04 November 2009

Human Happiness

Lying to oneself damages the integrity of the whole self. Individuals can successfully navigate the complexity of life’s competing “values” through careful attention to the presence of harmony or conflict and contradiction among the four branches of self: intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical. Utilizing these checks and balances in the context of the whole self within the greater whole of society and environment opens the door to universal truth.

What is Integrity?
Integrity is “an undivided or unbroken completeness” and “moral soundness” (Word Net Web). The individual has four areas of need: spiritual need to connect to something higher than self, intellectual need to understand self and environment, physical needs of protection, sustenance, and procreation, and the emotional need to love and be loved.

To achieve an unbroken completeness of self all these needs must be met without contradicting each other. The way to determine moral soundness is to honestly note conflicting need satisfaction. Physical desires toward self-gratification are often in conflict with spiritual needs to help others and commune with a higher power. Physical desires must be kept in check with an understanding of genuine physical necessity (as opposed to want or desire) to achieve balance.

Convincingly lying to oneself requires complex alterations of belief patterns, intellectual justification or exception, behavioral masking, and emotional suppression or exaggeration to the hurt of the whole self. Maintaining integrity, on the other hand, requires emotional, spiritual, and intellectual honesty in the context of physical necessity. Integrity is the key to true happiness and satisfaction.

Affirmation of Truth
Integrity includes a commitment to discovering universal truth; not only acting to the best of your knowledge, but increasing your knowledge so you can become your best. Acknowledging the possibility of the existence of universal truth is the beginning of that quest. Evaluating knowledge, sources, and people then experimenting on the information or conclusions affirms truth.

Experimentation must include the whole self. First intellectual study and reason must be applied. Then revelation through meditation and/or prayer must spiritually be sought from the author of universal truth (God, the Universe itself, whatever). Then when all other tests have passed, physical action must be observed and evaluated for the value of its consequences. When done in this order, error and harm are minimized. This method fulfils Hume’s concept (1854) of Utility. He states, “The utility resulting from the social virtues forms, at least, a part of [human] merit” and is one source of universal approbation and regard. “Concerning the bounds of duty, the question cannot, by any means, be decided with greater certainty than by ascertaining, on any side, the true interests of mankind."

However, utility is not the sole determinant. “Reason and sentiment concur in almost all determinations and conclusions”…That which renders morality an active principle with virtue as happiness and vice as misery “depends on some internal sense or feeling which nature has made universal in the whole species.” Hume asserts, however, that discernment of sentiment is enhanced by reason.

further assert that revelation is the spiritual manifestation of truth via internal sensory experience, such as feelings of profound peace, bursts of intelligence, excited resolution, or a humble sense of conviction. These experiences are often described in terms of sentiment and emotion. However, they are distinct from human emotion in that they originate outside of self and can most accurately be called sensibilities of conscience.

Honesty is Necessary and Paramount
These sensibilities are universal to the human species, but are easily altered by rationalization and self-centered gratification. For this reason truth is only acquired by acknowledging sensibilities of conscience with integrity.

There can be no success in reconciling disparate needs and desires within self or within community and ecology without a willingness to admit wrongdoing and a desire to change negative character traits or actions. Shawn Floyd noted this difficulty in discussion of Aquinas’ moral philosophy (2006).

"Poor upbringing and the prejudices of society can further undermine a proper view of what human fulfillment consists in. Whether we can make competent judgments about what will contribute to our proper fulfillment depends on whether we have the requisite intellectual and moral virtues. Without those virtues, our intellectual and moral deficiencies will forestall our rational perfection and the attainment of our final end."

The discomfort of change and the stinging admission of error prevent many from honest self-evaluation. Rather than achieve genuine happiness, it is common among humans to simply seek temporary relief from discomfort through avoidance (via substance use, seeking pleasure, busy but empty ambition, manipulating or persuading others to share altered view of wrongdoing, etc).

The Greater Whole
Satisfying spiritual, emotional, and intellectual needs connects us to the world outside of self. When you focus on self-gratification you do not give others within your influence or responsibility the emotional concern they need. They become resistant to or resentful of giving you the concern which you need. Relationships contract, increasing self-centeredness. Now, two parts of the whole are damaged. Conversely, when you give constant material, emotional, and intellectual support to others without giving essential sustenance to self you minimize personal capacity for continued support of others. For example, one who has not acquired knowledge cannot teach. One cannot give what one does not have.

Beyond individual needs, there are ecological and societal needs. Ecological needs are prudent usage, cyclic change, and restoration when necessary. Humans are an integral part of nature with the power to dramatically change it and utilize it. We have an intellectual need to understand the elements and processes of nature. This knowledge not only allow us to more effectively utilize those elements and processes for our physical benefit (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) but it also gives the satisfaction of knowledge and understanding for its own sake. Prudent usage allows continued study and preservation for further use. Nature operates on cyclic change. When humans damage those natural cycles and balances it is necessary to restore them to the best of our human ability. Otherwise, we inhibit nature’s ability to provide us with resources to meet our needs. Systemic interdependence requires wholeness.

Societal needs are to pool information, skills, and labor for increased effectiveness within the system and establish order for the protection and sustenance of the whole. Society must mediate between self and nature to ethically balance usage of human and natural resources. All of these elements constitute the whole.

Hierarchy of Wholeness
Human dignity is paramount in all ethical decisions. Integrity requires that one individual recognize his own value as being equal to the value of all other human beings. To minimize the value of others is to minimize the value of self. Therefore one standard should be able to be applied to all people. This is an expression of Kant’s (1785) assertion that the way to judge moral issues via categorical imperative is to “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” and secondly to “Act that you use humanity [self or others]…always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.” These two rules preserve human dignity and establish priorities. Kant discussed man’s tendency to make exception to absolute law. To act in integrity is to minimize exception. This increases the likelihood of non-contradicting satisfaction.

Wholeness requires that if one part is harmed, the whole is harmed. If one part is causing harm it must be suppressed for the benefit of the whole. Those acts which simultaneously improve happiness for self, others, and harmony with natural laws and entities are imperative. Contradictions must be resolved in the context of a prioritized whole.

