Character Education Requires the Mind AND Heart

I read an article recently on character building in schools.

character blog_1It discussed a study by Boston University Professor Scott Seider to determine “which character strengths correlate with student success” and “how different approaches to character development impacted students.”

The article emphasized that “educators of all ages, from kindergarten through college, are quickly realizing that academic skills aren’t enough to ensure student success. Increasingly educators and district leaders are trying to incorporate non-cognitive skills into the school day that they hope will help students develop the inner fortitude and confidence to push through personal and learning challenges.”

Seider cited examples of schools that have chosen to focus on character development. These schools helped students build “schemas — the mental structures that help someone determine how to act in different situations — to which they could constantly refer.” The goal was “to motivate and enable students to be competent and ethical citizens of the world.”

The growing concern for character education is felt everywhere today, among Christian and secular educators alike. One thing to note is how often the approach in secular schools is a cognitive-based set of “schemas, mental structures” or “thought processes” that will hopefully lead to positive action. Unfortunately, the secular approach to character-building often overlooks the central role of the heart as the place where God teaches us wisdom (Ps. 51:6) and the place where the spirit and the will take action.

character blog_2The biblical view of wisdom, the ability to live skillfully and successfully in life, is centered not just in the rational mind, but in the spiritual mind. The spiritual mind (or the heart) is that meditative center where we do some our deepest thinking — transformative, volitional thinking that leads to change. I believe there is a valuable secular counterpart to this where people do think carefully and intentionally about their motives and actions. But the crucial role of the Holy Spirit to indwell, empower, convict and ultimately change us at the spiritual center of life is not accessible to the secular mind.

This is why one of the most important things we do at ICS is teach students how to take care of their heart (Prov. 4:23), because it is the center (the wellspring) out of which all of life is lived. Helping students think and talk about moral conduct can be helpful, but the ultimate power for transformation is a work that God does not just in our mind, but in our heart.

This blog post was written by Stephen Danish, our Head of School.