Six virtues everywhere

Guest blog by Jennifer Buckley

HS Special Education Teacher

Guilford County Schools

I tried to think of when I witnessed the six virtues in my school because I wanted to write about a specific event. Then I realized my colleagues demonstrate the virtues all the time.

We had a faculty meeting last week about test scores, changes to teacher tenure, and the new teacher contracts. I looked around and saw frustration and defeat on the faces of my colleagues. They work hard to provide students with the knowledge and skill needed to be successful; but year after year they get stepped on by the elected officials who are supposed to represent them. Teachers aren’t acknowledged for what they do. Instead, they are penalized as they participate in a flawed system in which they have no say.

Still, day after day these teachers come back to do their best with students. They come back to teach them, nurture them, discipline them, and love them. If that is not strength and courage, what is? Many stay after school, create imaginative lessons, plan curriculum and encourage students on a daily basis. They think and solve problems on the fly, they have to learn how to deal with all kinds of people, being sensitive to a variety of issues and problems. Is that not imagination?

Teachers give of themselves all the time. They buy supplies, food, and clothes for students. The time that it takes to help students, go to meetings, and serve on committees is another act of generosity.

Times are tough for educators right now. There are many reasons they are tempted to leave the profession, but they stay.  The six virtues are represented everyday by the teachers with whom I work.

Are the six virtues ever vices?

Naturally, I was drawn to the September/October, 2013, Psychology Today article entitled, “When Virtue Becomes Vice” (by Mary Loftus). The author should have read my book, where I explained that the greatest of all social science truths is, “In all situations, it depends on the situation.” That was her main point, although she didn’t state it in the article. Continue reading →

A perfect analogy

Bringing the six virtues to learning situations improves education just like burning more calories than are consumed reduces weight. The analogy holds in two ways:

Continue reading →

Stating the obvious — again

The six virtues are sometimes criticized for stating the obvious. But educators state the obvious all the time.  Some even get paid to state the obvious to large audiences. Bill Daggett has been getting paid to state the obvious for more than 20 years.

According to him, students are more likely to respond positively to math problems that are relevant to their lives. He gave two examples:

Calculate percentages of advertising in a newspaper. Tour the school building and identify examples of parallel and perpendicular lines, planes and angles.

And district superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt said,

That’s a framework that’s interesting and relevant to students. It’s important to put their work into a context that they can understand.


Cut the Crap

Thirty-five years ago I “tricked” students into learning by assigning activities relevant to their lives. Does Daggett know why educators don’t “trick” students  more often with relevant lessons? It’s not because they disagree. It’s because they lack the imagination, courage, and humility to develop meaningful, relevant lessons within the constraints of a K-12 school.

It’s because today’s educators dutifully learned three vices in their own K-16 experiences:

A. As they sat still, kept their mouths shut, and didn’t ask too many questions; they learned intellectual incompetence.

B. They learned to fear truths like these: (1) Nineteenth century U.S. history is about the government stealing land from native tribes.  (2) States legislate unequal educational opportunity. (3) Our economic system would collapse if citizens stopped making unnecessary, unhealthy purchases.

C. And they learned to be proud — proud to be an American, Texan, Minnesotan, Floridian, etc.

Of course not all K-12 teachers demonstrate these vices, but these are norms among public school educators.

Instead of adopting the six-virtue definition of the educated person, public school policy makers hire people like Bill Daggett and district superintendent Everitt to state the obvious — “It’s important to put their work into a context that they can understand.”  Brilliant.

It’s a test score, not “achievement.”

Educators don’t believe in the six-virtue definition of the educated person. It’s not that they evaluated it and found it wanting; it’s that they believe an “educated” person is one who earns degrees by scoring high on tests. That’s what I call, “schooled.”

Professors of education know the importance of precise definitions. They know that studying a teaching method’s “effectiveness” starts with an operational definition of “effective.” The word has no meaning, until they give it one. That’s why definitions are important. Even social scientists start with the inductive thinking that asks, “What is the meaning of ‘effectiveness’ in this study?”

The most common way to define “effectiveness” is in terms of higher test scores. Researchers realize the shallowness of higher test scores, however, so they report their findings and rationales by saying things like, “The data show increases in student achievement (or performance, or success, or learning).

They don’t say, “Data show increases in student test scores,” because then we would ask:

  1. How much of an increase?
  2. How many more correct answers did students get?

And then we would find out that the answer to the second question is that 25 students averaged fewer than two more correct answers on a 50-item test. In other words, educators spent the whole year teaching students to get one or two more correct answers on the end-of-year, 50-question, multiple-choice test.

