A couple days ago a pair of scientists wrote an op-ed in the NY Times that concluded "consistently doing any activity that requires self-control seems to increase willpower — and the ability to resist impulses and delay gratification is highly associated with success in life."
I occasionally like to step back and re-examine the current structure of schooling rather than just finding tweaks that would make it better, and I have to say that my reaction to the final sentence was "if this is highly associated with success in life, then is this what we should be teaching in school?"
Now, to be fair, I was already pre-disposed to answering "yes" to that question. Before starting teaching I was pretty sure I knew what was wrong with schools and how to fix them. I quickly discovered that I was wrong, and I discovered a few things that I never would have named as problems. One of these, and maybe the most important one, was self-control. From my perspective, there was no greater difference between the students that succeeded and those who floundered than the amount of self-control that they exhibited.
Near the end of my second year of teaching David Brooks wrote this op-ed in which he comes to a similar conclusion. Maybe I'm just looking the wrong places, but so far I can't disagree with his statement that self-control is "largely ignored by educators and policy makers." Indeed, I've only seen it mentioned in one study since that I can remember I started grad school.
I'm not really sure what the research base is on the linkage between self-control and "success" in life, but I see no reason not to believe people who know more than me when they say that there is a strong correlation. And I can't help but wonder if self-control is more important to teach than, say, an extra period of math.