Character Development: America's Sleeping Giant

06/11/2015 05:35 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2016

I have taught over 10,000 students over 63 years, the oldest now in their 80s. My primary focus has always been: What preparation leads to a meaningful and fulfilling life--and what does not?

While our achievement system of education and achievement culture can initially serve to positively challenge us and our potentials, the competition and its values can easily trap our ego into a limited life that do not recognize the larger scope of our unique potential and spirit.

I don't believe towering individuals like Rockefeller and Carnegie found ultimate meaning and fulfillment in what they were able to achieve, but rather in what they were able to give back.

For example, money is a god in our achievement culture. Lottery winners seem to find money doesn't even buy happiness.

It takes challenge and risks in order to truly discover ourselves and our potentials. But as imperfect people, this involves trial and error, success and failure and on a grander "I was lost and now I'm found" scale: redemption. However, there seems to be no place for dealing with our imperfections in today's achievement culture.

This culture is primarily built on seeking perfection in academic skills. Academic skills are necessary for success in our society, but they do not form the foundation for success. Our founding fathers clearly outlined for a democracy committed to liberty and equality, that foundation needed to be character development.

While our educational system doesn't focus on character, research indicates its value:

A Penn University Study found that self-discipline was twice as accurate in predicting students' grade point averages as IQ.

Physically fit kids generally do better in school. More active children " greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests..."

Researchers show a solid link between success and the strength of traits such as self-control and resilience. However, they caution that existing measures of children's character traits aren't sophisticated enough to make such connections.

But I say the problem isn't measurement; it's emphasis. Character development requires a primary commitment. The tail cannot wag the dog; focus just on developing academic skills and cheating, bullying and other character problems are a predictable result.

Hyde Schools seek to develop the unique potential of each student through a college curriculum devoted to the development of character. However, we found this requires an extensive program to address parental growth and family issues (in character development, parents are the primary teachers and the home the primary classroom.)

So Hyde focuses on character, family and academics. 97% go to college, benefiting most by knowing who they are, where they are going and what they need to get there.

In life, we believe Hyde's emphasis on character helps both students and parents transcend the values of our present achievement culture, and center on the character values of successful American families and their solid connection to successful American institutions.

One Hyde headmaster recently received this email:

"If you ever start wondering about what you're doing, this tidbit might help. H--- recently got offered a full-time job at Apple, and they told her while she didn't have all the technical skills they wanted for the job for which she was applying, they offered her another position as a team manager because of her leadership skills, ability to work within a group, and her ability to communicate. Sounds like a Hyde graduate to me, and I don't believe she would have developed those abilities nearly as well as she has if she hadn't gone to Hyde. Call me a grateful parent."

One parent attending a four day Hyde program addressing parental growth and family issues was a CEO struggling with the challenge of merging two major American corporations. He said, "If I hadn't been a Hyde parent at that time, I would have failed in that merger, because I know the way I would have done it, and it wouldn't have worked." Apparently, working on values with his and other families revealed the right way to merge two major corporations.

These stories demonstrate a program utilizing family values and character to help supplant achievement culture values. That foundation of family character exists in America, just waiting to empower American leadership.