Education Without Character

Every week during Lent, we’re looking at Mahatma Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins. So far, we’ve considered Politics Without PrincipalWealth Without Work, Commerce Without Morality, and Pleasure Without Conscience.

Here’s a little quote trivia and etymology for us to consider this fine day as we think about social sin #5. We’ve heard the quote a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It seems that the original quote first appeared in a treatise essay on atheism by politician and philosopher Francis Bacon:

A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.

Alexander Pope used the phrase A little knowledge is a dangerous thing in an essay he wrote on criticism in 1709 (I know. I haven’t read any Alexander Pope since seminary days and it wasn’t interesting then either).

That brings us to our social sin of the day: education without character. If a little knowledge or education is a dangerous thing, what does that make knowledge or education without character? Lethal?

Education and character, or the lack of education and character, are at the heart of so many issues today. Education isn’t only book-learning either. Education comes in many forms, including knowledge gained from real-life experiences and common sense approaches. I like to define character as who you are when no one’s looking. In other words, your thoughts and actions when there isn’t something for you at stake or someone else watching.

Education and character are important in and of themselves, but their true power to be agents of influence and change come when teamed together. Character also grounds education, keeping it from becoming an academic exercise with no accountability to reality. But why is this so important for us today?

Education levels the playing field and empowers those who have learned how to think. Economic disparity is linked to disparity of access to education. It’s exactly why oppressive governments do not educate girls or make higher levels of education accessible to the non-elite. People who think are empowered to act.

It’s also exactly why character is so important in the educational process. Getting an education at any cost – having no character by cheating or lying you’re way through education – may get you what you want in the short run, but will not sustain you at any level. Education alone is but one piece of the humanity puzzle.

The other piece is what you do with that education. Will you inspire others to also learn? Will you share your knowledge and expertise in building products and services to benefit others? Will you keep learning and expanding your knowledge base, exposing yourself to new ideas and new people? Will you learn from your experiences and be willing to change? The education and character possibilities are endless!

Every one is gifted with God-given untapped potential. It’s what we do with what we’ve been given that gives value and purpose to our lives. We may not change the world, but we can be an agent of change and influence where we dwell, in our own homes, where we work, how we spend our time, with whom we socialize, and how we participate with our votes.

A passage from the Old Testament book of Proverbs comes to mind that illustrates the relationship between character (wisdom) and knowledge.

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established;              through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.               ~Proverbs 24:3-4

Having raised sons of my own and now watching as my son and daughter-in-law are raising their daughters, I am continuously reminded of how much more is caught than taught. That’s why character is so integral in our educational process. Learning about other cultures is important, but experiencing other cultures through the other kids and families in your class will have an even more-lasting impact. Being told to get along is likely to be forgotten as soon as the incident is over, but learning how to talk about the things that get in the way of getting along and finding a resolution is a life-skill that will be used over and over again throughout their lives.

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established;                 through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.

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