Developing Heart and Character
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning[i] (CASEL) has identified five interrelated social and emotional competencies:
Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize our emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior.
Self-management: The ability to regulate our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations.
Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups.
Responsible decision making: The ability to make decisions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.
Social prosperity requires citizens of mature character who have the capacity to be responsible for their duties. They should not fall into corruption or use their skills to advance themselves at others' expense. Indeed, whether the knowledge and skills imparted by conventional education are used for the benefit or the detriment of society depends primarily on heart and character.
Since most criminal behavior begins with problems in the family, social peace requires that citizens have happy and well-adjusted households. Therefore, a prosperous society is one whose citizens are mature in heart and character, are happy in their families and social lives, and have the knowledge and skills to make a positive contribution to their society.
Education should take into account both the spiritual and physical dimensions of a human being in order to give young people both the values and the abilities by which to find lasting happiness. The roots of happiness begin with mature character and loving family bonds. The happiness which derives from the pursuit of wealth, power and knowledge comes best on that foundation.
It is helpful to reflect on a letter written by the headmaster of one American school who survived Hitler's concentration camps. From that experience, he came to realize that, without setting the proper priorities, even the most educated people can become criminals. Every time a new faculty member joined this school's staff, he sent the teacher a letter reminding him or her that the atrocities he witnessed were committed by those who were highly educated:
My eyes saw what no man should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by learned physicians, infants killed by trained nurses, women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education.... My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human. [ii]
Indeed, society is served best by a truly balanced approach to education. Such an education trains youth not just to be future technicians, journalists, scientists, and artists. More importantly, it teaches them to be truly human.
[i] Farnham, Lija. Fernando, Gihani. Perigo, Mike. & Brosman, Colleen. with Paul Tough, "Rethinking How Students Succeed (SSIR)." Stanford Social Innovation Review, Feb. 2015. [ii] An excerpt of a letter written by a Holocaust survivor to educators, published in “Teacher and Child” by Dr. Haim Ginott, child psychologist and author.