Imagine a world where your professors grade you not only on your academic improvement but also on your social skills and character. That is what several New York schools are attempting to do this year by going beyond the grade point averages and reporting character point averages.

According to a Sept. 14, 2011 New York Times article, “What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?,” Riverdale Country School, a prestigious private school, and the Knowledge Is Power Program series of charter schools in the New York area have either considered or have already implemented “character report cards.”

To many of us, the idea of schools grading us beyond just academics may seem absurd. Consider the college admissions process: Sure, schools look at interviews and “leadership qualities” — whatever that means — but isn’t it more about your standardized test scores and, well, grades?

For the sake of anyone applying to graduate school, I certainly hope that schools do consider the entire body of a student’s work. Beyond that, however, isn’t educating the whole self, the Jesuit cura personalis mantra, the reason why we’re here at Georgetown anyway? Clearly, this idea of social or character smarts beyond that of book intelligence affects all of us.

Take the example that Malcolm Gladwell presents in his bestselling book, “Outliers.” He suggests that beyond the IQ, a type of creative or imaginative intelligence is equally important in terms of future success for say, winning Nobel prizes.

So let us accept that developing character is an essential part of any education, at the very least to improve the world that we live in. Given that character is important, would the idea of grading students on character be the appropriate way to address it? Would a middle or high school be the appropriate forum?

This is my issue with the decisions made by the Riverdale and KIPP schools. As of right now, these schools generally evaluate character in middle and high school. This isn’t to say that the schools aren’t emphasizing character at a younger age, but rather that they become more obviously quantified later in their academic careers. To me, this is the critical mistake.

Middle school, as far as I recall, seems to be the point at which grades become a critical element of comparison and of competition. Adding “character point averages” onto an average middle school student’s mind seems patently unfair when students have so much growing left to do. Is it wise for schools to add another competitive element to students’ lives?

I understand that most schools warn students not to compare grades and such, but particularly for middle and high school students, the temptation can be too much to bear. When the stakes are raised, say from the perceived necessity of getting into a top-notch high school or college, the lengths to which students will go to outdo their fellow classmates only increases. I don’t think it’s beneficial for schools to cultivate that kind of competition — indeed, it may very well reverse the character gains it tries to build.

Furthermore, in my experience, middle school was the time when most students began developing a sense of cynicism regarding the importance of values-based education, which is why many students glaze over general character terms like respect, honesty and tolerance. But in my experience, students were much more accepting of abstract ideas, ranging from respect and tolerance to courage and curiosity, than they were in elementary school — myself included.

Younger kids may not be as well-equipped to understand exactly what “grit” or “social intelligence” means nor why these terms might be important in their futures. But I have no doubt that a simplified version of the CPA suited for their needs and understandings would be much more engaging and effective than one implemented in high school, for example.

I absolutely do believe that it is the responsibility of a school to help cultivate positive characteristics in their students. And I respect that admissions to competitive private high schools and colleges require teacher recommendations and interviews, which often analyze students’ abilities in terms of intangibles.

Certainly, attempting to quantify aspects of a student’s character is an interesting idea. Who knows, perhaps it might better motivate and prepare the nation’s youth for greater things in the future.

Sidney Chiang is a freshman in the College.

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