Do Schools Teach Three Vices?

One of the claims in TSVOTEP is that schools teach intellectual incompetence, fear of truth, and pride. Several readers have argued that I don’t support this claim.

Before pointing to the book’s support for this claim, I am soliciting comments from anyone whose K-12 experiences taught them to be imaginative, courageous, and humble. Simply click on “comment” at the end of this post and describe that learning. Nobody wants to admit to being intellectually incompetent, fearful of truth, or proud; so there is strong incentive to comment.

Other readers remember intellectual incompetence, fear of truth, and pride being modeled and taught throughout their K-12 experiences. I believe this is a school norm, so I say schools graduate adults whose understanding is unimaginative, whose strong character is fearful of truth, and whose generosity emerges from pride. There I go again — stating this as if it were true. Was this claim supported? Let’s take a look.

In TSVOTEP I explained that public schools are based on political beliefs and parochial schools are based on religious ones. Examples of political beliefs are (1) democracy is the most desirable form of governance, and (2) elected officials should hold teachers and principals accountable for student test scores. Examples of religious beliefs are (1) Jesus is the Son of God (Catholic schools), and (2) the Bible is the inerrant Word of God (Fundamentalist Christian schools).

I mention beliefs for two reasons. The first is that teaching the virtues of understanding, strong character and generosity does not threaten these beliefs. The second reason is that teaching the virtues of imagination, courage, and humility does threaten them.

I am not suggesting a conspiracy. I am saying it serves the interests of political and religious “believers” to not teach imagination, courage, and humility. Intellectually incompetent, fearful of truth, and proud students can’t challenge political and religious beliefs, and they become adults who can’t challenge them, either.

Literally, a “vicious” cycle is in place. Adults who have certain political or religious beliefs naturally teach those beliefs to K-12 students. And those beliefs go unchallenged as long as K-12 students are educated to develop the virtues of understanding, strong character and generosity, and the vices of intellectual incompetence, fear of truth, and pride.

In TSVOTEP the citation of Wayne Dyer’s work (Your Erroneous Zones, 1976) supported my claim that schools teach intellectual incompetence. In his words, schools promote “approval seeking” behavior:

If you gain the acclamation of the staff, behave in the ways they dictate, study the curriculum that is laid out in front of you, you’ll emerge successful. Albeit with a strong need for approval, since self-reliance has been discouraged at virtually every turn.

Ken Robinson made a similar observation in his popular YouTube video (not cited in the book):

Both Dyer and Robinson support my claim that K-12 schools teach intellectual incompetence. In Dyer’s words, “self-reliance has been discouraged at every turn.”

Do K-12 schools also teach fear of truth?

In chapter 3 I wrote that teachers naturally fear student rebellion and noncooperation because they are out-numbered 20 – 1. Of course, this fear is modeled to students. A discussion of this norm is at
(not cited in the book).

In the book I wrote that a beginning teacher’s greatest fear is losing control of the classroom. I know this from working with student teachers. They want me to teach them how to control student behavior as they deliver dynamic lessons. They are disappointed when I say they learn this as they develop the six virtues, one of which is the courage to overcome fear of this truth: students working collectively have more power than any individual teacher.

Is pride taught in K-12 schools? Do teachers model it, and do American schools teach students to be proud?

In chapter 3 and in the epilogue I described the American attitude toward pride, and the inability to see that humility is a virtue. I told of my son’s warning, “You have a lot of explaining to do about that humility and pride thing. I don’t think people are going to get it.”

Chapter 3 explained that Christian philosophers regarded pride as the first of the seven deadly sins, but we consider it a virtue. We say we are proud of our children, our students, our country, etc.; and we want young people to be proud of themselves. We believe pride is a virtue because we don’t understand the virtue meaning of humility. In other words, it is natural for K-12 schools to teach pride because Americans see it as a virtue.

But teaching a vice as if it were a virtue has terrible consequences. Humility is needed to make situations better; but pride, by definition, is an obstacle to improvement. I used myself as an example in TSVOTEP. I explained that, as long as I was proud of my student evaluations, I had no reason to improve my classes. American schools contribute to the development of this vice when educators model pride and teach students to be proud of themselves.

In conclusion, TSVOTEP argues that a norm of American schools is for educators to model and teach intellectual incompetence, fear of truth, and pride. Those with different school experiences are asked to describe how imagination, courage, and humility were modeled and taught to them. The rest of us can learn much from the whole range of ways that schools teach virtues and vices.

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