Opinion
Education Opinion

Giving Non-Cognitive Outcomes Their Due

By Walt Gardner — September 12, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It sometimes takes a celebrated author to bring to the public’s attention an issue that teachers have long known. I have reference now to Paul Tough’s new book How Children Succeed. His thesis is that non-cognitive skills matter more than cognitive abilities in determining how a young person’s life will turn out. Tough acknowledges that skills and knowledge (cognition) are important, but he believes that “persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence” (non-cognition) have been given short shrift (“Opting Out of the ‘Rug Rat Race,’ ” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 8).

What to make of Tough’s view? Frankly, I’m surprised that the subject is only now in the limelight. When I was at UCLA in 1965 working on my teaching credential, we were required to read Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I (Cognitive Domain) and Handbook II (Affective Domain). We were taught that both domains deserved equal attention because long after knowledge and skills are forgotten, attitudes remain. Unfortunately, the accountability movement is concerned only with the former. This lopsided view shortchanges students. None of this is meant to minimize what Tough has written. But it’s important to put the issue in proper perspective.

More to the point, as I wrote in a letter to the editor of The New York Times Book Review on Sept. 9, no standardized test presently used in any state attempts to measure non-cognitive (affective) outcomes (“The Character Hypothesis”). That’s one reason why the value-added model will unavoidably label some good teachers as bad. I say that because there are teachers who leave an indelible positive imprint on their students but yet fall short in meeting cognitive goals. Unless equal weight is given to affective outcomes, schools will lose many good teachers who will be fired under new draconian rules.

What if reformers recognize their error and decide to measure these other outcomes? Is it possible to help teachers develop the wherewithal to reach their students? I think it’s a lot harder to do than it appears. Think of the task as similar to the effort being made by medical schools today to develop a bedside manner in their students. Some doctors in training seem to be born with the ability. By the same token, I believe that some teachers bring the educational version of this ability to the classroom. For all the others, the best that ed or med schools can do is to raise awareness.

In the final analysis, Tough’s greatest contribution is to warn about the dangers of not allowing students to learn lessons from their failures. The self-esteem movement has virtually eliminated this opportunity. I think students intuitively know when they have earned praise. Bestowing it on all students in order to avoid hurting their fragile egos does them a terrible disservice. The key is how students are permitted to fall down. If it is done with kindness, students will grow stronger. They’ll thank their teachers decades later. At least I do.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP