What do you say to someone if you want to change their character? That's a question teachers across the land are grappling as the Government's throwing enough weight behind Character Education to crank a fresh shaft in the ceaseless engine of curriculum change. Children will no doubt profit from the lessons and activities that spring from these efforts, but their characters won't be modified by them. The powerful effect that school has on the traits we bring to public life isn't written in a scheme of work. Schools affect our characters by telling us how respected we are.
For those at the top of the academic hierarchy the effect is a blessing. Being told you're the top is a great incentive to work hard, your superior position gives you confidence and very often a strong sense that the world is good. Our successful, our rich, our leaders come mostly from this group.
Being told you're average isn't such a good motivator, so the people in the middle tend more toward the attitude that work is a chore rather than something that excites or fulfills. The fairy tale of X-Factor, the idea that you can be plucked from your boring, no-good life and gain the rank of celebrity because of your innate talent, was written for this group.
The most marked character education is also the most brutal and it's meted out to the children at the bottom. Imagine being forced to go every day to a building where powerful people tell you are worse than average and your instinctive defiance invokes further punishment. You have a lot of time in detention to reflect on the implications of your academic failure. There's a link between low IQ and crime and is it any wonder that people who we publicly brand as stupid turn around and steal our stuff?