Harmonizing Truth Via Freedom
There are pitfalls of human error when people are given freedom to test and explore the world of truth and morality. However, it is essential for people to have the opportunity to make and learn from those mistakes because the path to eternal, unchanging truth is uniquely personal. The “enlightened” cannot transfer their experience to others. They can only share wisdom and insight hoping to inspire others onto the path of discovery. But even those who follow a particular “prophet” will learn bits of truth in different ways from those they follow.

Finding truth is a process of progressive discovery. Only by free and open discussion and association with other people can varying threads of the tapestry be woven together in the beautiful and intricate work which is all things true.

As stated the moral code is universal and can be discovered by all. Differences occur because clear standards and methods of discovery have not been widely distributed and are countered by contrary philosophies. However, differences in moral perspective must be resolved on an individual basis by free discourse and exercise of conscience. Coercion contradicts unity. Ethical progress will be slow, but possible as those with differing ethical standards are allowed to share analysis and reasoning with the goal of understanding absolute truth. Cultural contradiction must be resolved by individual conscience through free association with religions, organizations, and schools of thought. There must also be freedom to share and disseminate information and ideals. Ideological conflicts are likely to exist in perpetuity. However, it is in the common ground across all cultures and religions that we can be confident that we have found something universal and worth holding on to throughout the generations. Unfortunately for human peace, each new generation must renew the discovery process and make their own mistakes. Such is, however necessary. Good parents and teachers are the only hope, but provide no guarantee.

Conclusion

Wholeness of personal being in the context of interdependent environmental constituents is integrity. Only by honestly evaluating those relationships of personal need can we balance and subject desires to the greatest good. The greatest good is our complete satisfaction and happiness in this life within our associations and amongst our surroundings, as well as within ourselves. It may well be that the achievement of this balance will secure divine approbation, earning post-mortal rewards. If not, we will still attain peace and satisfaction in this life, which may be reward enough. The rest is delicious gravy.

References

Floyd, Shawn (May 23, 2006) Thomas Aquinas: Moral Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/aq-moral/#H4

Hume, David (1854). Of the General Principles of Morals. The Philosophical Works of David Hume 229-335. Little Brown and Company 1854: Boston.

, Immanuel (1785) Fundamentals of the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by T.K. Abbott.

15 October 2009

Stewardship in the Environment

This post is a response to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Environmental Ethics entry and an assignment for my Ethics and Social Responsibility class.

I am deeply disturbed by the ten0 dency of environmental ethics discussion to center around anti-humanism and narrow stereotypes of Christianity. In rational arguments these tenets do not hold up to a realistic view of the relationship between man and nature and the influence of theology in that relationship. We must first understand that environmental ethics is the study and discussion of man’s proper behavior in relation to nature. Therefore, by definition, environmental ethics must be anthropocentric. Then we must recognize that from both anti-theistic evolution and theistic-religious perspectives that man is a part of nature. Man has a responsibility as a conscientious, highly-evolved being, and/or as God’s designated stewards to improve and preserve nature for nature and for self. There is no need to devalue humanity to save the wild. Nor is it necessary to assign human significance to plants and animals.

Anthropocentric by Definition

Environmental ethics is the study of man’s proper behavior in relation to nature. The ultimate conclusions that must be reached by decentralizing human responsibility in ethics are that either 1. Man is insignificant and has no moral environmental responsibility (hardly an ethical philosophy) or 2. Nature is more important than man and his only responsibility is to limit human experience for the good of nature.

However, the reality is that humans are a significant part of the whole ecology with a level of agency which empowers environmental change which is not possessed by other species. To quote Peter Parker’s uncle, “with great power comes great responsibility.” However, because we are not an all-knowing part of the whole, we are as likely to harm nature in our attempt to preserve or improve it as we are to help it. Therefore, any drastic measures by the extremely powerful, but highly ignorant humans (yes, even the intellectuals and researchers) is risky and unadvisable.

Nonetheless it is our obligation to be responsible stewards of earth and its resources for utilitarian reasons (our own survival and that of our descendants) and because it is our duty as the sole conscientious actors in our global eco-system and because the value of prudence is morally imperative for every human regardless of individual status, global population, or economic benefit. As Douglas Woodhams (2009) noted, species conservation is “important not only from for utilitarian and human-centered benefits, but also for innate and theocentric values that integrate biological understanding with conviction in the moral virtue of biodiversity conservation."

Stewards by Divine Design

According to Judeo-Christian theology, when God created Adam and Eve he gave them the commandment to “Dress this garden. Take good care of it” (oral tradition). Eve was the “mother of all living” in the command to “multiply and replenish the earth,” meaning to make use of its resources and renew them. There is no scriptural example where God condones extortion and overuse of earth’s resources. However, there have been scriptural instances where people who did not honor their stewardship were condemned (see the parable of the talents: Luke 19:11-27). As God’s creation, we have the responsibility to the rest of his creation to honor his work and serve his purposes, which includes the preservation and care of those creations, from our human neighbors to our city water supply according to the demands of our divine conscience.

Stewards by Natural Selection

According to evolutionary theory, humans have generally evolved from hunter-gatherer societies to agrarian economies because nature does not readily provide for growing populations. (I discuss population control alternatives later.) Humans are capable of producing the food they need instead of relying wholly on nature, according to evolutionary theory, by the natural process of selection based on survival of the fittest. If the evolutionary process created such ordered thinking as humans possess, then it has generated the capacity to make controlled changes with no specific purpose other than survival in the context of the global ecology. Natural selection does not support stasis but change over time. Therefore, it is human responsibility to guide that change over time to the benefit of the whole.

Negative Consequences of Anti-Anthropocentrism

Any attempt to minimize human importance in the environment leads to very unethical philosophy which minimizes the importance of man and justifies genocide to save the planet. Follow with me some critical flaws of non-anthropocentric environmentalism. Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book “The Population Bomb” gave popular rise to the idea that limiting human population was necessary to sustaining a healthy planet. Is it a coincidence or consequence that four years later Rowe v. Wade established abortion as a legal method of population control?

The hypocrisy of the liberal platform is that all living humans are entitled to life-saving health care to extend their time on earth and continue to “deplete” its resources and/or exploit nature for remedies to their ailments instead of being allowed to die. Further, war is seen as an ultimate evil, when it has the potential to successfully reduce human population. War on the unborn is concluded to be the most ethical method of population control.

