Each year, Character.org honors one individual for his or her long and steadfast commitment to the field of character education. The person so honored receives the prestigious “Sanford N. McDonnell Award for Lifetime Achievement in Character Education.” This year, Hyde School founder Joseph W. Gauld is the recipient of this prestigious award.
Decades before there was a national character development movement, Gauld was formulating a vision that put character first in the life of a school.
On New Year’s Eve in 1962 while teaching at New Hampton, Gauld had what he terms a “crisis of conscience” in which he realized a fundamental flaw in our educational system. The system fails many children, he maintained, because it is improperly based on achievement instead of effort, and on aptitude rather than attitude. Instead of merely preparing kids for the academic rigor of college, he felt we should be preparing them for the bigger picture–life.
Later, when he was headmaster at Berwick Academy, he realized he would have to found a new school if he wanted to develop a new concept of education.
What clued Gauld into the key to a student’s success in life was following the progress of two students he had in his calculus course. One was a discouraged Vermont farm boy who was getting the lowest grade in the class and lamented to Gauld that he worked twice as hard as his peers and got half as much out of the course. Gauld counseled him that his character and determination would maybe someday make him the best engineer in the course. Another student Gauld described as a lazy, self-centered genius. Gauld remarked that this student knew less about himself and life than any student he had ever taught, but he was getting the highest grade in the class. Years later Gauld followed up with them both and learned the genius had graduated from MIT at age 18, yet had been unemployed for the past 11 years. The Vermont farm boy had become a nationally recognized engineer.
One of Gauld’s nominators, Matt Davidson, said, “In 1966, Joe saw a need – too many students were falling through the cracks, some were excelling academically but lacking integrity, others were star athletes but inconsiderate and off-track, and others were on the sidelines of life, feeling afraid and under-qualified to fully engage. Joe left his job as a prep school educator to start Hyde School in Bath, Maine.”
Gauld has written four books—Character First: The Hyde School Difference (1993); Hyde: Preparation for Life (2003); Nature’s Parenting Process: 5 Simple Truths to Empower Our Children (2010); What Kids Want—and Need—from Parents: How to Bond With and Mentor Children (2012)—and is now working on a fifth. He regularly writes blogs on education and parenting for the Huffington Post. His columns have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Education Week, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and Independent School magazine. His work has been featured on “The Donahue Show,” NBC’s “Today Show,” ABC’s “20/20,” and CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
Gauld received his award at the 2016 National Forum on Character Education before an audience that included educators and community leaders from 45 states and 20 countries. The 2016 National Forum took place in Washington, DC, in October. The award ceremony was sponsored by Learning for Life.