Character building seems to have taken off more easily at the schools for underprivileged children than at schools for privileged kids. It has been more appealing to students who have a real fear of not finishing college, since it offers them a tangible solution they can embrace: work hard, work through challenges, be strong, have strong principles, and you will succeed.
Privileged students, on the other hand, do not fear dropping out of college; they take it as a “given” that they will get into college and complete it because everyone in their family does this. The privileged children and parents don’t seem to be worried about the increases in emotional problems, burnout, and suicide among affluent children.
Dominic Randolph is the headmaster of Riverdale Country School, one of New York City’s most prestigious private schools. He has boldly gone against the trends of today’s prestigious schools by eliminating AP tests and limiting homework. More importantly, however, he has been trying to make changes to the character initiatives they have at the school, because he fervently believes that is the missing link to success.
Randolph and the teachers at Riverdale face the challenge of overprotective and overzealous parents. For example, K. C. Cohen, a Riverdale guidance counselor, said in the middle school, “If a kid is a C student, and his parents think that he’s all A’s, we do get a lot of push-back: ‘What are you talking about? This is a great paper!’ We have parents calling in and saying, for their kids, ‘Can’t you just give them two more days on this paper?’ Overindulging kids, with the intention of giving them everything and being loving, but at the expense of their character—that’s huge in our population. I think that’s one of the biggest problems we have at Riverdale” (Tough 2011).
The Riverdale administrators suggest the problem with pushing for character at a private school is that you are criticizing the parents (aka your employers). You can see their dilemma. It is not stopping Randolph though. He just has to tread lightly.
What a lesson for the rest of us though—underprivileged to privileged. Giving your children what they want isn’t necessarily giving them what they need. Kids (and adults) need to receive honest feedback and appropriate consequences to grow, improve, and build character. Sheltering kids from these realities isn’t doing them a favor in the long run, no matter how much money the family has.
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