“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.” – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

So, how do we get a true education then? Does it only come from the hallowed halls of ivy league campuses or is it best obtained at the school of hard knocks? 

Some would tell us that all we ever needed to know we learned in kindergarten, while others suggest that a true education requires formal training to the level of a doctoral degree. Dr. King’s definition – intelligence plus character – sets the goal, but it does not specify a pathway to attain it. Maybe that is because the pathway is an individual one. Maybe the path to a true education is different for each of us. If that is true, then how do we find our own pathway? 

Students in Omo Village in Papua New Guinea ? were working on a “true education.” The Cooks met these students while on a Be the Change Volunteers trip.

The intelligence component seems easier – at least, easier to define and measure. There are IQ tests, degrees, debates and societies that can assess and validate one’s intelligence. It is the character part of the equation that is the one we seem to struggle with – struggle to define, to measure, to assess, to validate and most certainly to achieve. Yet, it is the part of the equation that is the most unique and most important. I know lots and lots of incredibly intelligent people – brilliant scientists, talented physicians, brainy historians and gifted students. I know fewer that also have great character. 

Even just trying to define character is difficult. It can be defined in simple, bland terms as “the combination of qualities and features that distinguish a person,” or in profound and thought-provoking ways, such as, “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.” So, to try to measure, assess or validate a person’s character is impossible – and maybe that is exactly the point.

If we need to try to quantify or defend a person’s character, or our own, then true character is probably lacking. Those with strong character seem to “ooze it” from every pore. Think of five people you feel have exceptional character. Do you feel you need to measure it somehow? Do feel like you have to provide a long justification when talking to others about someone’s strong character? Now think about how you know those five people have true character. Find out how they developed it. Determine the common traits, pathways, experiences and philosophies. Figure out how to learn, teach and apply them. Maybe then our homes and schools will become safer places where a true education can be readily attained.

So, in this month when we focus on remembering and honoring Dr. King, let’s include his views on education, true education, in our quest to continue his legacy. Learn to think intensively and critically.  Strive for intelligence plus character – character that is evident and respected by all those you work with, serve, teach and mentor. That would be a really smart thing to do!

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