Intellectuals wrong on intellectual virtues

In a Chronicle of Higher Education article, Colleges Should Teach Intellectual Virtues two Swarthmore professors say colleges and universities should teach five intellectual virtues: (1) Love of truth, (2) Honesty, (3) Courage, (4) Fairness and (5) Wisdom.

As explained in TSVOTEP, virtue lists are helpful when they are conceptually consistent, comprehensive and concise.  And, as explained elsewhere, the value of every virtue list is in the answer to: “Why these virtues and not others?”  If that isn’t answered we are looking at a random set of virtues, which is not helpful because we already know people should develop virtue.  It’s the meaning of the word.

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Why do we believe? #3 of 5

The headwaters of a river flow for a simple reason–gravity pulls water downhill. If rivers are like our beliefs, the reason we believe should be simple, too.  With the six virtue definition of the educated person, it is.  Beliefs bridge understanding and imagination in a way that gives purpose to life.  What does that look like?

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Where do beliefs come from? #2 of 5

Plain and simple, beliefs come from experience.

Some like to make it complicated.  They want to distinguish between beliefs that are based on reason and facts, and those that are not.  Is that important, if all beliefs come from experience?  Are one person’s experiences more legitimate, or worthy than another’s?

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Bill Gates again

Bill Gates Crap

Thanks to the WSJ, we hear from Bill Gates again:

Two excerpts:

(1)  The intermediate goal of MET (Measures of Effective Teaching) is to discover what we are able to measure that is predictive of student success. The end goal is to have a better sense of what makes teaching work so that school districts can start to hire, train and promote based on meaningful standards. . .

(2)  Some people think that teachers should be like commissioned salespeople, receiving pay based on end-of-year test scores. We don’t believe that. When we think about the kinds of teachers we hope our children have, we realize that it’s impossible to capture everything in a single metric. We believe you need multiple measures to make evaluations accurate and fair.

There are others who say that teaching is so nuanced that it is simply impossible to measure. We can’t accept that either, because we know that just throwing up our hands is bad for students and for teachers.

Because we have been unable to define effective teaching, we now reward teachers for easy-to-measure proxies like master’s degrees and seniority, even though there is no evidence that these things help students learn. As a result, a tenured teacher with a master’s degree whose students aren’t learning much will always earn more than a recent college graduate whose students are sweeping the academic decathlon. (Emphases added.)

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Bill Gates: Visionary or Curmudgeon?

Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat, 2005) quotes Bill Gates as saying this about “open-sourcing” and innovation:

You need capitalism [to drive innovation.] To have [a movement] that says innovation does not deserve an economic reward is contrary to where the world is going.  When I talk to the Chinese, they dream of starting a company.  They are not thinking, ‘I will be a barber during the day and do free software at night.’ . . . When you have a security crisis in your software system, you don’t want to say, ‘Where is the guy at the barbershop?’ (p. 101)

Are these the words of a visionary?  Do they assume and promote the best about human nature, or the worst?

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Looking through the education peephole

Security peepholes are lenses that work in two directions. From the inside they magnify what can be seen outside. And from the outside they minimize details so little on the inside can be seen.

Rick Hess’s guest blogger, Roxanna Elden, describes teacher experiences with policymakers who are unable to see how to improve education because they are outside, looking the wrong way through the peephole:

I think she had fun writing this:

. . . edu-decision makers and teachers have trouble communicating. Maybe it’s because sometimes we really do speak different languages.

Teachers and policymakers speak different languages because they are on different sides of the door. From the inside teachers with an inspiring, useful definition of what it means to be educated see a magnified image of how to improve education — model and teach that definition.  Teachers know it’s difficult but not complicated.

Policymakers, on the other hand, are looking from outside, unable to see how to improve education. Therefore, they search for research-based “effectiveness.”  Read an education research report, someday and you will see what it looks like to make education both difficult and complicated.

Elden describes teachers being told to use “research-based” methods and to shift paradigms. Our best teachers don’t use research to improve education because it would be illogical and unethical to use the ideas of those who have never been in their classrooms, and who complicate the already difficult work of teaching children.

Dear Michelle Rhee: (Cut the crap.)

Dear Michelle:

According to the Associated Press, you are starting a school reform organization:

On Monday, she’ll announce the group’s agenda, focusing on three areas: the teaching profession, empowering families with information and choices; and developing more accountability.

I am puzzled by a few things.

No — not that your goal is to raise 1 billion dollars. (You recently lost your job. So, of course, you want a job. And fame makes you different from us ordinary educators, who look for jobs in the 30 to 50 thousand range.)

And no — not that you will focus on accountability. (You always equated higher test scores with “student achievement” and the purpose of public education.)

1. I am puzzled that you are trying to reform and improve what you define in such a shallow way. Why so much investment and effort on such a shallow purpose (higher test scores)?

2. I am puzzled that you are now an educational philosopher, after years of being an educational administrator. You had neither the time, nor the experience to develop a deep philosophy of education. I know — I was once an educational administrator.

3. I am puzzled that you believe others should contribute to your shallow ideas.

But maybe you’re not a philosopher. Maybe you’re an entrepreneur. In that case, you might have the wrong enterprise. Improving/reforming public education simply requires Americans to be philosophical enough to define “educated” as modeling and teaching the six virtues.

That doesn’t cost a single dollar, but you want 1 billion? Explain that to me; or am I a fool to need explanation?

Do you want simple or complicated? Part 1 of 2

Is improving schools simple or complicated? According to an LA Times article, it’s complicated. Here is the headline: “In reforming schools, quality of teaching often overlooked.” Here is the link:,0,4340403.story?page=1

The article illustrates how the social science paradigm complicates educational improvement. It says turning around a failing school requires, among other things, hiring the right principal and teachers with the right value-added scores. Is it really that complicated? Let’s look at the article’s description of Edwin Markham Middle School (EMMS).

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Do you want simple or complicated? Part 2 of 2

Should K-12 educators teach the dispositions needed to be successful in college? Of course they should. Is this simple or complicated? According to an Education Week article, it’s complicated. Here is the headline: “Experts begin to identify nonacademic skills key to success.”

Here is the link:

Once again, the social science paradigm complicates what is simple.

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Aphilosophical & Ahistorical America

Daniel Pink’s TED talk confirmed my belief that we are an aphilosophical society. He emphasized the hard-headedness of his argument by explaining that he was not talking about feelings or philosophy. He was talking facts.

He said: “I am a lawyer. I don’t believe in feelings. I am an American. I don’t believe in philosophy.”

The audience laughed, which meant they saw the truth of the statement and the silliness it described. Yes — we are aphilosophical.

I recently realized we are ahistorical, too.

Example #1 — On television I saw the picture of murdered aid worker, Linda Norgrove, and my mind immediately flashed back to 1980s television reports about Afghans resisting the Russian military. We cheered the pictures of Afghan rebels holding machine guns. Maybe we don’t remember back that far. Or maybe we believe the conditions in Afghanistan have changed dramatically in the last 25 years. Or maybe we are ahistorical.

Example #2 — Last week the television news featured a couple who had been unemployed for over two years (since 2008 for those who aren’t good at math, or history). This week the AOL website showed voter signs reading: “Stimulus Package Results? Coming in November” and “You put us out of work. Now it’s our turn.”

Every unemployed person’s vote for a Republican is evidence of our ahistoricalness.

Today’s history lesson is done. The test will be in November. Will Americans pass? Comment with your prediction.