While searching for some old documents the other day, I came across a yellowed envelope containing my report cards from elementary school. Savvy of me to save these through fire, flood and cross-country moves, right? Maybe I thought they would impress an employer someday or smooth my way into grad school.  Funny how something so important then is so totally irrelevant now.

But here’s what I had forgotten about the education I received at that little country school.  A staff of only four teachers shared instruction for all eight grades.Elementary school teachers were primarily female in those days, and they worked extremely hard (that hasn’t changed!). With classes of 40 students spanning two grade-levels, Ransom Consolidated Grade School teachers   were responsible for not only the 3 R’s but also language, spelling, science and health, history, geography, civics, art and physical education. A part-time instructor handled music; the rest was up to the classroom educators.

Given the need to evaluate their students in so many academic areas, who could expect these modestly-paid public servants to care about much else other than stopping spitwads and breaking up fights? But a glance at my card reminds me that they were responsible for developing character as well as content.

Were we students “courteous at all times”? Did we use our time well, exhibit discipline and accept personal responsibility? Appearance mattered – not what we looked like but whether we cared. Most important of all, were we genuinely trying to improve?

As the County Superintendent of Schools reminded the parents who signed these cards, “Study these ratings, and help us to make your child conscious of these finer points of emotional life, to the end that we can better contribute toward the all-round growth of your child.”

After so many decades, I had forgotten that the first lessons instilled in me in school were not how well I performed academically but whether I was developing socially. Character counted.

Nothing has changed, and yet everything has.  As Americans we are electing public servants (ironic that we continue to use that term) whose moral compass is either missing or spinning wildly in unpredictable directions. As long as they pass the litmus test of a voting checklist, we dismiss their moral failures and lack of respect for the truth.

Yet there is One who will ultimately judge us all, and his Word makes his will clear.

Run away from infantile indulgence. Run after mature righteousness—faith, love, peace—joining those who are in honest and serious prayer before God. Refuse to get involved in inane discussions; they always end up in fights. God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey.

Pastor and author John Ortberg puts it this way, “God’s primary will for your life is that you become a magnificent person in his image, somebody with the character of Jesus. That is God’s main will for your life. No circumstance can prevent that.”

The grades we receive in grade school, high school or even college will not change the world.  But women or men who have been shaped into the character of Jesus ?  Yes, they can. And they most assuredly will.

We can be dismissed as a character, or we can actually develop one  that will transform the lives of others.

Character counts.  Like the way yours adds up?