Is it any wonder that homosexual union, which has no power of procreation is avidly supported in this group. Homosexuality, if the philosophy is thought through thoroughly is a moral imperative second to the higher good of committing suicide. We cannot ethically call for the extermination of populations, but we can take personal responsibility for our own actions. The best way to reduce our own carbon footprint is to rot in a box. The misanthropy and self-loathing that the philosophy engenders certainly does not promote ethical behavior which promotes the well-being of self or mankind.

Orrin Judd reviewed Ehrlich’s book (2000) and concluded that “Ehrlich’s thesis, like creationism, is impervious to scientific evidence because it is based, not on science, but on faith. He and many on the Left simply prefer the environment to man and want there to be less people.” Judd notes that, though population growth spurts and slows, human ingenuity manages to develop methods and technologies which promote human sustainability. He also points out that 40 years after the publication of his book Ehrlich is still alive and depleting resources suggesting that he believes he deserves to be one of his proposed one-billion people who should be on earth, or he does not take his own thesis seriously.

Note on Exploitation

Christianity is often blamed for exploitative philosophy which damages the environment and promotes sexism and racism (Stanford 2008). However, if we examine more thoroughly, we will see that regardless of the philosophical origin, man has a tendency to exploit nature and humanity for personal gain. According to Ben Stein (2008) Hitler’s views were rooted in secular Marxism and evolutionary elitism. He thought he had an obligation to eliminate from the world the “weaker” human elements to advance the evolution of mankind. Also it is interesting that Christianity is blamed for the oppression of women. Yet since the rise of the “feminist movement,” society has become increasingly tolerant of the sexual exploitation of women. Although often flawed in practice, Christian doctrine regarding women is one of interdependent stewardship. The man cares for the woman who gives birth to the man whom she nourishes and cares for. The way traditional Christian values are misrepresented and over-generalized is irresponsible in intellectual discussion. Because they have been used by men to exploit does not mean that the foundational premise is bad, only that, as was also true in the case of Hitler, a partially valid philosophy can be distorted for power and gain when the general public is less than thorough in their ethical evaluations. Again from Woodhams, “Rather than disregard faith-based values, the science community would be wise to embrace an integrated discussion and contribute to healing an epistemological rift.” Stewardship is the key to that integration.

Conclusion

Humans, as a powerful element of nature, have the responsibility to exert their natural mental capacity and conscience to utilize their power with restraint and prudence for the benefit of self, society, and the living organisms with which we co-exist. Ethics without man in the center is not ethics at all. The delicate balance of human ethics avoids exploitation and extremism while increasing human and environmental well-being. This is not exceptionally challenging from a moral perspective, as we are all part of an interdependent eco-system. The great challenge is for the individual. Each human must learn to act as a vital and independent part of a coherent whole. That is easy when we truly understand our responsibility, dignity, and purpose as human beings.

References

Judd, Orrin (17 May 2000) Worst 50 Books of the Century. Intercollegiate Studies.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (rev. Jan 3, 2008) Feminism and the Environment

Stein, Ben (2008) Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Premise Media Corporation.

Woodhams, D.C. (Jun 2009)Converting the religious: putting amphibian conservation in context. Bioscience 59, 463-465.

29 September 2009

Personal Philosophy of Education

We the teachers in order to form a more perfect people, stimulate young minds to pursue lifelong learning, promote just and rational thought and citizen participation in a prosperous democracy must establish a curriculum for the education of America. Standardized, “one-size-fits-all” curriculum of mainstream public education mandated by the government and administered by the government is in direct contradiction with the democratic principles on which our nation was founded. Therefore, I will work within the existing system to promote a student-centered integration of core curriculum with a constructivist design.

What is a Philosophy of Education and Why Does It Matter?
A philosophy of education sets the underlying belief and purpose which guides our actions as educators, administrators, and legislators. When we understand and unify our shared philosophy we are able to develop a cohesive curriculum and concise approach to pedagogy. However, this shared philosophy, as I see it, does not require teachers to utilize the same methods or a standardized curriculum delivery.

The purpose of public education in the eyes of the Founding Fathers is to create an informed citizenry to sustain a strong nation. Thomas Jefferson’s educational policy was one of academic excellence and equality of opportunity. According to Pulliam and Van Patten (2007), he was not “a supporter of strong federal government, and therefore, his efforts to improve were on a local and state level.” So it must be with education. Knowing how to read is important for citizens to become informed of current issues and political leaders. Understanding political and legal processes as well as laws and the foundational values of those laws is vital to sustain rights, freedom, and citizen participation within the nation. These are the only requirements for education which the national government has any right to specifically mandate. All other issues are of local or individual concern because American society is composed of many distinct cultures with varying and even competing values. Individuals must maintain the right to choose the manner in which they will contribute to the national economy. This national concern in regards to individual will and vocation can only properly be addressed by the government offering a broad range of studies from which a young student may choose.

Values and priorities tend to be regionally or locally accepted and should be taught in local school systems with strong parental input and oversight. Of all the rights protected by the U.S. Constitution the most vital is the right to exercise individual conscience. Extreme progressive education as a social agenda inhibits parental control over children’s moral, spiritual, and intellectual education.

Then who should decide what is learned and how it is taught? The answer is: those who are intended to benefit from it. A student will receive no benefit for something he does not want and refuses to use. Therefore compulsory curriculum does not serve the average student. Like the government itself, government mandated and publicly supported education must be of the people, for the people and by the people. This notion was supported by Ronald Regan during his administration where he severely cut back federal power to allow the states more authority by minimizing federal restrictions on educational grant money (O’Connor & Sabato.) We could use another dose of that in future presidential administrations.

Student-Centered Integration
As a teacher, it is my job to help students relate to the material in a way that motivates them to learn. However, it is my hope that each student would come to my class already motivated to learn because he personally chose to be in that class. To focus that interest and make the learning stick, a teacher must show a student how the new knowledge relates or applies to real world experience. This is an assertion of pragmatist philosophy. According to Dean Webb, Arlene Metha, and Forbis Jordan (2007) Charles Sanders Pierce was a mathematician and logician who “regarded learning, believing and knowing as intimate parts of doing and feeling and lamented that educators often ignored this important relationship."

