Most outcome-based curriculums target specific deliverables. These rubrics focus on key technical proficiencies and critical thinking skills that should be cultivated in students. But are they missing something? There are fundamental aspects of character that are essential for the success of every student—both in college and in the workforce. We must not neglect these virtues when considering the development of students.
Students may have the brightest intellects, the latest technical training, the keenest problem-solving skills, and the most creative innovation. But, if they lack the moral compass to navigate the world, they can shipwreck not only their own life, but that of others.
No school brags that Bernie Madoff was an alumnus. Madoff had brains, charisma, and drive. He could have been famous. Instead, he is infamous for perpetrating the biggest Ponzi scheme in history and destroying countless lives. Madoff stands as a dramatic example of the importance of character as a ballast for aptitude.
When we do discuss character in college classrooms, the conversations often fall into one of two approaches. Most often, they are perfunctory. It’s assumed that everyone is on the same page. Honesty is considered as rudimentary as basic arithmetic and, like 1+1, was covered in elementary school. Alternatively, faculty can seem almost embarrassed when discussing character. On some level, they seem to feel virtues are passé and we should get on to the more interesting and glamorous ideas.
Both these methods miss the mark. College is about growing and developing a student into a contributing member of society. We must not only expose them to new ideas but deepen their understanding and appreciation for familiar ones. This includes sparking their moral imagination. Our discussions of ethics must be robust and challenging to engage students and foster character.
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