Entries Tagged 'Book Thoughts' ↓

Want a better society?


This Is How Scandinavia Got Great:

The power of educating the whole person.

David Brooks wrote that our system of education is the key to building a better society. The back story is here:

As I explained in my interview on Jamaican TV, it is fruitless to copy what works in one society and try to bring it into another. There are too many differences in history, too many barriers to tear down and too many customs, values, and traditions to build. (For the complete interview, go to www.sixvirtues.com and click on “Interview on Jamaican TV.”)

But Americans don’t need to copy another society’s education system. We will do better than that, if our definition of the educated person addresses what makes us uniquely human–our intellect, character and spirit.

If you want to know what America’s system of education should be like, read The Six Virtues of the Educated Person. It’s all there.

Culture War

Our side is corrupt, but the other side is more corrupt.

According to the New York Times:

Mr. Alexander (Republican Senator Lamar Alexander) said Friday during an interview in his Capitol office. “For the Senate to tear up the ballots in this election and say President Trump couldn’t be on it, the country probably wouldn’t accept that. It would just pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there.”

Earlier in the morning, I was reflecting on the “cultural fires that are burning out there.” As I wrote in my book, American public schools teach three virtues (understanding, strong character, and generosity), and three vices:

  1. lack of imagination (Sit down, shut up, and don’t ask too many questions.)
  2. fear of truth (Democracy is the best form of government.)
  3. pride (Be proud of yourself, your country, your state, and your school.)

When I go to the polls next November, I will remember that we are engaged in a culture war. What is that about democracy being the best form of government? Does it apply to countries in which voters are taught to be unimaginative, fearful of truth, and proud?

Next November’s results will be a verdict on public schooling in America. And I won’t need to know a thing about students’ test scores.

Shine the light on “educated,” Part 2

Why do educators at all levels say we fail to adequately evaluate our programs? Why is that concern repeated over and over? The answer is right in front of us. The social science improvement paradigm requires that program effectiveness be measured, but measuring effectiveness in ways that are valid and reliable requires time and effort that educators don’t have.

For example, a Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS) program could be evaluated for the extent to which it achieved four of the ten desired outcomes listed in Part 1: (1) emotional intelligence, (2) proper conduct, (3) following classroom rules, and (4) appropriate 21st Century citizenship. An evaluation for that one program would require educators to create valid and reliable instruments, administer them, and analyze the results to determine whether their observations of student behavior were caused by PBIS or something else?”

In other words, it is social science paradigm blasphemy to say, we don’t need better program evaluations, but evaluating programs requires too much time and effort. Now that educators believe in the social science paradigm for improving education, their highest value is placed on “effectiveness,” which is always directed at desired outcomes.

But what if educators adopted an aesthetic paradigm for improving education? What if their highest value was placed on beauty? What if all the desired outcomes were reduced to the six virtues of the educated person? What if the six virtues were the unifying philosophical foundation of our systems of education? Then, assessing all programs would require answering just one question — to what extent are students demonstrating the six virtues of the educated person (understanding, imagination, strength, courage, humility, and generosity)?

And the answers would come in many forms — teacher observations, student self-assessments, stories about peer interactions, student-created products, student-teacher relations, and student-peer relations. Think of all the beauty that would be created by these kinds of evaluations. Think of how appreciated students would feel as they found out their teachers and peers recognized that they were developing the six virtues of the educated person.

Shine the light on “educated,” Part 1

Last year I listened to teachers and administrators talk about programs in their schools, districts, and colleges. Throughout meetings and discussions, educators said things like, “Students need to:

  1. graduate ready for college and career.”
  2. score well on tests.”
  3. develop emotional intelligence.”
  4. conduct themselves properly.”
  5. score higher on tests.”
  6. follow classroom rules.”
  7. think critically.”
  8. become citizens of the 21st-Century.”
  9. use digital technology to problem solve and create.”
  10. develop self-confidence.”

And the list could go on. We want students to be able to do all these things, but we have no unifying philosophical ideal as the foundation that links institutions of education to what we want for our children and society. In other words, failing to define what it means to be educated, educators point to indicators or descriptions of what it means to be educated. Look at the 10-item list. All are worthy goals. But there is no unifying philosophical foundation. What we lack is a definition of what it means to be “educated” in the ideal sense.

