Carol DreibelbisOn July 3rd, the eve of Independence Day, the White House hosted a meeting on citizen-based innovation. The main charge of the meeting was to answer the question, “Where do we go from here?” at a time when the country is struggling economically. Each panel and discussion focused on how we can leverage social innovation and the United States’ finest resource—“the people”—to be resilient and move forward, as a nation.

I was lucky enough to represent CEP at this event, where I was struck by the immediate connections between character development and economic progress. Each presentation and discussion hovered around the idea that in order to build a stronger economy, we first need to foster a stronger sense of citizenship within the United States. The assumption was that civic health can build a healthy economy—the question was how do we build civic health?

Here’s where character development comes in. When most of us hear the word “character,” we first think of moral character: traits such as fairness, respect, and compassion that form the foundation of an ethical life. At CEP, we seek to develop not only moral character, but also performance character, with the understanding that the two complement one another. Performance character traits, such as perseverance, determination, and self-motivation, enable us to act on our moral values. In other words, our moral character guides us, while our performance character drives us.

In order to build strong communities and a strong nation, we need to develop students who are not only smart, but who are also engaged, compassionate, hardworking, and ethical. We need students who want to have a positive impact, as well as students who are going to take action and have a positive impact. As one White House presenter, Eric Liu of the Guiding Lights Network, put it, the resilience of this country relies on “the intersection of values and action.”    

If citizenship is an economic imperative, then let’s work together to build a sense of civic engagement and purpose in our students. As we think back on last week’s July 4th festivities, let’s also think ahead to how we can empower our students to become engaged citizens who are inspired to build a better world. Whether these children grow up to be parents, teachers, artists, businesspeople, or the president of the United States, performance values will carry them far.