Education's true goal: Intelligence PLUS character

July 07, 2017 18:00
In a Harvard study, 80% of children said their parents valued academic achievement over kindness. Photo:

Harvard University made a bold move a couple of months ago. It rescinded offers from 10 incoming freshman students who would have been class of 2021. These 10 students had been given offers to start college in Fall of 2017 but in April, their offers were rescinded based on their behavior online.

These 10 students had created a Facebook group which, at some point, was named "Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens". In the group, there were sexually offensive jokes, racially discriminatory messages (including referring to hanging a Mexican child as 'pinata time') and comments that joked about child abuse.

When Harvard Admission Office came to know about this and saw its content, it revoked the offers to the students that were a part of the group.

This move has been controversial – with some applauding Harvard’s strong stand and others defending the students saying their Facebook group was a private one and they were just "teens having fun".

Harvard issued a statement that included this sentence: "As a reminder, Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character."

I stand on the sidelines applauding Harvard’s decision. I applaud them for putting moral character as part of their admission criteria. I applaud them for taking a stand. I applaud them for recognizing that moral character is just as important as, if not more important than, intelligence and grades. I find what the students did appalling and I am in disbelief that they are being defended in the name of 'fun'. Fun should never be at the expense of anyone else, fun should never be discriminatory or disgusting.

One of my favorite quotes is by Martin Luther King Jr. and it's "Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education." I’ve been in the field of character education for eight years now and over the years, I’ve met people who seem to think that they have to choose between intelligence and character - between having high grades or being kind; excelling in school or being caring. It’s not intelligence OR character; it should be intelligence AND character that is the goal for education and for us all.

Character values such as honesty, kindness, empathy, responsibility should be held to high esteem and these character values are what make a person, relationships and a society flourish. And because of their importance, emphasis on these values should be communicated to our children.

A study at Harvard was done where 10,000 students were asked to rank what they thought parents thought was most important. Eighty percent of the children said that their parents valued academic achievement over kindness. If that’s how children perceive what is valued, that is what they are going to value too. Then we will have young people who are academically strong but morally weak, and think that it's okay.

Well it's not okay. It's not okay for the individual, it's not okay for their relationships and it's certainly not okay for the society at large. To have young people who choose intelligence over character means that we are creating menaces for our society.

But the good thing is that it doesn't have to be a choice between intelligence OR character. The choice should be to choose intelligence AND character. Thank you Harvard Admissions Office for reminding us that.

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Founder and Principal at JEMS Learning House