote:
Duckworth’s research convinced Levin and Randolph that they should try to foster self-control and grit in their students. Yet those didn’t seem like the only character strengths that mattered. The full list of 24 [character strengths and virtues in Peterson’s book], on the other hand, felt too unwieldy. So they asked Peterson if he could narrow the list down to a more manageable handful, and he identified a set of strengths that were, according to his research, especially likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement. After a few small adjustments (Levin and Randolph opted to drop love in favor of curiosity), they settled on a final list: ZEST, GRIT, SELF-CONTROL, SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE, GRATITUDE, OPTIMISM and CURIOSITY.
(I added the caps and boldface for emphasis.)
And here’s another:
When I asked Randolph to explain just what he thought Riverdale students were missing out on, he told me the story of his own scholastic career. He did well in boarding school and was admitted to Harvard, but when he got to college, he felt lost, out of step with the power-tie careerism of the Reagan ’80s. After two years at Harvard, Randolph left for a year to work in a low-paying manual job, as a carpenter’s helper, trying to find himself. After college, he moved for a couple of years to Italy, where he worked odd jobs and studied opera. It was an uncertain and unsettled time in his life, filled with plenty of failed experiments and setbacks and struggles. Looking back on his life, though, Randolph says that the character strengths that enabled him to achieve the success that he has were not built in his years at Harvard or at the boarding schools he attended; they came out of those years of trial and error, of taking chances and living without a safety net. And it is precisely those kinds of experiences that he worries that his students aren’t having.
“The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure,” Randolph explained. “And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.”
The ASFA Curse: What I Don’t Know
Let me go on record as saying A) I don’t know exactly what particular key this alum is focusing on here. This is a long article with a lot of complex interrelated assertions about teaching, learning, and the culture at large — it’s not simply about failure, nor is it solely about school or one particular kind of school. Then there’s also the fact that B) I can’t even say for sure what “the ASFA curse” is, though I guess I can put two and two together and surmise it has to do with the perception that a notable number of ASFA graduates hit a wall when they leave ASFA and don’t fulfill the promise they displayed when they were here.
What I Do Know + A Little More of What I Don’t Know
I do know this alum to be extremely intelligent, talented, observant, and insightful, and I’m pretty sure this alum had a successful college career. I don’t know as much about what this alum is up to these days or the extent to which this alum feels affected by said curse.
What I Want You (Us) to Do
I want you to read the article and then I want us to discuss it in the context of Howard Gardner’s ideas of Multiple Intelligences and the Five Minds for the Future, and in the context of Seth Godin’s ideas about teaching, learning, school, and obedience.
- Here’s the link to the Gardner/Godin post from a week ago.
Some Key Questions
- What is school supposed to do?
- What is ASFA supposed to do?
- What are you supposed to do? And why? And how?