Sir Godfrey Gregg OHPM, ROMC

The six-virtue definition of the educated person is the smallest idea in education — so small that few people can see it.

Being an educator is simple:

  1. What to teach is always the same — teach Understanding, Imagination, Strength, Courage, Humility, and Generosity.
  2. How to teach is always the same — model Understanding, Imagination, Strength, Courage, Humility, and Generosity.

This is such a small idea that inductive thinking is required to see it. Educators must think from all different learning situations to the essence of what it means to be educated — what “educated” always is and what it never is. The extent to which a person is educated is the extent to which he/she is understanding, imaginative, strong, courageous, humble and generous. The extent to which a person is uneducated is the extent to which he/she is ignorant, unimaginative, weak, fearful of truth, proud and selfish.

Why these virtues and not others?

These virtues define what it means to be educated for three reasons:

1. The six virtues are the ingredients of all others. Making a cake is an apt metaphor. You can have flour, salt, milk, sugar and eggs without having a cake, but you cannot have a cake without those ingredients. Similarly, you can have understanding, imagination, and strength without the virtue of patience, but you cannot have virtuous patience without understanding, imagination, and strength. All virtues are combinations of these six. (Email me if you discover a virtue that is not.

2. The six-virtue scheme is an intellectual pair, a character pair, and a spiritual pair because human intellect, character, and spirit distinguish us from other animals. The first of each pair is a capacity; the second is an ability because virtues are expressed in our qualities and actions:

  • Intellectual capacity –> Understanding
  • Intellectual ability –>Imaginative actions
  • Character capacity –> Strength
  • Character ability –> Courageous actions
  • Spiritual capacity –> Humility
  • Spiritual ability –> Generous actions

(3)  We learn by bringing understanding, imagination, strength and courage to situations; we fail to learn if we don’t. And all of us have had humble, generous teachers who inspired us; and proud, self-indulgent ones who didn’t.

Look at those experiences with teachers because the six virtues are also the qualities and abilities of the good teacher. Whether in the role of instructor, parent, coach, or advisor; excellent teachers model the six virtues. Think of your own good teachers. Were they understanding or ignorant, imaginative or unimaginative, strong or weak, courageous or fearful of truth, humble or proud, generous or selfish?

Or pretend you are programming a robot to be the best possible teacher. Which virtue would you leave out? Which virtue would you add?

It is simple. The kind of people we graduate from schools depends on our definition of “educated.” If it means “good at tests,” we will graduate citizens who are good at tests.  If it means understanding, imaginative, strong, courageous, humble, and generous, we will graduate citizens with these virtues.

Especially today, teachers should embrace the difficulty of their work by keeping it simple. They should create relationships and use strategies that model and teach the virtues of the educated person. It is difficult, but it is not complicated.

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