- Post 02 November 2011
- By ETIENNE R. LEGRAND
- Hits: 301
BY ETIENNE R. LEGRAND
During a recent visit to my alma mater, Boston University, I was once again moved by the memorial erected on campus to the school's most famous alumnus, Martin Luther King Jr. It's a sculpture of doves in flight over the center of campus -- and it always makes me think of education as the wind beneath our wings.
In an essay King wrote for the Maroon Tiger in 1947 titled, "The Purpose of Education" he said, "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically .... intelligence plus character -- that is the goal of education." King's inclusion of character as a dimension of the educational process is consistent with his strong belief that one-day African-American children would be judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin. I think he'd be disappointed that our focus on the development of children's character as a component of the attainment of education has waned over time.
Report cards, for instance, no longer report on conduct -- which let you know how much trouble you'd been causing in school. Conduct communicated volumes about the relationship between character and getting a good education: self-control, respect, citizenship, and fairness, among others. Developing character at school and at home made enhanced learning and assured that children would have a reasonable chance of leading productive and meaningful lives.
There is some good news that bodes well for a refocusing on character development in concert with one's learning to think intensively and critically. Recent research by Angela Duckworth finds that exceptional character strengths, like persistence, resolve, and persuasion may be indispensible to making it to graduation day. For most of us, character is developed through the challenges and sometime failures we experience. In recasting character as a companion to educational attainment today we reacquire a not so new tool in our arsenal that has the potential to help a significant number of low-performing children in our nation's public schools improve the odds of their success since many of these children face significant challenges every day.
We have an opportunity to take what are perceived largely as reasons to expect academic failure – poverty, absent fathers, undereducated parents – and to deliberately focus children in these circumstances on transforming the lessons of these
challenges into the character strengths they and all of us need to be successful. With such intention, we can begin to demystify the secrets to success, which really aren't so secret, but simply a matter of not knowing what you don't know.
This will require that we first, believe no matter the background or circumstance of any child, that he or she is capable of learning and achieving and second, intentionally focusing on developing character strengths using both classroom lessons and students' unique experiences to draw connections to the character strengths they can develop and hone.
Learning is often fun and occurs effortlessly. But there are times when it can be daunting and frustrating. Sometimes you just want to give up. The fact is that learning is hard. Persisting, resolving, recovering, and being optimistic are strengths that serve students well in life and in school.
That's where character comes in. King understood that character and academic achievement were inextricably tied. Tolerance, fairness, respect and diligence were needed not just for people to get along but to create an environment conducive to learning.
Recently another memorial to King was unveiled on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Much was said about King's legacy as a civil rights leader and how he took the fight for freedom and justice to the streets; how he longed for the day when we'd be judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.
At the memorial to King at our alma mater, I see doves flying free and I'm reminded that we build character at home and in the classroom. That's where the fight for justice and equality really begins.
Etienne R. LeGrand is president and co-founder of the Atlanta-based W.E.B. Du Bois Society.