Character at Work
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
If someone told you he was a good football player and provided you with pictures of himself in pads and uniform, accompanied by self-aggrandizing descriptions of his speed and ball handling abilities, you might listen politely. But if you were to find out that this guy had never in his life played in a real football game, he would lose all credibility. You would have every reason to be suspicious, because without the challenge of real competition, there is no way of fully assessing his abilities or achievements as a football player. The difficult environment of game day proves one’s real worth.
Likewise, true character is measured most accurately when there is opposition or adversity. Most people can be friendly when others are friendly to them, but the real test of friendliness comes when it finds itself face to face with bitterness and ingratitude.
true character is measured most accurately when there is opposition or adversity
Character can’t always be assessed legitimately within a hermetically-sealed container. In a school setting, we find that a challenging academic curriculum actually serves to provide a superb training ground and enhances our ability to provide parents with helpful character feedback.
I am fully aware that it is common to pit character training over rigorous academics as if you have to choose one or the other; it assumes that attention to one would come at the expense of the other. But if it is true that character needs to have testing opportunities in order to develop and prove itself, then intellectual challenges within a supportive atmosphere provides an ideal forum to accomplish just that.I am fully aware that it is common to pit character training over rigorous academics as if you have to choose one or the other.
Our description of a Cedar Tree graduate follows the broad outline of our school’s mission statement, seeking to measure the excellence of our classical Christian education in the cultivating of minds and the nurturing of hearts. Of those 15 objectives, one sets this standard: A Cedar Tree graduate will “approach difficult tasks with diligence, persistence, and joy.” Academic rigor is an ideal context in which to measure hard work, perseverance, and grateful living.
Imagine a work crew of busy men sweating away, digging a ditch with picks and shovels, and off to the side we see one of them leaning on his shovel for an extended period of time. If we went over to ask him what he was doing, we would be surprised if he told us that he is “emphasizing character instead.” That is precisely the one thing he is not doing. Similarly, the heavy work of academics provides a much-needed arena for the development of godliness.
the heavy work of academics provides a much-needed arena for the development of godliness
In discussing Christian education, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making a sharp distinction between addressing matters of the heart and matters of the mind. But as God created us as a unified being, it makes perfect sense to address them together and not separate them. Over and over I have seen students benefit from working through difficult concepts in ways that they least expect, even years down the road. This strengthened character begins to pay dividends in every part of life.
Tom Bradshaw has been serving as Cedar Tree’s headmaster since 2006. This essay was first published in 2010.