I believe as a science teacher that the best thing I can do for my students is to teach them to see life as a series of hypotheses and verifiable experiments. For example, character education could be emphasized by noting that we do not have to experiment with drugs to know what their effects are. We have already established the damaging effects of that experiment, so there is no need to replicate it. On the other hand, we can utilize scientific method as we observe the actions of people we admire and who are successful and record our impressions of what behaviors contribute to their success in an effort to replicate their achievements, or at least develop a hypothesis for happiness and success which we will likely spend our lives testing and honing.

Condensed Basics As Integrated Electives
The weakness of student-centered progressive education in the past has been a lack of curricular focus. The swinging pendulum of school reform never manages to integrate the best of both approaches (student focus versus curriculum focus). I believe there is a way to reach a middle ground. Early education should be the time to condense basic curriculum to assure a solid foundation for future learning. The key difference with an integrated student-centered approach is that the child picks the primary subject she wants to learn and the teacher uses that primary subject to build divergent subject knowledge upon.

For example: the child’s primary subject is reading. To introduce number concepts the teacher utilizes stories and books which emphasize ordinals and number concepts such as Eric Carle’s Rooster’s Off to See the World. A child who chooses math as his primary subject could integrate writing by telling a story about his favorite number family. Note here that every class or subject is an elective according to the child’s perception but the curriculum is standard for all students. It is just integrated in a child-specific way. The beauty here is that the teacher still has an overriding pattern of education which requires only minor adaptation to tailor to each student group because there are only so many subjects the young ones can choose from. Further, students will naturally choose the subjects for which they have an aptitude which indicates learning style preferences. Students with similar preferences being grouped together will multiply the effectiveness of each students learning.

Once the basic foundation is laid, students should have increasing elective opportunities. The key here is not leaving the student to decide what the curriculum is, but to let the student choose among the essential and elective curriculum studies which are offered. The underlying weakness of post-modern student-centered approach is that it assumes the student is the sole authority in a culturally and morally relativist world. It undermines the absolutes which provide a secure sense of reality for young people. Such relativistic philosophies, given too much credence, lead the student to wonder about the point of learning anything when nothing is real.

Teaching young people that there is such thing as reality and that they can experimentally verify it and share their experience with others who will report similar results makes learning significant and life meaningful. Students with purpose do not suffer from existentialist uselessness. Meaningful lives do not end in suicide. The number of suicidal, angst-filled artists, musicians, and poets who subscribed to post-modernist philosophy attests to the underlying tragedy of its fatalistic tenets. Please let us not teach these things in the school.

Teacher Assessment
It is very important to know what a student is retaining and where she needs more training. Assessment is the only way to do this. However, the student should not perceive testing as the ultimate goal or achievement. Acquiring knowledge should be the goal. Understanding should be the achievement. Students should see the test as a learning tool. For that reason, I am a proponent of open book/ computer tests. There is too much knowledge in the world to stick in any one person’s head. Knowing where to find it and how to use it, on the other hand, is a vital life skill. I would construct tests where the answer might be obvious but the question and answer together teach or reinforce a relevant principle.

High stakes national testing serves a limited purpose. I think SAT’s are an effective filtering method to determine which students are best-suited for colleges who use similar testing methods and achievement-based curriculum mandates. However, I question the methods and effectiveness of those colleges as much as I do the testing.

Every Child Gets Ahead
The No Child Left Behind Act has a legacy of controversy over what student needs are being met and how the mandates of the law meet those needs. The title sounds like it is a student-centered initiative when it is, in fact, a blanket requirement for all students to learn one curriculum. In Howard Smith’s review (2008) of a volume of essays edited by Christine Sleeter, he noted that each chapter seemed to contain a set of core values and beliefs which were “1. Standards and testing alone cannot create meaningful change in schools. 2. Standards, like instruction, must be linked to the needs and realities of the learners. 3. Effective education is a dynamic process that must recognize and include parents, teachers, and students as stakeholders." Smith further highlights a concern of Darling-Hammond, “Will standards and tests built upon a foundation of continued inequality simply certify student failure more visibly and reduce access to future education and employment?"

Though, statistically, the income of the average college graduate is greater than the average high school dropout, we cannot assume that college is the only path to success. Therefore, my classroom will be a laboratory for success that does not exclude the non-college bound. Students will be taught to relate learning to a variety of life-relevant experiences and occurrences. For example, a student who says he does not want to go to college who is interested in construction would be asked to explain how a particular principle of physics applies to a particular piece of construction equipment (such as why a backhoe cannot be operated without setting the support legs).

My classroom is not a place of equality it is a place of achievement. Each student is recognized for his own level of achievement and is challenged to exceed his own expectations without concern for the progress of other students. Material will be organized and taught in group settings where quick learners are given the opportunity to move swiftly through the material and study it more in depth as a group. Slower learners are grouped to allow them to take their time getting through essential material. Each student will be given teaching opportunities within the classroom to reinforce her own learning and share her unique perspective.

The hidden curriculum here is that regardless of the pace at which each person learns, they each have something valuable to contribute. Further, students will be able to imply that equal opportunity to learn does not mean every student has to learn the same things at the same time. Most importantly they will learn that opportunity may be equal, but what each person does with their opportunity separates them from each other, and that is good because each person is doing their best. Disparaging or marginalizing other students will not be tolerated.

Conclusion

Just like all studies I have undertaken, I see philosophy of education as having a number of conflicting views and approaches which I seek to integrate and reconcile. That is the very skill I wish to teach to my students. They must be given the opportunity to determine their own courses, personally relate the information they are receiving while trying to integrate and synthesize divergent views and subjects. Young people are so much smarter than they are often given credit for. When we as teachers believe in their ability to comprehend our complex world we empower them to utilize practical application methods and develop a love for lifelong learning. Absolute truth for absolutely capable students will make the world a much more intelligent place.

08 September 2009

Universalist Perspective

Introduction

The dynamic between the individual and his role in society is molded by early education. How that dynamic is interpreted or criticized has been classed into three perspectives: functionalist, conflict theory, and interactionist. They each have different answers the questions: Who controls what is taught? What is the intent of the teaching? How does what is taught affect the individual and his or her place in society? None of these perspectives, however, adequately addresses these issues in their whole context.

