My TED Talk ~ The Missing Lesson in Schools: Character Education

What is missing in today’s classroom? What is the most important thing I teach to my middle schoolers? How do we use our classroom to attain world peace?

Much of what I write about on this blog makes it into my classroom. I believe that character education—especially lessons on love and respect—is missing in our education system even though it’s the most important thing we should teach.

I gave a “TED Talk” ( at Boston University’s TEDxBU in February 2011. It was titled “The Missing Lesson: Character Lesson” and was meant to be very emotionally raw, inspirational, and entertaining.

Some live Tweets about my talk were “Nathan Chow is KILLING IT!”, “Mr. Chow’s got jokes!” and “Endearingly funny.”

Shoutout to the Tibetan Department of Education for featuring me on their list of character education resources!

~ ~ ~

Updates in 2015:

– Instead of using the vague term “love,” I wish I used the term “compassion” and talked more about acceptance, understanding, and empathy.

– To prep for a different speech (non-TED) in 2015, I was given TED guidelines and learned that TED speakers aren’t supposed to use notecards at all. Whoops! Totally broke that rule in my 2011 speech. I hope TED and its passionate followers accept my apology!

~ ~ ~

Watch the official video of my 7-minute talk for yourself!:

Same presentation but informally recorded by my friend in the front rows. Audience laughter is captured better in this one! =P

Or visit it externally to like it or add comments: Nathan Chow’s TED Talk: The Missing Lesson: Character Education

(The unofficial video was recorded by my friend with her little digital camera, so the audio quality isn’t the best, but I liked how it captured audience reactions better than the official video. Thanks, Marlee!! Below is the planned speech with some corrections to what I actually said. Visuals timed perfectly were important in my talk, so make sure you’re watching the video, but refer to this transcript if there’s something you can’t hear. Enjoy!

Comments and feedback are always appreciated! =)

(I wrote this note in 2011: I want to say that I’m not an expert on character education. I was flattered but overwhelmed by the attention I received during the break for this TEDx event, as well as after it. I’m still a beginning teacher with lots of failures and room for improvement. As with most things in my life, I have a pretty clear and highly ambitious vision of what my classroom should look like and what my students should take away from having me as a teacher, but my success is only sporadic at best. Still, some of my greatest strengths are in idea-making, vision, being different, and creativity—and I would always welcome having conversations and brainstorm sessions about character education and related topics!)

(Update in 2015: Character education is still one of my favorite topics. When I was a novice educator in 2011, I wasn’t able to share many specific strategies. I’m happy with my growth as an educator and would love to share some of my actionable items and techniques in another blog post. I’ll include ways to spark internal motivation in students, build communities, foster students’ friendships beyond the classroom, and have students practice social awareness and empathy.)

~ ~ ~

Speech transcript:

[First slide: Chalkboard-themed title page with talk title and my name]

Good afternoon and welcome to my classroom.

My name is Mr. Chow, but that usually makes me feel old, so let’s just go with Nathan for today.

Ummm.. people ask me all the time why I became a teacher. I tell them, first of all, it was not to make money. (pause) Well, that’s working really well…

(pause. wait for laughter to subside.)

I actually tell them that there are revolutions in teaching arts rather than just math and languages. There are revolutions in teaching children to enjoy the learning process rather than just aim for a test score. There are revolutions in diversified teaching rather than just lecturing. And thanks to Sir Ken Robinson and others, there are revolutions in embracing different talents and passions rather than just considering academic skills crucial to the world. We need dancers and entertainers, we need chefs, we need firefighters.

But rarely do we step back to teach what really matters to the world: character. It’s the most important but often missing lesson—and it’s what I feel most passionate about when teaching.

There are many aspects of character: focus, perseverance, respect, joy, teamwork, integrity. These are just a few, and I have a limited amount of time up here…

…6 minutes to be exact. Good thing’s there’s no timer. At least now I know what it would feel like to win an Oscar tomorrow.

Alright, limited time. Let’s get straight to the point and only talk about the aspect of character that I truly believe is the most important: love!

We-need-to-teach-our-children HOW. TO. LOVE!

[new slide: book cover of Kama Sutra!!]

Whooops.. wrong lecture. That’s for TEDxxx.

(pause. wait for laughter to subside)

(what actually happened and what I said: “I actually pressed that slide way too early…”)

[new slide: chalkboard with a heart drawn on it]

I repeat to my students: It’s important to gain knowledge, but it’s more important to give love.

(slowly, quietly) Put stuff in (point to head), give this out (pretend to pull heart out).

(walk to sign language interpreter; directed at her:)

Put stuff in (point to head), give this out (pretend to pull heart out). Got it? Yeah, that’s an easy one. (thumbs up)

(pause. wait for laughter to subside.)

We must not only develop our talents. We must use them for the greater good of the world.

This works on a small scale: One day one of my 6th grade students told me her friend was absent because her long-time boyfriend just broke up with her. I asked her how long they’ve been going out. She said… A long time—eight weeks! I told my student that when she goes home, she should push her homework aside and call her friend. Talk to her, spend the night with her, give her a hug.

When we push academics too hard and ignore the character lessons—no matter how small—we are essentially telling our students that tests are the most important thing in life. (shake head slightly) Let us not forget the human side of teaching.

This also works on a large scale: If you learn something at this event today, then when you exit those doors (point to back)—…or these (point to sides) if there happens to be a fire soon—if you learn something at this event today, then you put stuff in (put to head). When you leave, give this out (pretend to pull heart out).

I have an idea worth spreading. But I am afraid of public speaking. But I still chose to be up here today. And I still choose to stand in front of my classroom every day.

All the knowledge in the world is useless—maybe even detrimental—if we don’t learn to use it for the greater good of the world. Cast away your fears and your idleness.

(pause 5 seconds)

Ideas worth spreading (point to head). Actions worth doing (pretend to pull heart out).

Learn it. Then do it. And do it for the right reasons.

What if we teach a student all the skills necessary for success but never teach her about character? We might get this:

[new slide: “Corrupt business executive” is written up top with a photo of money being exchanged in a sketchy way.]

What if we teach a student to enjoy learning on his own, to experiment with knowledge in the wee hours of morning, but never teach him about character? We might get this:

[new slide: “Computer hacker” is written up top with a photo of a hand in black gloves typing on a keyboard.]

And what if we teach a student public speaking, intense determination, and fierce leadership but leave out the lessons on love? We might get this:

[new slide: “Hitler” is written up top with a photo of Hitler and a Nazi flag.]

(pause 5 seconds)

(serious, concerned look at audience)

(in a whisper) I REALLY wish I had a joke for you right now.

We can teach students to reach their full potential but not teach them about love.

That’s a scary thought.

[new slide: chalkboard with a heart drawn on it–same as earlier in the talk]

It’s important to gain knowledge, but it’s more important to give love.

(pause 5 seconds)

John Lennon once sang, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

[new slide: cartoon earth with children of different colors holding hands to circle around it]

Do you want this? (pause 5 seconds. wait for audience response?)

(whisper) I do too.

[new slide: cartoon red brickhouse school with a bell on top]

It starts in school. We have to teach it.

Thank you.

(gesture: point to head, pretend to pull heart out, throw it out to audience!)

~ ~ ~

I hope you enjoyed it!

To Education and Beyond!,
“Mr. Chow”.. formerly known as Nathan Chow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *