Covey on education: Are we superficial?

February 8, 2012, 11:00 am

Here’s a quote from Stephen Covey’s classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I am reading right now. Covey here is talking about the difference between improving one’s life through the “Character Ethic” (think: Ben Franklin’s autobiography) versus simply changing how you interact with other people without a corresponding shift in your worldview, which he refers to as “technique” or the “Personality Ethic”. All emphases are my own:

To focus on technique is like cramming your way through school. You sometimes get by, perhaps even get good grades, but if you don’t pay the price day in and day out, you never achieve true mastery of the subjects you study or develop an educated mind.

Did you ever consider how ridiculous it would be to try to cram on a farm—to forget to plant in the spring, play all summer and then cram in the fall to bring in the harvest? The farm is a natural system. The price must be paid and the process followed. You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut. This principle is also true, ultimately, in human behavior, in human relationships. They, too, are natural systems based on the law of the harvest. In the short run, in an artificial social system such as school, you may be able to get by if you learn how to manipulate the man-made rules, to “play the game.” In most one-shot or short-lived human interactions, you can use the Personality Ethic to get by and to make favorable impressions through charm and skill and pretending to be interested in other people’s hobbies. You can pick up quick, easy techniques that may work in short-term situations. But secondary traits alone have no permanent worth in long-term relationships. Eventually, if there isn’t deep integrity and fundamental character strength, the challenges of life will cause true motives to surface and human relationship failure will replace short-term success.

Covey, Stephen R. (2009-12-02). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (pp. 21-22). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition

It seems like this quote is pretty dense in implications for educational systems, student approaches to learning, faculty approaches to teaching… what do you think?

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