Analysis

Functionalists see education as “essential for an orderly and efficient society” (Webb p.199). Thomas Jefferson could be classed in this philosophical perspective. He promoted education to prepare young people to be responsible citizens of a democratic society. It is a top down view of the dissemination of information for the benefit of those without information. While the intent is justified and admirable, the content of education is dictated by those in power.

Which brings us to the conflict theory: Jefferson did not promote public education for girls, Indians, or slaves. Knowledge was to be disseminated to those deemed worthy of the ruling class (white male democracy). This justifies the conflict theory perspective that the educational system perpetuates social inequality (p. 189). And while conflict theorists opposed the hidden curriculum of capitalist class reinforcement, the tables have turned in modern education where the hidden curriculum reflects socialist principles of government-mandated equality, which undermines individual achievement and identity.

Which brings us to the interactionist perspective: the individual is seen as being influenced by the models of socialization that exist in the microcosm of classroom and school, which by grading and achievement stratification, perpetuates socio-economic stratification.

None of the perspectives address who has the authority to distribute knowledge and how it should be delivered. Truth is free and independent of the agents of dissemination. We live in the information age. Human beings have never had the access to knowledge that we do now. And yet, people are unable to afford formal post secondary education. Because the government sanctions the restriction of knowledge via university accreditation, the government must fund formal education for those who wish to go but are unable to afford it. Furthermore, people like myself, who have read textbooks from used bookstores and made learning a lifelong pursuit are not viewed as being educated because we lack a government authenticated degree.

I enjoy taking classes and am willing to pay for knowledge because I am a capitalist and believe that those who have taken the time to gain knowledge and record or share it should be compensated for their time. However, not having formally completed those courses required by a particular school under their specific format prevents me from being fairly acknowledged for my own independent studies and research. As a result, I lack the formal degree which prevents me from getting a job which would potentially alter my economic status.

For example, for each paper I write at Ashford, I am required to cite a minimum of two sources from scholarly journals. On my last final I was marked down from a perfect score because, even though I met the citation requirements, the instructor assumed that I, as a non-degreed student, could not have formulated the ideas I presented and asked me to give references for my own original words—written before I even did my research.

The reference requirement sends a subtle message that only those with a degree have the authority to credibly speak on a given topic and they must do it through the medium of an obscure journal which is only read by people in that specific field. However, opinion reinforced by opinion does not make it fact, nor should it establish credibility, lest when a president says “And that’s not just my opinion, there are many others who feel this way” na├»ve students perpetuate the error in logic that “Professors say A, therefore A.”

There is a value in formal authentication of personal study. Yet, the great thinkers of the past were only great because they studied and drew conclusions no existing book could teach them. Newton did not learn his theories at university. He learned them from the universe and THEN taught them at the university.

For the government to assume authority for the restriction and/or sanctification of information through curriculum agenda undermines the most basic elements of democracy. I am applying Lockean and Jeffersonian philosophy of social contract theory to knowledge and education. Jefferson held that public education would promote a “natural aristocracy of virtue and talents and eliminate the artificial aristocracy of wealth and birth” (Honderich p. 428). The power of an educator to teach is derived from the consent of the learner. Each man (woman and child) has the divinely appointed right to learn and to choose the nature of that learning. Education must be of the people, for the people, and by the people; from the bottom up, not the top down.

Teaching children from a young age that they must accept what the government has deemed necessary and beneficial for their education contradicts the principles of democracy. It reinforces the power of the state and disenfranchises individual conscience. Many political scientists and social commentators lament the apathy of the American voter. I tell you, we learned apathy in twelve years of mandatory schooling where we were unequivocally taught to work within the system.

As you can see, I relate profoundly to the conflict theory contention against the “prestige hierarchy of schools” (p. 199), and subscribe to a critical view of the hidden intent of public education. However, I also subscribe to the interactionist philosophy that top-down education is not solely responsible for conditions within public school systems, but that teachers reinforce students’ self-perception through their daily activities which has an immeasurable impact on the course of the person’s life.

Bringing it full circle, the course of the person’s life must be acknowledged as uniquely his own. When school is used as a medium to reinforce the value of individual choice in the context of his responsibility to society (functionalist premise) he will more readily acknowledge the consequences of his actions and make responsible choices that will, more often than not, lead him to be a productive and conscientious citizen within his community and the nation.

Conclusion

Clearly, my views do not represent any of the described philosophies. Though attitudes from each theory are present, my perspective warrants its own classification. Therefore, universalist perspective can be stated thus: Knowledge is free to all who endeavor to learn. When governments hinder the flow of knowledge or proscribe educational goals to the general population they restrict natural human liberty. Public education must facilitate perpetual learning in a modern and changing society to prepare the individual for a lifetime of learning by providing resources and teaching study methods. This is the key to a strong democracy and a productive economy.

References

Honderich, Ted (1995). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press

Webb, D.L.; Metha, A; & Jordan, K.F. (2003) Foundations of American Education 5th ed. Pearson, New Jersey.

31 August 2009

Poverty and Education

This summer I went to Idaho with my mom and had her tell my children about some of her childhood experiences as we passed her old neighborhoods. She noted that in the 1950’s she changed schools seventeen times in seven years because her dad was a migrant farm worker “like the Mexicans are now.” In other words, it was her father’s profession which was the subject of “Harvest of Shame” by Edward R. Murrow which was, perhaps, the first shot of the “war on poverty” during the Kennedy-Johnson administrations.

Money was thrown into educational programs with the justification that educated people could overcome poverty. The trouble with the philosophy comes in understanding what specific knowledge, skills, and traits actually contribute to financial stability. The Vocational Education Act of 1963 took steps towards acknowledging that classical education could not fully provide for the needs of an increasingly specialized workforce. However, as is seen in present day statistics on socioeconomic status, education is only as effective as respective cultures will allow them to be. Regardless of race or sex, there is a culture of poverty which perpetuates the conditions which social activists have fought so fervently against.

