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Q&A With Joseph Gauld: Why Character Education Matters

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Joseph Gauld is the founder of the Hyde Organization, a network of character-based public and private schools, and he has been an influential voice in the independent school community for decades. The first Hyde School was founded in 1966 after Gauld came to the conclusion that the nation's education priority on testing and achievement came at the expense of effective character education.

Today, the Hyde network has boarding campuses in Bath, Maine, and Woodstock, Conn., as well as public charter schools in New Haven, Conn.; New York City; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington.

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Gauld is also the author of four books, the most recent being What Kids Want and Need From Parents, which was published in 2012. What Kids Want examines the role of parenting in student success. The book tracks Hyde graduates later in life and comes to the conclusion that parenting has a much larger influence on their lives than schooling does alone. Many of Gauld's books explore the theme of parents as the primary teachers for their children and the home as the primary classroom.

I recently spoke with Gauld in October for Education Week Commentary's interview series with K-12 thought leaders to talk about his lifelong commitment to character education and the importance of social-emotional learning.

Though Gauld has been an advocate of character education for decades, recent changes in the K-12 landscape may put a spotlight on his ideas. For instance, both the increased interest in social-emotional learning and the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to include at least one nonacademic indicator in their school evaluation measures, draw attention to the importance of helping students develop character as a part of their overall academic success.

Still, the recent emphasis on these nonacademic indicators in federal education policy may not go far enough for Gauld, who in our interview calls social-emotional skills a "pathetic step to try to humanize a very limited and underperforming system." Courage, integrity, concern, curiosity, and leadership—the values that form the core of Hyde's commitment to character education—are "human qualities, not skills," says Gauld.

Gauld's insistence on the importance of teaching character in school may be welcoming for educators and parents—like those part of the opt-out movement—who feel the emphasis on high-stakes testing and proficiency is ultimately detrimental to students. For Gauld, schooling is a social experience based on personal growth and development, not just academic performance. "Character is the whole; academics are a subset," Gauld says in the Q&A.

His Hyde schools recently celebrated their 50th anniversary, and in September, Gauld received the Sanford N. McDonnell Award for Lifetime Achievement in Character Education, which recognizes an educator's commitment to teaching character.

Read the Q&A here.

Photo: Argo-Navis

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