The Character Crock-Pot

The Character Crock-Pot
By Ed DeRoche

I recently read an article in Education Week titled “District Pressure Cookers Test Recipes for Success.” From what I have been reading and hearing from educators about implementing the common core standards, many of them are feeling the “pressure” of these mandates and some are letting off steam. A reminder:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers… in the global economy.

If I remember correctly, “pressure cookers” preceded “crock pots.”  I discovered the Crock-Pot several years ago.  Really like it –it fits my cooking skills– stuff in — wait 6 to 8 hours — stuff out – test it –if OK, eat it. Just like teaching subject matter.

“Pressure cookers” and “crock pots” offer an interesting metaphor for teachers and teaching– the “cooks.” Obviously, students are “eaters.”  The “character crockpot’s” ingredients include what has been labeled  “performance character and moral character”. A reminder:

Paul Tough (How Children Succeed)Briefly, “moral character” refers to traits related to values and ethics: honesty, piety, chastity, generosity. “Performance character” refers to traits related to personal effectiveness: self-control, persistence, grit, optimism…. I think both categories are valuable, but I think they’re clearly very different…. Which means that when educators who care about character are able to be more specific about which character traits they’re trying to develop in their students, that benefits everyone.

Additional “spices” flavoring the ingredients are found in an array of positive social and personal social attributes, emotional skills, positive attitudes, motivations, and relationships. As the famous Hal Urban cautions us, in another context, “garbage-in and garbage-out.” My assumption here is that the “food” will be good and if eaten will “nourish “good character.

The “character crock pot” ingredients need to be “cooked,” sometimes on high (intervention) and other times on low (nurturing).  They need to be taught and learned, practiced and performed, and, in some cases, changed and modified. A reminder:

Schools are good at transmitting what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge. This is the sort of knowledge that can be expressed in rules and put down in books — like the recipes in a cookbook.  But craftsmen possess and transmit practical knowledge.  This sort of knowledge, Oakeshott says, exists only in use.  It cannot be taught, only imparted by imitation and experience.  It’s knowing when to depart from the cookbook; how much, when running a meeting [class], to let the conversation flow and how much to rein it in. Practical knowledge is hard to see, but it is embedded in traditions of behavior (character.) —- David Brooks, “The Leadership Revival,” NYT, 1-13, 2014.