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Education: Intelligence PLUS Character

June 5, 2010

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically… Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve always liked that quote because I think it really says what the goal of education should really be. I also think it sets a precedence for why we need to focus on teaching character in schools. While I don’t believe that our schools should be responsible for all aspects of education, I also know that too many of our children are not learning critical character and lifeskills that they need.  When they don’t, not only do they suffer in school but they continue to lag behind in the skills they need to be successful in life.

In order to see the negative impacts of inadequate character development we need look no further than our media.  Each day we hear of another bullying incident, another event involving youth violence, or another young person who’s taken his or her own life. This week alone I learned of three. And those are only the ones reported or identified as bullying suicides.

Lack of adequate character also plays itself out in other, less extreme ways. Cheating in schools is on the rise with students believing the end justifies the means.  Lack of respect toward authrority figures and peers in the classrooms and school yards leads to low morale for students and staff. Disruptive classrooms, where teachers feel they spend more time managing behavior than they do teaching, is one of the top three reasons for why teachers leave the profession.  It also robs our children of learning time — as much as 30/45/60 DAYS out of each school year.

It’s hard to justify teaching character and social skills in schools, however, particularly in times of tough budgets.  This area is a “soft skill” — not something measured by hard and rigorous testing and not part of states’ proficiency standards.

But maybe it should be. After all, when studies repeatedly show that 85% of our personal and professional success depends on our social skils, this area of “expertise” is more critical to our “proficiency” than academics. And, we certainly can’t teach kids if they are not ready to learn, willing to pay attention, and cooperate within the context of a learning environment. Further, we all know of people who are extraordinarily smart, but can’t get along with others. Their success, both short- and longer-term is going to be compromised.

Whether you call it social/emotional learning, character education, social skills education or whatever…the same basic concepts are at play.  As I like to say, schools are focused on teaching the 3Rs (Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic), but our kids are failing because they lack those “Missing Rs” that they need to succeed: Responsibility, Reliability, Respect, Resilience, Resourcefullness.

If we made that kind of learning at least as important and integral as we do academics, art, music, physical education…well, we might be amazed at the change we see in our schools and in the product of those schools: our kids. And the irony is, I can show you how the “solution” is self-funding so it’s not a matter of cost.

NOT doing it, however, is costing us plenty, financial and otherwise. It will take true leaders, just like MLK Jr., in education to realize that and take a stand before we’ll see things change.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2010 7:29 am

    What is missing in all of this is the parental reaposibility piece. Schools are doing all they can to teach, not only the academics required for our youth but most of the social skills we would expect all children to possess. Since parents are not doing their job, it is left up to the schools to teach basic social skills and character education. Why are schools teaching honesty? Shouldn’t that be something children come to school knowing? The schools should be places where those basic character traits are reenforced. We need to move the focus from the schools to the parents. Schools will continue to do their part, now is the time to demand that parents do their part.

    • Corinne Gregory permalink*
      June 6, 2010 2:02 pm

      I don’t disagree, Joyce, but the fact is, you can’t control (or even hold accountable — really), what parents do or don’t do outside of school. You can control what goes in inside of school, however, particularly if the schools are suffering from what kids aren’t learning or lackingcoming into the learning environment. The schools “must” because to not do it affects them on all levels, including financial, quality, outcomes, safety and more. We have ample proof of that.

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