Character Education: George Washington Carver

Use this lesson to discuss the life of George Washington Carver and ask students to explain why he is an example of a dedicated individual.
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George Washington Carver – Dedication

Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses. – George Washington Carver

DEDICATION: the giving or devoting of one's time, labor, etc. to the service of a person, or to the pursuit of a purpose.

This lesson is intended to be taught in eighth grade when studying African-American life in the South, American farming, or industrial expansion. The life of George Washington Carver fits into the Massachusetts History and Social Science Framework under the core knowledge category "The advent of modern America" (p. 15), which is aimed at eighth graders.


  • Ask students to define dedication in their own words, then share with them the definition above.
  • Discuss the life of George Washington Carver and ask students to explain why he is an example of a dedicated individual.

The following is a brief account of Carver's life. Assign students to read a biography such as George Washington Carver by Gene Adair to provide more in-depth knowledge of his life.

George Washington Carver dedicated himself to not just one person, but to many. He committed himself to improving the economic conditions of black farmers in the south. Carver grew up in a time when blacks were denied rights, 'separate but equal' really meant 'separate and unequal,' and the South faced poor economic conditions and widespread poverty. Fortunately for Carver, he was given opportunities that most black people of the time were not.

George was born into slavery in 1864. His father died prematurely and his mother was separated from his older brother and him when they were young. The boys were taken to the Carver farm, where George helped with the housework and his brother Jim helped with the outdoor chores. Mr. and Mrs. Carver did their best to educate the boys, but it soon became apparent that George needed to attend a regular school in order to excel. Unfortunately, George could not attend the local whites-only school, so he moved to Neosho, Missouri to attend the school for 'colored' children. Later George moved to Kansas to attend high school, and went on to graduate from Iowa State College of Agriculture with degrees in Bacterial Botany and Agriculture. Carver worked very hard to put himself through college and even had to drop out temporarily so he could earn more money. Upon graduating, Carver began teaching at Iowa State. He soon moved to Alabama to join Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Agricultural and Normal College, where he was able to achieve his goal of advancing the economic status of African-Americans.

George Washington Carver revolutionized agriculture in the early 1900s. He began by introducing farmers to crop rotation and encouraging them to plant crops that would rejuvenate the soil, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes. Unfortunately, consumption of these crops was limited and production was not profitable. Carver was determined to find a solution. Dedicated to improving economic conditions, Carver used his ingenuity to create new uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes. From these crops he created products including plastics, shampoo, peanut butter, paper, ink, rubber, and milk. In his lifetime, Carver was able to create hundreds of alternative products from plants and crops.

At Tuskegee, Carver was deeply involved in education and research and directed most of the agricultural department. Carver dedicated himself to teaching and sharing his insights with others. He was passionate about the subjects he taught and tirelessly worked to improve economic conditions for black farmers.


  • Engage students in a discussion about dedication by asking the following questions (post the definition at the beginning of this lesson for review):
    • Why do you think George Washington Carver was so dedicated to helping black farmers?
    • How did others benefit from his work?
    • What does it mean to be dedicated to something? Someone? Some activity?
    • When is it beneficial to be dedicated? When is it harmful? (Ask students to provide examples/scenarios and explain who benefits or who is harmed.)
    • When is it easy to be dedicated? When is it difficult?
    • What are some common ways people show dedication in daily life?


  • Ask students to share ways that they show dedication to themselves. (Examples may include living drug-free, getting enough sleep, or working diligently to earn good grades.)
  • Ask students to share some ways that they show dedication to others, as George Washington Carver did. What benefits are experienced? How difficult is it to be dedicated? Does the dedication stretch beyond one person?
  • Arrange opportunities for students to become dedicated, and ask students to dedicate themselves to one project for a set period of time (ideally, at least half of the school year). Examples of activities include reading with kindergarten students, helping fifth graders with schoolwork, visiting with residents at a nursing home, and cleaning up the playground after school. Ask colleagues and community members for support in monitoring these activities. Ask students to write a mission statement to explain how they will successfully dedicate themselves, and assign them to keep a weekly journal to record and reflect on the activity and their level of success.
  • Bring in daily newspapers for two to three weeks. Allow students time each day to look for articles on people who show dedication. Collect these articles and create a poster or scrapbook. Ask students to continue collecting examples after the set period.


  • During his life, George Washington Carver sought "to be the greatest good to the greatest number of people." Allow students time to brainstorm, then ask them to write an essay explaining (1) how they (individually) can be 'the greatest good to the greatest number of people' right now, as eighth graders, and (2) how they can be 'the greatest good to the greatest number of people' in their lifetime.
  • Ask students to compose an essay in which they focus on one of their own experiences with dedication by writing about someone or something they feel/have felt dedicated to, or someone who has been dedicated to them. Ask students to explain how the situation arose, what emotions they experienced, what emotions others involved may have experienced, outcomes of the dedication, how difficult it was to be dedicated, etc.


Adair, G. George Washington Carver . New York: Chelsea House, 1989. A 105-page biography containing many photographs and insight into the life, accomplishments, and struggles of George Washington Carver.

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