Education and Character
By Kate Foley
If intelligence and character fail to develop in tandem, the human person is unbalanced.
While attending Morehouse College, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote an article entitled “The Purpose of Education” for his campus newspaper, Maroon Tiger. In this article, he said, “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”
This quotation is a fitting description of the purpose of education. The elements of intelligence and character correspond to the two fundamental parts of a person, his intellect and his will. If an education is to be true and comprehensive, it must not place all of its focus onto one or the other of these elements. When intelligence becomes the sole focus, education will lose its meaning. It will become rather a mechanical factory for producing sharpened mental faculties, but dulled souls. Intelligence has to do with the purpose of man to discover and learn from his world, and while this is an extremely valuable part of existence, it does not include the more human element, character. Character, or the formation of a will, has to do with the purpose of a man, which is to be developed and turned towards the good. Though this aspiration may be less obvious and less respected than intelligence, it is nonetheless of equal importance. Its development must, however, be incorporated with the development of intelligence. If these two pillars are not developed side by side, the person cannot grow with the balance that is necessary to his development
The role of education in this process of growth is irreplaceable. Because its sole focus is forming the person and preparing him for life, it is only right that education should be expected to form all parts of the man. Though the educator cannot be expected to be responsible for the full development of character, he should provide a stable base and example for the student. He can do this through the example provided both by him and by the curriculum. For, if a student were to read the life of Charlemagne, he must be guided not only into understanding the factors affecting his kingdom, but also to contemplate the morality of his actions. Both of these elements are crucial to the understanding of this figure, and both ought to be summoned in an educator’s treatment of him.
When only one of these factors of education is emphasized, there can develop a tension between a student’s day to day life and his learning. He becomes unaware of the influence that his education should have on him as a person; he focuses only on his ability to learn and succeed. This student ought to be shown that this approach to education cuts him off from his true aim. Education should be integrated with real life; it should explain to the student not only how to learn, but how to live. In this, the necessity of the development of character shows itself. For when the student’s character is developed, he begins to see life as a cohesive whole, and himself as the common thread between it all. This is one of the goals of education—to give the student awareness of reality. To do this, education must not only develop intelligence, but also character.
This essay was originally written for the 26th October, 2019 administration of the CLT.
If you liked this essay, you might like the contributions of some of our other top-scoring students, such as this one on Aristotelian and Biblical friendship or this one on the black hole information paradox. Or take a look at one of our profiles of the names on our author bank, like St. Teresa of Avila or John Milton.