Philosophers ask these questions.

In Philosophical Issues in Education: An Introduction (1989), Cornel M. Hamm explains what people do when they philosophize:

. . . they ask, and try in various ways to answer, three sorts of questions: (1) What do you mean? (Or, what does it-the word, the concept-mean?) (2) How do you know? (Or, what, in general constitute the grounds or kinds of grounds for claiming to know something?) (3) What is presupposed? (Or, what assumptions or presuppositions are you now making or must you make for the proposition you are now asserting?) It is when one acquires the habit of asking these questions about one’s own and others’ speech and writings that one begins to be a philosopher. As you acquire the habit of asking (and also answering) these sorts of questions in the context of education you will be on your way to becoming a philosopher of education.

These three “sorts of questions” are asked and addressed in The Six Virtues of the Educated Person (TSVOTEP).

(1) What do you mean? (Or, what does it-the word, the concept-mean?)

TSVOTEP asks what it means to be educated because everything depends on the definition of “educated.” The American public school definition emerges from a never-ending debate about specific knowledge and skills. As the book title says, however, a universal definition of “educated” is in the virtues that lead to knowledge and skills. Humans distinguish themselves from other animals through intellect, character and spirit.  The six virtues are the three capacities we build (understanding, strength, and humility), and the three capabilities that emerge from those capacities (imagination from understanding, courage from character strength, and generosity from humility).

(2) How do you know? (Or, what, in general constitute the grounds or kinds of grounds for claiming to know something?)

These six virtues are the ingredients of all others.  Or, if you were to build a brick wall of all virtues, these six would be the bottom row. Without them, no other virtues are possible.

The 10 traits of character education programs provide examples of how this works. One of those traits is “courage.”  I agree. That is the fourth virtue of an educated person — the ability to act in difficult circumstances on the basis of character strength.

Another trait is “respect.” Respect is good, but some things should not be respected.  How do you know the difference, or what makes respect virtuous? The answer is that virtuous respect emerges from U, I, S, C, G and H.  You can have these six, without respect, but you cannot have virtuous respect without these six.

The same is true for others of ten character traits. “Patience” is a virtue, when it emerges from U, I, and S.  It is not a virtue, when it emerges from ignorance and intellectual incompetence.  How long should a person be patient, if they don’t understand the situation or can’t imagine something is wrong? It is not always virtuous to continue to wait (be patient). Sometimes it is just ignorant, intellectually incompetent, or weak.

(3) What is presupposed?

Presuppositions are discussed several times in TSVOTEP. First, I argued that Americans presuppose public education must be democratically governed. I explained that we presuppose that because we revere democracy, and we wouldn’t need that presupposition, if we started with an educational core belief, instead of a political one.

Second, I claimed educators presuppose that schools improve through the application of educational research findings. I challenge that assumption by asking people to give examples of whenever they have seen that happen. I have not heard from anybody, yet. If I ever do, I already know the improvement was the result of teachers, parents and students modeling and teaching the six virtues. I know that is what improves education because that is what it means to be educated.

If we stopped trying to make education and its improvement an applied social science, it would become simple. Just model and teach the six virtues that are the definition of the educated person. Everything depends on the definition of “educated.”

Finally, I presuppose that, in order to improve education we have to engage in philosophical discussions, instead of social scientific ones. If “educated” means developing the six virtues, the way to improve schools is to model and teach them. And the way to govern schools is to do the same. Everything depends on your definition of “educated.”

What is yours? Please comment.


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