High standardized test scores determine a person’s level of “schooling.” More information is needed to know if the person is “educated.” I love irony.

“Educated” or “schooled” in school?

Americans agree on what it means to be “schooled” because of our common school experiences. We agree that highly “schooled” people are those with academic knowledge, academic skills, diplomas and degrees. Had those same school experiences been educational, we would also agree on what it means to be “educated.” Too often they weren’t, so we don’t. I love irony.

Ask a Curmudgeon #1

Grandpa, you are an old teacher.  Why do old teachers reject new ideas?


Most new ideas in education are old ideas with new names.  Old teachers want progress, not the ideas that did not work 20 years ago. Young teachers like these ideas because they did not experience their failure 20 years ago. In other words, they cannot be 55 when they are 35.

Report on “educated” #1 of 4

The following is an unedited report from a Western Carolina University MAED student in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

What It Means To Be Educated

Marcia Mungo

Acting Vice Principal, Cambridge High School

     In a world which thrives on competition in every aspect of our daily routine, there will always be comparisons and standards for almost everything possible. The reality is that especially in areas where some type of formal training takes place, persons will always develop yardsticks to measure the effectiveness of the various programmes. Similarly in education, competence will always be measured in terms of excellence versus average and inefficiency. It is within this context that the terms educated and schooled must be analyzed as many people will admit that there is a difference between being educated and being schooled. The difficulty which they may have is in distinguishing between the two, that is ,who is educated and who is schooled. There are however some common threads which surface once the debate intensifies, one of which is that being schooled is not as comprehensive as being educated. Another point is that the educated person is seen as being superior or socially more desirable than a schooled person. The educated person is perceived as being more articulate, congenial, sensitive and in short more sociable than the schooled person. The educated person is often admired and emulated for his poise, confidence and charisma which set him apart from the arrogant, proud and conceited individuals who are merely schooled. Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

Teachers need an inspiring definition, others don’t

Why do legislators, school board members, district administrators, professors of education, and parents define “educated” as scoring high on standardized tests?  In TSVOTEP I argued that the standards and accountability movement is the cause.  If we go deeper, we can see a simpler, more concrete reason.

The “high-score” definition of educated has been adopted by Americans who don’t need an inspiring definition. Teachers, however, need a definition that inspires them and their students. Policy makers, school administrators and parents only need a definition that can be used to hold teachers accountable.  Therefore, they believe the educated person is one who scores high on standardized tests — a definition that holds teachers accountable, but does not inspire.  Never once, in more than 30 semesters of teaching Introduction to American Education, did one of my students ever say, “I want to become a teacher to improve student test scores.”  That is simply not a reason that inspires anyone to become a teacher.

K-12 teachers need an inspiring definition of the educated person because they work with 20-25 students, five hours a day, 180 days a year.  If they aren’t inspired, they can’t inspire their students.  Our best teachers get inspiration from defining the educated person as one who: (1) is a life-long learner, (2) thinks for himself/herself, (3) lives a productive life, (4) contributes to society, (5) participates in democracy, (6) makes the world better, (7) develops the six virtues, etc.  It is ironic that legislators, school board members, district administrators, professors of education and parents want their own children to have inspired, inspiring teachers, but they have pushed an uninspiring definition onto teachers — ironic, but not surprising because they don’t get up 180 days a year to face classrooms full of needy students five hours each day.

It is time for teachers to explain that they need an inspired, inspiring definition of the educated person.  This is no small matter.  The definition of “educated” is the most important issue in the debate about how to improve schools.  Every improvement initiative starts with a definition of “educated” — either explicit or implicit.   Today’s improvement initiatives start with the explicit intention of raising test scores because that is how governing elites have defined “educated.”   This satisfies their need for a useful definition, but not teachers’ need for an inspiring one.

Here is my advice to teachers:

When policymakers, administrators and parents focus on standardized test scores,  you can agree that high scores are good.  Then remind them that everybody cannot score high.   In the world of norm-referenced test results, exactly one-half of students can be above average.  The other half must be below average.  It’s a mathematical requirement.

You should follow the policies of governing elites, but also explain to your students and parents that the “educated” person is one who develops six virtues.  Tell them you will model and teach those virtues, and students are expected to develop them.

If policymakers and administrators object, saying you are supposed to teach knowledge and skills, further discussion is fruitless.  They want what has never happened and never will.  There is no teaching-learning situation in which a young person learns knowledge and skills, without bringing understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility, and generosity to the learning situation.

Teachers need to model these virtues, so students can develop them and tap into them as they learn knowledge and skills.   If teachers do this, their student test scores will be fine.