Character comes first; academics come second

When your child progresses beyond formal education, how do you want them to sail through life? 

Happiness, inner peace and personal fulfillment often come high up on the list; with such admirable goals, why does it often go amiss? 

Schools ‘promise’ the delivery of a mind that is academically both analytical and creative, platformed in attributes that will successfully carve a path through career and personal life. What most education systems overlook (including the UK), however, is the immense value of character development. 

Why is this important? If you were to forensically examine the curriculums in schools, there is a huge divide between what you learn in school, and the ‘real’ world. For example, the curriculums in the two core subjects – Maths & English – are archaic; whilst there are certain relevant fundamentals that exist in each curriculum, the majority of learning is forgotten as it is never used past the exam itself. Why is Maths so far removed from the business / economical skills that are relevant in day to day life, and why is analysing a literary text taking precedence over effective communication skills (which are incredibly important to healthy relationships). 

Like with most social problems, Scandanavian education is pioneering. For example, Finnish schools instill a philosophy of holistic development, a growth mindset and a drive to develop the ‘self’ as well as society as a whole. This is how all education systems should look; whilst other teachers I speak to agree with this, change is hard to enforce as things get worse before they get better: the UK system, for example, will inevitably be overwhelmed beyond the point it currently is (Scandanavian countries are smaller, and therefore it is arguably easier to initiate change). 

So what can we do? The home is the most important place a child learns; of any environment, it is where they are inspired or ‘shut down’. Yes, some children are certainly harder to inspire than others (there is a spectrum), but well-guided effort can mitigate these challenges. What we can’t do, however, is continue to overweight our focus on academics. A razor sharp mind is vulnerable to the capricious rhythms and challenges of life if not anchored in a range of underlying characteristics. It is imperative that ‘soft’ skills are developed (particularly as they are neglected in our schools): organisation (sleep, food, time, exercise), resilience, a ‘growth mindset’, listening and speaking skills, teamwork, respect, courage, honesty, humility and independence are some that spring to mind. 

Like an iceberg is supported by what lies beneath the water, our minds are guided by these ‘soft’ skills. The biggest changes in my tutees have come about with this holistic viewpoint; in this light, there is life-changing value in thinking outside the box for select periods of your child’s educational journey. Weekly tuition with this holistic lens, homeschooling, residential tutoring or / and a well planned ‘gap year’ in these formative years can have meaningful and seismic positive effects for life. You can do this easily (as long as you take the essential formal exams like GCSEs and A-Levels); with a thoughtful plan, I can guarantee the rewards from this approach will reverberate through their life more than many of the things they learn at school. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘Character is higher than intellect. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think.’

by James Frome
Bonas MacFarlane Tutor