It’s been a long time since there was mention of Turning the Tide, a report that came through Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Making Caring Common Project several years ago. One might think that the work just disappeared given the lack of publicity. However, last week at the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) Conference in Boston there was a fantastic session on the progress being made in this area.

As a reminder, the Turning the Tide Project was an attempt to de-stress the college admission process for teenagers by having colleges advocate that there needs to be a change in admissions. There were a number of recommendations made by the Project and a large number of colleges and universities that signed on to endorse them. You can read more about those recommendations on the link provided above.

Central to the Project is the theme that could not be more needed today – How much do children and adults prioritize caring for others? Typically caring comes third after Achievement and happiness. By focusing primarily on achievement, whether academic, career or in many ways personal, as a pathway to happiness necessitates that caring comes last on this list. Therein lies the problem – a whole world of problems, literally.

When parents focus on their child’s achievement they pressure them to do what ever is necessary to achieve. Students take that message to do what ever they can to win. Systems of education promote achievement to the point that everyone needs to be recognized. If you don’t win, you’re not good. If you don’t have excellent results, you’re a disappointment. If you don’t attend a prestigious university you won’t be successful. These are the messages that are clearly eroding the Common Good.

So, what is the Common Good? Basically it is putting others first. Caring for those around you before yourself. It means having a moral compass, which we all have but seem to have lost along the way. Further, the Common Good is about “meaningful ethical and intellectual engagement.” The key word here is meaningful.

What is interesting is over the last several weeks in the U.S. two major hurricanes have devastated parts of the Caribbean and the Southern States. Prior to that, one would have thought the U.S. was all about the eroding and fractionalized culture. But people of all walks of life responded with love and care. We do care when disaster strikes, but on a day to day basis we race to have more and more, caring for our small influential circle.

Response to Turning the Tide has taken some time. Boarding schools now are looking for character in the admission process. SSAT has developed a Character Skills Assessment for student applying starting this year. For those applying to university, schools now have essay questions specifically around ethical development. The message is becoming clearer, schools are apart of the solution, but it also starts at home.

Adults need to model behavior the way they want their children to respond to societal woes. Children look to their parents as primary sources and then to teachers and other adults for verification of what they see and learn at home. Schools do need to invest in students’ ethical and caring development by creating safe environments. At the same time, efforts need to be made to reduce achievement pressure so that value can be added to the development of moral compasses in students. Parents, administrators, teachers and students need to work together. Grappling with ethical decisions is the challenge of humanity when the world is becoming smaller and smaller.

It was encouraging to attend the session not only to see the work is still moving forward, but to also experience the process working its ways into the admission process. As schools begin to adopt Caring in their ethos and culture there may be a chance that these very same qualities re-appear in our societies. But it will take understanding that through caring, people can achieve and find happiness. Giving of oneself for the betterment of others provides spiritual enrichment. Without it, the soul is empty. Let’s look at how we can move to Making Caring Common, we will all benefit.