There are endless statistics on the relationship between education and poverty, but I think we lose sight of real people when we focus on those things. My grandfather was never a wealthy man, but he was a hard worker. His diligence and effectiveness helped him move into positions of responsibility and increased pay. No government program or handout benefited him.

My mother graduated from high school and entered a two-year junior college then transferred to a four year university. She left just short of graduation because her new husband got a job teaching in another state to provide for her and his newborn son. Thirteen years later, she returned to school and completed her degree. Statistically, she was a poor daughter of uneducated parents, but they taught her more than the school system ever could. It was their work ethic and religious training which gave her the strong sense of self (despite being born with a major facial deformity, being rejected and misunderstood by peers, and misdiagnosed by the state as being mentally retarded, despite above average intelligence) that gave her the desire to pursue education.*Those who have no desire to learn cannot be benefited by compulsory programs and government initiatives. Those who have no will to act upon the knowledge they have been given are no better than those who have had no such opportunity.

Those who value their food stamps, TANF, WIC and disability disbursements will protect the circumstances which qualify them for such programs. To be clear, I have used these programs in times of economic distress, however, I saw them as a stepping stone, not a long-term condition. I did not expect myself to be poor forever. *The war on poverty is, in truth, the imposition of standards of education which may not reflect, or may even be in direct opposition to, cultural values. To this day, Native American school participation and performance is lowest on reservations. Textbook authors describe the cultural conflict as one of linguistics and learning styles (Webb p. 206 5th ed.). However, I think values are the core of the issue. It is not that learning and wisdom are not valued, but that white man’s learning is not wisdom.

In fact, within memory for many living on tribal lands is government policy which, between 1953 and 1973 “terminated the legal status of various tribes, ended services to them, and refused to recognize their treaty rights” (O’Connor p. 150). It could be concluded from a cultural perspective that the 1966 passage of Title VI of the ESEA including programs for Native American children could be construed as another attempt to control and devalue Native culture.

The elders, who are traditionally respected in Native culture could be expected to perpetuate this interpretation of events to the younger generation. As a result, Native American children may not see “white man’s” book learning as having any relevance to their lives. Remember that children must relate new information to their existing knowledge base for it to be effectively retained and recalled.

The deeper questions are: how important is it for them to assimilate? What is the value of national standards if they undermine cultural values? Why are the tribes not given more jurisdiction and input over the education of their own children?

If members of all subcultures had control over (or at least significant input into) the education of their own children, how different would education be? Would children finally be able to excel? Could they do so, not despite their racial and ethnic differences, but because of them, in fields which are of genuine value for themselves and their communities? There would certainly still be socioeconomic classes, but each group would be living by the standards they value.

Native American children may not see book learning as having any relevance to their lives. Remember that children must relate new information to their existing knowledge base for it to be effectively retained and recalled.*It is not the government’s job to dictate what class a group belongs to, nor to compel them to leave it. The only thing which will eradicate poverty is the sincere desire of everyone living in it to get out. When the individual takes the initiative to change his own circumstances, he develops the capacity to learn how to do it. If he does not want to learn how to get out of poverty, he will continue the behaviors which perpetuate it. A man (or child) cannot be compelled to be happy.

(This is an argument about compulsory curriculum and individual/micro-social agency, not so much about who should be poor.)

One student in the class for which this assignment was posted was a proponent of the programs enacted in the War on Poverty during the mid to late sixties despite concluding that poverty still existed. I responded:

The fact that poverty still exists suggests to me that the programs did not effectively address the underlying causes of poverty. Perhaps you have seen the title of the purple covered book Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kyosaki. It is about his mentoring by a minimally educated but highly successful property developer in Hawaii who taught Kyosaki how to actually make money and be successful in life. His dad, on the other hand, was a "poor" college professor who insisted that the key to success was getting a good education. But there was no prosperity in his father's life.

If the goal of education is to get children and families out of poverty, then we need to verbally address the issue of their desire to change their own circumstances. Then they need to have more vocationally oriented freedom to explore or reject courses according to their personal interests. Right now, children are being taught to sit in desks and accept assignments rather than being taught to take initiative and personal responsibility for their own choices. That is the opposite of "accountability" to national standards, which are driven by perceived lack of achievement of average American students compared to other nations and the need to maintain a competitive edge in the global market.

The premise of that philosophy is flawed in that modern education fails to address the actual demands of the global market. The thing about competing in the global market is that the market is infinite. Because the global market is so vast and diverse, its demands cannot be consolidated into a concise curriculum. Therefore, the key to our success lies in diversifying, not standardizing what children are able to study. Those who have the desire or capacity to excel should not be held back from achievement under the crippling guise of equality in education. And they should be able to learn it a lot more efficiently than the current 18+ year model. College should not consume the most productive years of youth.

21 July 2009

Education Reform Part I

Educational History for a Radical Future

Education from the bottom up is the only way to effectively address the core needs of all parties involved, the most important being the student and the parent. Those needs can be thoroughly addressed by taking the best of generations of educational theory to create increased motivation of the whole child to learn in accelerated stages through a functional approach to behaviorism, transforming the swinging pendulum of reform into a rolling snowball of genuine progress.


 

Educational Intent

What is Education?

Any environment which increases knowledge and understanding, physical ability and stamina, or spiritual enlightenment and improvement can be deemed a learning environment. How anyone's senses and sensibilities are attuned can make any environment a learning environment. Education would be the sum of experiences and environments which have altered the intellectual, physical or spiritual capacities of a human being. To improve in any or all of these capacities is a primary goal of human existence and necessary to the happiness of all.

What is the purpose of education?

The purpose of education as defined above is to improve human life. What is the purpose of public education, more specifically, and what are its limits? If its purpose is to prepare young people to be productive members of society, then education should include topics which are relevant to modern society. However, American society is composed of many distinct cultures with varying and even competing values. Therefore, the constraints of a national education culture must be very broad and encompassing to leave subcultures room to develop and maintain their identity. National standards must only be bare essentials of education. Details must be independently and locally controlled.

Whom should education serve?

