"A child's character education should take priority over his academic education. All educational efforts are basically meaningless unless built on the solid foundation of good character"
-- The Rebbe
A couple visited a rabbi to seek advice about how to educate their twelve-year-old son. The rabbi answered them: "You have come to me twelve years too late. A human being is like a tree. If you make a scratch on the branch of a full-grown tree, you affect only that branch. But if you make even a minuscule scratch on a seed, the tree will never grow straight, if it grows at all."
What is the real meaning of education?
If there is one single factor within our control that can directly determine who we are as people, it is education. There is only one way to produce healthy and wholesome adults, people who will lead selfless and meaningful lives, and that is to educate our children.
Education is not just learning the skills to make a living; it is learning to understand life itself. Life is the recognition of G‑d and the mission that He has charged us with -- refining ourselves and sanctifying our world.
A true education consists of teaching children that they have an uncompromising responsibility to G‑d to live morally and ethically.
Imparting information is but a small and rather simple component of education. A true education -- an education for life -- consists of teaching children that they have an uncompromising responsibility to G‑d to live morally and ethically, which will sustain them individually and create a better world for their children and for generations to come.
How should we educate?
The question of how to educate is really the same as asking, How should we communicate? How should we do business? How should we live?
The answer is always the same: through love. Without love, education is at best incomplete and at worst, destructive. Love means sensitivity -- not to your ideas and your standards, but to your student's and, most important, to G‑d's. Once young people grow familiar with an existence that is greater than themselves and acquire an aptitude and intellectual taste for the spiritual, they become attuned to their purpose in life. They become children who relate to their parents with respect and affection. Children who will not take property that doesn't belong to them. Children who reach out to help other people, and are generous with their time and love.
How should this generation be educated?
Because a child is impressionable, he will be impressed by whatever is around him.
Because a child is impressionable, he will be impressed by whatever is around him. Today, there are more obstacles than ever -- television, crime, the lure of drugs -- to a proper education. And after fighting through all these distractions, there is precious little time and energy left to cultivate our children's souls. It is not enough to pat your daughter and son on the head and send them off to school; education is an around-the-clock duty. We must be as vigilant as when the child was a newborn -- always on the alert, always ready to serve the child's spiritual needs.
Without the acceptance that morality is derived from G‑d, morality -- and, therefore, education -- is guided by nothing more than human whim and conscience. History has shown us that a society can be extremely well educated and yet, if not guided by G‑d's precepts, it may be steeped in immorality and evil.
So a system of morally sound education is one of the primary responsibilities of society. While there must be a certain group of people whose primary responsibility is to implement education, each member of society must take an active role. For parents of young children especially, the responsibility is clear. Think how disturbed we would be to learn about a parent who had a sick child, but refused to take the child to a doctor. If that is the case for the child's body, shouldn't we feel the same concern for a child's mind, for his soul?