Educating For Character
This professional society is facing an existential crisis now. Good professionals may be secure in their jobs, but two trends confronting us undermine the blueprints of the professional society we signed up to. First, the rise of the amateur, from filing the tax return to the rise of blogging millions, partly because of technological enabling and partly because the professional society became too restrictive, changes the professional boundaries and challenges the professional ethic. The institutional nature of the professions limited how these professions could change in time, and once technologies became available to bypass the traditions, they got disrupted. Second, this, and the increasing trend of automating professional jobs, limited the scope of expansion of the Professional Employment significantly. It no longer made sense for an Accountant's son to become an Accountant, or an Engineer's daughter to dream of being an Engineer, when the old men were struggling themselves.
In this melee, Character has acquired a new meaning. It is indeed different what the word meant for the Victorians, and some of my English friends would still snigger at the term popular in other societies - Finishing School - because it conjures up the image of preppy teenagers learning to handle cutlery and learning the rhetorical arts. But, finishing schools are back in fashion, and it stands for things other than table manners and politeness. The point of character in this late Middle Class economy is a derivative of those professional values that overcame the Victorian penchant for Character. So, a man of character today is not moralistic in the Victorian sense, nor with crusty manners and detached objectivism. Today's person of character is involved, a man of people, with professional honesty, commitment to hard work, work ethic and discipline, someone who is reliable, in many ways, an anti-thesis of what a man of character would be a hundred years ago (and, indeed, the change in the meaning of character is far more dramatic for women).
These are different values loaded into an old, rather overused, word. In this Late Middle Class economy, when the limits of economic and technological expansion are visible, technology is not just augmentative but also disruptive, and faith in progress has been replaced by uncertainty, Character is being reincarnated in its professional avatar.
In this context, let us ask the question whether one can educate for character, and the answer would be a resounding yes. When we say that it is not possible, we are clinging too much to the old word, which has lost potency in the current context, and consequentially, the past failure in building character, while in clear evidence, is not relevant today. Today's educator face a different challenge, and educating for Character is one of her key objectives - or, should be.