Without a unifying philosophical ideal, descriptions of what it means to be educated span an enormous range. One result of insisting on an infinite range of desired outcomes is that we are unable to assess the effectiveness of the programs designed to achieve all those outcomes. That failure was the dominant lament of educators last year. Over and over they said the main shortcoming of educators is the failure to evaluate the effectiveness of their educational programming in schools, districts, and colleges.

Hearing these laments over the last several months has made me wonder, “Why is evaluating program effectiveness so important?” And let’s be clear. We are not talking about the common sense evaluation approach used by athletic coaches — observing player behavior, looking at outcomes, and then using judgment to direct players to perform in ways that will yield more points for their team and fewer points for the other team. No — in this age of data-driven instruction and program evaluation, educators insist on formal program evaluations that start with instruments that yield valid, reliable data. Teacher/administrator judgment is regarded as inadequate. No matter how insightful their observations might be. According to professor-types, K-12 educator judgments are disdained as mere observations, anecdotes or examples. Their value is minuscule compared to statistically significant findings of formal program evaluations.

In the next blog I examine what happens when K-12 educators reject this  approach that is the sister of the social science improvement paradigm. I explore what could happen if K-12 educators replaced an infinite set of  desired outcomes with a unifying definition of what it means to be educated.

Improving education starts with understanding teaching

Chapter 8 of my book argues that education won’t improve until our improvement paradigm coincides with the essence of teaching. The social science improvement paradigm assumes teachers improve their craft by applying techniques and strategies that educational research has found to be effective. The aesthetic improvement paradigm assumes that teachers improve their craft by looking inside themselves and finding new and better ways to deliver their content and relate to their students?

Unknowingly, Malcolm Gladwell weighed in on this question in Blink: The power of thinking without thinking (2005, p. 52):

Our world requires that decisions be sourced and footnoted, and if we say how we feel, we must also be prepared to elaborate on why we feel that way . . . I think that approach is a mistake, and if we are to learn to improve the quality of the decisions we make, we need to accept the mysterious nature of our snap judgments. We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that — sometimes — we’re better off that way.

I hope someday school leaders, administrators, and policy makers will understand that this is how all good teachers teach.

Are we great again, yet?

Yes – the Democrats nominated a lousy candidate in 2016. Evidently, their party is so empty that they couldn’t find someone to defeat a narcissist.

But that is nothing compared to the Republicans. Evidently, they cannot find a candidate better than someone who displays all the vices of our uneducated nature — ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weak character, fear of truth, pride and selfishness.

The Democrats made a huge mistake in 2016. Short of death or illness, it is too late for Republicans to avoid the same one. Therefore, we will find out in November, 2020, if Americans once again choose to be governed by an uneducated, vicious person.

Test for Trump

The lead reads:

A group of immigrant workers fired from President Donald Trump’s golf clubs say they want to meet with him at the White House to make the case that they should not be deported.

Their request was in a letter, to which the White House responded, “we are reviewing your message.”

The article quotes Gabriel Sedano, who worked for Trump as a handyman for 14 years: “I’m hopeful that he’ll look at the letter. I believe he has a heart.”

Does Donald Trump have a heart? This should be an easy call. Who among us would deport people who worked for us for ten years or more? What about five years or more? What about three years or more?

What about less than a year? Would that make it OK? Please respond with your deportation decision.


Trump discovered that Andrew McCabe was not loyal to him, so he fired McCabe two days before his fiftieth birthday. According to various news accounts, McCabe lost early-retirement benefits that he would have been eligible for at age 50. But that is not the point, here.

The point is that you gotta love McCabe’s payback. The Threat is a tell-all book based on contemporaneous notes of conversations with the first orange-colored president. It is the perfect payback to the man who failed to see the obvious–you don’t fire a federal employee two days before he is eligible for benefits earned during more than twenty years of service. Nobody does that, except someone who cares only about himself and who is a threat to all that is good in our country.

Presidents change course

Dear Donald,

We were wrong. It’s the economy, Stupid. Now declare shutdown victory and go back to tweeting. We will tell listeners you created the best economy our country has ever seen, and then you can repeat that in all your appearances.


Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh

George Orwell on Writing

From “Why I Write” by George Orwell, 1947

When I sit down to write a book, I never say to myself, “I am going to produce a work of art.” I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.  But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article (read Blog), if it were not also an aesthetic experience.

One page later:

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.