It’s simple. If understanding, imagination, strength, courage, humility, and generosity are not the six virtues of the educated person, my book is worthless. But if they are, why aren’t educators and schools devoted to modeling and teaching them?
The six virtues define what it means to be educated for three reasons:
1. Everybody should develop virtue — it’s the meaning of the word. That’s why, if a list of virtues can’t answer the question, “Why these and not others?” it simply tell us what we already know. Here is a list of virtues. Yes — people should develop them.
2. Everybody should develop these six virtues because they are the ingredients of all others. Baking a cake is an apt metaphor. You can have flour, salt, milk, and eggs without a cake, but you cannot have a cake without flour, salt, milk and eggs. Similarly, with the virtue of patience, you can have understanding, imagination, and strength without necessarily having patience, but you cannot have virtuous patience without understanding, imagination, and strength. All virtues are combination of these six.
French philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville observed that virtues are both our qualities and our actions. For example, a virtuous quality would be serenity; a virtuous action would be persistence. Because human intellect, character, and spirit distinguish us from other animals, I ask, “Are there pairs of intellectual, character and spiritual virtues — a quality and an action — that are the ingredients of all others?”
The Six Virtues of the Educated Person answers that all virtues are combinations of these six. The first of each pair is a quality; the second is an action:
- Intellect –> Understanding (quality) and Imagination (action)
- Character –> Strength (quality) and Courage (action)
- Spirit –> Humility (quality) and Generosity(action)
You can test this in your own life. See if there is a virtue that is not a combination of these six. If there is, these six virtues do not define the educated person.
(3) The final reason this is the definition of the educated person is that we all develop knowledge and skill by bringing understanding, imagination, strength and courage to learning situations; and we fail to develop knowledge and skill whenever we fail to bring these virtues. And we have all had teachers who were humble and generous, and those who were proud and self-indulgent.
Let’s look at those experiences with teachers. The six-virtue definition is also inspiring because it defines the “good teacher.” Whether in the role of classroom instructor, parent, coach, or advisor; good teachers model and teach the six virtues. But don’t take my word for it. Think of your own good teachers. Or pretend you are programming a robot to be a teacher. Which virtue would you leave out? Which would you add?
Please comment with your definition of the educated person, or nominate a virtue that is not a combination of these six.
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