Earlier this month, many from the SJCS community gathered at the home of teachers Shoshana and Jeff Stombaugh to hear memories of their father/grandfather. The outpouring of support from adults – parents, alumni parents, colleagues, friends, and community members – was moving but not unexpected.
What was unexpected? The sight of so many SJCS students – not alumni but current elementary school children – sitting at the feet of their beloved teachers, listening patiently, respectfully, and empathetically to the memories of the mourners. Roles were reversed. Students, who are usually the recipients of support, were now there to lend it to their teachers.
It shouldn’t have surprised me. Our students have sensitive and caring parents who know the importance of a shiva call, a visit to the mourner. Daily, I have the privilege of seeing faculty model and explicitly teach “character development.” And yet, seeing these children support the mourners – a skill that many adults find daunting – was profound.
In almost every checklist of 21st century learning, character is ranked as a core competency, with empathy considered a critical component of character. There’s no standardized testing for character, no percentile that will delineate those who excel, no ranking to put on one’s college application.
In an ever-more global, interconnected, complex, and rapidly changing world, business and education experts know character matters. So what does this critical but broad term mean? I like this definition: the ability to understand oneself and to behave ethically and morally, guided by the values of respect, responsibility, integrity and good citizenship.
Yiddish has a term for someone who possesses character – mensch. Despite its antiquated gender specificity and old-world cadence, it’s an incredibly efficient and 21st century-relevant word. I’m not waiting for NAIS or any other educational thought-leaders to adopt it, but…
Developing character – guiding children to become mensches – is at the heart of the SJCS curriculum. Apparently, what SJCS has always valued, is now seen by others as a necessity for future success.