We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character -- that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The author Daniel Pink tells a story about a woman who told John F. Kennedy, “A great man is a sentence.” Pink asks readers to consider this idea: “What’s your sentence?” What is it that you want people to remember about you? When creating my sentence, I considered the above statements by Dr. King about the two-fold nature of a complete education. My sentence is: “She guided students toward making their way in the world, and toward making it a better place.”
The first part of my sentence concerns knowledge that makes life possible. Our students need to know how to communicate with one another. They need to know about reading, writing, mathematics, science, along with the body of knowledge belonging to the careers they pursue. They must be familiar with the backgrounds of their culture and of other cultures. They need to understand how to effectively participate in civic life. More than this, they must be skilled at the science of thought: how to learn, unlearn, and relearn long after their formal schooling ends.
The second part of my sentence leads me to ask, “Are my students willing and able to change the world for the better?” This question connects to knowledge that makes life worth living. Art, music, and appreciation of nature are examples, along with the principles of how to value differences in other people and how to make the best of each situation. Students need to be encouraged to find their passions, develop their strengths, and share their gifts with the world. They need to learn to see through the eyes of others and to have the courage to act when change is needed. This is the type of knowledge that runs deep, that forms the foundation of who a person is. It is often ignored or overlooked, because it is not easy to measure or to express with a few statistics. However, a society neglects this type of education at its own peril, as we have seen over and over when intelligent, educated people have ruined the lives of many through unethical actions.
Are students prepared to make their way in the world? Are they willing and able to make it a better place by their presence in it? These are the larger questions that define our responsibility as educators, and they are the questions I return to when making choices about curriculum, methods, and everyday interactions with my students.