Who should decide what is learned and how it is taught? The answer is: those who are intended to benefit from it. A student will receive no benefit for something he does not want and refuses to use. Therefore compulsory curriculum does not serve the average student for whom education is administered. Is it ethical for the national government to attempt social engineering through compulsion in education? The notion seems to go against all of the principles of individual freedom upon which the United Sates was founded. Like the government itself, government mandated and supported education must be of the people, for the people and by the people.

The Elements

National Standards, Local Input

The intent of public education in the eyes of the Founding Fathers is to create an informed citizenry to sustain a strong nation. For that purpose, knowing how to read is important for citizens to become informed of current issues and political leaders. Understanding political and legal processes as well as laws and the foundational values of those laws is vital to sustain rights, freedom, and citizen participation within the nation. These are the only requirements for education which the government has any right to specifically mandate. All other issues are of local or individual concern.

Finding a practical implementation for reform which includes national interests and allows for local development is the challenge. Larry Cuban was summarized thus, "Reform movements give too little credence to the fact that schools are situated in communities and those communities have tremendous impact on both what happens in a given school and what happens when schooling is finished for individual students." Essentially, we are talking about a learning culture. The assessment continues, "Because schools perform multiple roles in society, they cannot be reduced to simple fixes or recipe-mode solutions" (p.178).

Because having skilled workers, technicians, and a variety of businesses is vital to the national economy and welfare, it is in the government's best interest to support local and individual initiatives to develop skills and knowledge which contribute to professional fields. Therefore the government should support programs which develop and support local/community education goals and programs.

Parental Directive

Of all the rights protected by the U.S. Constitution the most vital is the right to exercise individual conscience. Extreme progressive education as a social agenda inhibits parental control over children's moral, spiritual, and intellectual education. The home school movement is a response to that infringement of parental right and an assertion that state education is a power that needs to be kept in check.

Since parents are the primary educator, whether by proactive choice or negligent default, their contribution to educational values and curriculum must be invited and respected on a local basis. Children will learn more thoroughly when ideas and information are reinforced in the home environment. When parents are a part of the process of selecting curriculum, they and the children are empowered to maximize and reinforce learning. The objective, more accurately then, is for schools to reinforce parental values and learning goals in the courses selected by the community of parents in which the child resides. A plan for integrating a technology program outlined in this paper will make that sort of educational niche-ing practical and functional.

Student Choice and Accountability

As Herbart determined (Pulliam 2007), learning is most effective when associative (p. 65). When a student chooses subjects for which she has an interest, she is far more likely to relate learning to actual experience. This then gives the child a broader and more lasting base of knowledge to build further knowledge upon. Therefore, after basic reading and mathematical concepts are understood (by about second grade) children should have more freedom to move independently through subject matter at their own pace. How this can be achieved will be addressed later.

Teacher Assessment

Allowing the student to be an active participant in the nature of his own education requires teachers who are empowered to exercise creativity and have well developed problem solving skills. Teachers are, therefore, the most crucial element of successful public education. They are the mediator between the parent-student dynamic and the local-national government constraints. The success of public education hinges on the teacher's ability to balance those demands. The teacher must recognize a student's ability, or lack thereof, and adjust situations and methods for optimal educational benefits to the student's specific needs.

As James Bryant said,

If we want our students to learn, then we must move away from this need for a theory or method that will reach the masses and understand that all education is an individualistic exercise and must be geared toward the individual. We cannot answer the demand of pedagogy and transform our students unless we know their needs as people and do not assume their needs as a race or a class or a gender (p.163).

The teacher must, therefore, be able to assess the student's abilities through testing, observation and record the results. Teachers must be given freedom to develop those methods in order to apply their minds most effectively to meet the needs of their students. Peer review and collaboration with other teachers will increase the professionalism of assessment methodology.

Education Reform Part II

The Plan

Increased Motivation of the Whole Child to Learn in Accelerated Stages through a Functional Approach to Behaviorism

The stages of development outlined by Piaget can be accelerated by systematic introduction of advanced concepts in any child who is motivated to learn. Jerome Bruner held that the key to teaching a child these advanced concepts was to integrate them on a level to which the child could relate in subjects for which the child has interest (Pulliam p.70). In order to achieve this, the whole child must be understood, as noted by Gestalt psychologists. The child's needs defined by Maslow include security and self esteem progressing to self-actualization (p. 73). Nothing could contribute more to these needs than allowing the child clear choices within basic constraints so that he may have the sense of accomplishment which comes from setting his own goals and having full responsibility to achieve them with the full support of a caring teacher who recognizes his abilities and helps him set achievable goals through a plan they have developed together. This approach is very functional. It requires the teacher and student together to engage in an activity, discover a problem, gather data, form a hypothesis, and test their understanding (p.66).

As the behaviorist John B. Watson noted, we do not have the right to project our thoughts and feelings onto a child as educators (p.67). Breaking from that philosophy however, we know that we can ask a student about her feelings or reasoning. The functional approach above can help teachers better understand and affect the behavior of their students by increasing the child's awareness of self in context with larger concerns in concentric fields of awareness (classroom, to school, to community, to nation, etc.) through maturing stages of development.

Self-Directed Work

We will increase student's motivation to learn when we understand from their own mouth what motivates them. In order to accommodate varying motivation in a large body of students, material must be presented in a variety of ways, and the child must be allowed to choose the method by which she learns.

For example, a young elementary student is required to learn a certain set of math facts. He is given a choice to use a computer program. He may do an art project where a certain number of objects are drawn and organized to represent those facts. He may partner with another student in repeating a physical activity such as jumping rope where their combined effort represents the facts (i.e. his two jumps plus her two jumps equals five). He could perform an experiment with manipulatives to reveal the underlying number patterns of the facts. Repetition of any number of those, or like, activities would provide behavioral reinforcement and ensure that the information was assimilated by the child on a variety of functioning levels. That effectiveness is increased when the child is given a choice to express his preferred methods and has a sense of personal control and responsibility for his education.

This method emphasizes self-directed work in station, group, and paired activities. This allows the teacher time with individual students for assessment and guidance. Supervision of learning activities can be done by a team of teachers and/or parent volunteers among young students. Supervision should be decreasingly necessary as students mature and take responsibility for their chosen educational pursuits.

