Teaching Character

  • TeachingCharacter is a story that ran in the New York Times Magazine (a Sunday insert)as well as on the New York Times website. The paper has a circulation of abouta million, and the website is the most popular American newspaper website with30 million estimated unique visitors annually.

    Aunique idea is cropping up in some American Schools, and that is the idea ofteaching character as well as academics. Success, they believe, is not theresult of being smart, but also of having ingrained character traits that allowone to handle failure, have empathy, posses gratitude etc. In the story, seventraits are characterized: Grit, Optimism, Curiosity, Self-Control, Gratitude,Zest... and that old chestnut, Social Intelligence. Our objective was toinfiltrate the actual school grounds with these words to illustrate the ideathat these character traits are as much of a part of the school as the walls,doors, textbooks and biology specimens. Our target audience was the informedreading public, and our strategy was to enchant them with a magicalinstallation of a simple idea.

    Onceone realizes that our installation is not Photoshop, but rather a 3-Dapplication of painters tape in a real school environment, we hope that thatthe delight of seeing carefully executed typographic anamorphism illustrating aprovocative article might bring a sense of satisfaction to the reader. I don'tknow if this is positively "innovative" though I haven't seen astrategic use of typographic anamorphism used editorially. I do know that itwas a real delight to watch the installations come together, and that the teamassembling them with me—as well as the kids in the schools—were thrilled to seeeach one take shape so that the word, distorted from all angles but one,finally, seemed to magically float in space in front of us, defying gravity.The Times posted a stop-time animation that we created of the installation ofGRIT, and it has been viewed over 130,000 times.

    Photographs by Stephen Wilkes