Virtue leads to knowledge and skill, but knowledge and skill don’t lead to virtue

Education has many purposes. Its most fundamental one is to make the world better. That is why all societies educate their young.

Today’s American policymakers seem to believe the world becomes better when young people acquire the knowledge and skills measured on standardized tests. Therefore public schools teach knowledge and skills. This is good, except when it occurs at the expense of teaching virtues, which is exactly what has happened since the publication of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983.

Public school educators know we have taken what is peripheral (knowledge and skills) and put it at the center, forcing what is essential (virtue) to the periphery. They also know this is unfortunate because virtue leads to knowledge and skills, but knowledge and skills don’t lead to virtue. Try it sometime — try to learn new knowledge or skills without a generous teacher and the virtues of understanding, imagination strong character, courage, and humility. Virtues are at the heart of becoming educated, so modeling and teaching them belongs at the center of the public school experience.

This is not an argument about the morality of various virtues. It is a philosophical and educational argument. Those who believe teaching virtue is akin to teaching morality need to explain the moral dimensions of understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility or generosity.

It is time we understand that these have always been, and always will be, the virtues of the educated person.

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