Work: Should we still teach kids lessons of hard work? ALGER created his all-time, best-selling character in Ragged Dick, a hard-luck boy from the big city streets who learned vital lessons about the very values listed in today’s OurValues post. Ragged Dick eventually starred in six Alger novels. The original stories, however, were serialized in Student and Schoolmate, a periodical especially aimed at children still in school. Ragged Dick’s rise from utter poverty to success and fame was so hugely popular that the character became the model for other characters in other novels by Alger, who lived until 1899.Is hard work still among the most important values American children should learn? Consider the following list of qualities that children can be encouraged to learn at home. Which, if any, do you consider to be especially important? What’s your Top 5 list?

  • Good manners
  • Independence
  • Hard work
  • Feeling of responsibility
  • Imagination
  • Tolerance and respect for other people
  • Thrift, saving money and things
  • Determination, perseverance
  • Religious faith
  • Unselfishness
  • Obedience

Is “hard work” in your Top 5?
Hard work is vaunted as the key to success, to getting ahead, to making it in America. We’ve talked about the Horatio Alger myth before—how a young person can rise from rags to riches through pluck, hard work, and sturdy moral principles. Over a third of Americans believe it’s still possible for anyone who works hard to get rich in America, as I reported yesterday.

One would expect, given all this, that almost everyone would say hard work is among the most important values American children should learn at home. But that’s not true. About 58% of Americans include hard work in their Top 5, drawing on the list above. This means that 42% of Americans don’t have hard work on their Top 5 list.

How does hard work fare elsewhere? Hard work is a relatively unpopular value in many affluent countries.  Shawn Dorius, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, discovered and demonstrated a strong relationship between level of economic development and the importance of the value of hard work, using data from the World Values Surveys: The hard-work ethic is weaker in affluent countries, especially those that have a historically Protestant religious-cultural heritage. The hard work ethic is much stronger in poorer countries.

Where is the hard-work ethic the strongest? Bulgaria, Russia, and Lithuania. About 90% of the citizens of these countries put hard work on their top-five list of qualities children should learn at home.

Did you learn the importance of hard work?

Do you teach your children that hard work is important?

What’s on your Top 5 list?


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Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.

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