Education: Intelligence PLUS Character

"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.martin luther king jr goal for education character intelligence

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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  1. 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.

  2. Corinne Gregory says:

    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.

  3. askteacherz says:

    Excellent insight; the very affluent, high achieving Middle School that I have been teaching at for almost 20 years has become very diverse over the past seven years. The changing dichotomy has made our staff reevaluate our character education processes and we have initiated this year a wonderful program. The program is Positive Behavior System (PBS). It is teacher led, teacher run and it’s focus is teaching kindness, quality human interaction and preventative methodology for bullying.

    The bottom line is today many students come to school without the character education backgrounds of the past. It is not just a poverty issue; singe parent ssue, etc.; it is our nations issue. Many families today need dual incomes to make ends meet, as such these fundamental character traits sometimes do not gain the reinforcement they have in the past. Schools MUST be the intermediary; testing students to death will not make our nation better it will make us better test takers that are unable to work with others. Character eduction, analytical thinking, project based learning and technology must be the focus of education today or tomorrow will be lost.

  4. Thanks for you comments. I am very familiar with PBS and it is an important part of the equation (although it still requires the schools/teachers to “figure out on their own” what to teach).

    Given your comments, you might also enjoy this post I just published. “Evaluating the Content of our Character”)

  5. I completely agree with you Corrine. I think teachers need to adopt this as part of their teaching philosophy. It isn’t necessary to have a course to teach the “soft skills”. We can do it in history class and math. We have to care about the students.

    “No one cares what you know until they know you care” – my dad

  6. Thanks for the comment, Marcus!  As we try to teach kids with SocialSmarts, “character is who you are and WHAT you are, no matter what else you are doing.”  We want to develop not just “good students” but “good people” as part of education, regardless of whether the “educating” is by teachers, parents or others.

    Appreciate your weighing in!

  7. emkj says:

    where did he say this quote?

  8. Good morning, and thanks for your question. Here’s what I know about the quote.  It appeared in “The Purpose of Education” from the Morehouse College student newspaper, The Maroon Tiger, 1947. I don’t know if you can find a source for it online, but that’s what I have for it…  Hope it helps!

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