Once fundamental skills are mastered (language, basic math, scientific method) as determined by teacher assessment (within broad national guidelines), the student should have the opportunity to chose her topics of study and work through them at a semi-independent pace, being grouped with other students having the same interests. This student independence will blur the lines of grade by age. Therefore adaptations of classroom structure will have to be evaluated an made.

Government Intervention

Students with behavioral or learning difficulties may need more supervision, but are likely to respond favorably to alternative methods of learning (kinetic, dimensional, and active) when given the option. However, it may be necessary to make special accommodations for the students who do not respond. Because each situation varies, teachers and school leaders must be given full freedom to adjust to those needs and work creatively to solve their own problems. Should they be unable to find adequate solutions, it becomes teaching community's responsibility (including parents as part of that community) to seek resources outside the school for necessary funding, staff, or program ideas. Ideas created for such specific situations should not be extrapolated to apply to broader situations as a matter of public policy. A resource of a public sharing network of educators can help teachers and school officials find solutions already discovered by educators with similar circumstances. There is no need for national legislation and policy for small scale situations, except to make information available for all concerned parties.

Students, educators, parents, and community members within an educationally challenged community have the right and responsibility to recognize the problems within their own community. Should the above method not produce the results they desire, they can request government or legislative help where their specific needs are addressed. Again legislation for the benefit of that community must not be adopted as a matter of course for the national community, only distributed via sharing networks to other regions which are free to adopt similar measures specifically tailored to regional concerns.

This approach will avoid the downfalls of widely criticized standardized testing which Christine Sleeter evaluated thus: ""If the knowledge and skills taught in the curriculum and the assessments used to determine whether students have acquired them are not transformed, tests and accountability efforts will often reinforce and perpetuate the racial, ethnic, and class stratification within U.S. society" (p. 188).

Education Reform Part III

Technological Tools

Technology affords us the opportunity to develop education tools which can supplement and far exceed traditional pen and paper, book and lecture learning. Rather than trying to regulate the content of the World Wide Web, the government should develop a separate education network, which, over time will have, say, its own peer-reviewed version of Wikipedia and downloadable courses and lessons by subject and age group which will be developed and submitted by educators and rated by other educators and students who use them. Courses which receive a certain rating or above can be completed for credit which would be tracked via social security number. In this way, government quality control is entirely organic and from the bottom up. Further, students transferring from other schools in our highly transient society would be anchored by the network and programs. Students could continue to work on projects at an independent pace.

Again, local classrooms are the starting point. A teacher with a student-specific concern is free to search available lesson programs or write his own to use with the child and submit to the program. Credit for that lesson is established by that teacher's education credentials and the recommendation of one or two other teachers from that school and an administrator. Some of the programs could be self-contained—able to be completed entirely on the computer by the independent student. However, many of them will include three-dimensional activities, projects, or discussions to be completed by the student or in groups and would be observed or evaluated by the teacher who would submit his assessment in the program.

This integrated approach to education technology has been shown effective by Sulsic and Lesjak. In their research, the report Ally's finding that "ways of teaching, as well as testing and assessment methods are much more important than the use of ICT (information and communication technology) in education" (p.43). They continue to report on Dagger and Wade's finding that dropout rates in strictly online education were because of lack of student participation in the learning process, confirming the importance of teaching methods in online curriculum. Their own study focused on delivery and student feedback with the conclusion that "Blended learning which involves different teaching strategies than those in traditional education improves study effectiveness and represents a suitable course deliver for part-time students, mainly due to temporal and spatial adaptability of the study process" (p.44).

The pattern I recognized in their data was that students in required courses consistently had a more negative experience, regardless of delivery and teaching methods than did students who were in elective courses, which validates my assertion that students will be much more motivated to learn when it is a subject of their choosing.

Graduation requirements would include only the most basic national requirements. State and local high schools would determine additional quantities and specificities for credit completion with a high proportion of elective credit. This tool would be available to all citizens including home schooled students and adults of any age, making high school graduation possible for anyone of any age. Early graduations among self-paced, achievement oriented students would allow for a greater number of professionals and college graduates at an earlier age.

The G.E.D would be the fulfillment of national requirements and graduation would be achieved through the high school of the communities to which a student belongs and could be completed by adults from home with the option of meeting with an adult high school education specialist, either in person or through the network.

Fiscally speaking, perhaps courses would be without charge up until the age of 18. Afterward credits would cost as any for credit college course. Students are then motivated to complete graduation before they are 18, and or complete as many courses as possible up to that time. A limit of a certain number of no-fee credit courses above high school graduation requirements might be acceptable for the sake of education expense and government budgetary considerations. Any courses after that would be completed through accredited colleges, who would also be a very important part of the education network and continue its use. Current financial aid, grant, and scholarship funding would be applicable with some necessary adjustments.

Program lessons submitted and approved would be copyrighted. Teachers whose lessons, articles, and studies are downloaded and highly rated by students and other teachers would receive bonuses proportional to use and effectiveness or demand. This will encourage and motivate quality education and self-regulating professionalism.

As noted, post-secondary level courses would continue through colleges and universities who would develop their curriculum in like manner, with the students continuing to pay per credit hour. Again, the goal is to encourage student-teacher initiative, therefore the specifically proscribed courses must be limited to a certain percentage of required credit hours. This will also prevent conflicts with teacher-university self-perpetuation by requiring the use of program materials generated strictly by their own faculty.

These courses should not be limited to academic study but include vocational training developed by vocational professionals in cooperation with the education community. This will allow educational and vocational training to meet the demands of a fast-paced technological world.

Conclusion

A peer reviewed, national education network provides a national standard which can be developed locally with parental community input. The network would be personally utilized by individuals in counsel with education professionals who are empowered to address each student's specific needs and help them meet their educational goals. This integrative approach will allow freedom for teachers to develop new teaching methods and increase their professionalism by monitoring the results and effectiveness of such endeavors among peers. This slow, organic change from the bottom up would open the door to radical and continuous reform with genuine progress, not just a "progressive" label.

Individual students will be motivated to learn which will multiply the effectiveness of educator's efforts. Parents will be empowered to participate in their children's education, creating reinforcement for learning methods and subjects, which will further multiply effectiveness. It will strengthen diversity by allowing local and regional cultures to build on existing strengths while maintaining access to national quality.