National Society for the Study of Education

Read the file below and answer this question (why do we neglect virtues in school? ) the answer should be add anything your own or your opinion and what do you think about it and do you agree with what you read or not and why agree or disagree

National Society for the Study of Education, Volume 112, Issue 1, pp. 22-40
Copyright © by Teachers College, Columbia University
The Neglect of Virtue
George Mason University
This chapter argues that schooling neglects virtue through the dominant quest for right answers. This is not only intellectually disreputable in presuming the correctness
of what is taught, but it undermines the development of necessary intellectual virtues, such as open-mindedness, impartiality, and accuracy in the school curriculum,
and it fails to create the intellectual and moral framework for the democratic
citizen, specifically in the development of tolerance, social responsibility, and prudence. This neglect of virtue in schooling is primarily visible in the intellectual characteristics and attitudes of the college freshman.
In a paper designed to articulate the terrain of the scholarship of teaching,
Lee Shulman (1999) addressed the question of what it was to take learning seriously. He diagnosed three common failings when learning does not go well: “we forget, we don’t understand that we misunderstand, and we are unable to use what we learned. I have dubbed these conditions
amnesia, fantasia, and inertia” (p. 11), to which he added nostalgia:
the belief that what worked for us as professors will work for them. In contemporary schooling, amnesia suggests that the curriculum can fail to become part of the intellectual fabric of the minds of students in schools: they memorize, forget, but do not embrace. Fantasia suggests that students fail to develop self-knowledge, to develop a prudent view of their ambitions, temperament and aptitudes, and what they might be
The Neglect of Virtue 23
and become. Wishes escape from the discipline of careful thought. Inertia
indicates that, although many teachers no doubt want to treat what is being taught as alive and vital, structures of testing and grading among other things degrade the intellectual puzzles in the curriculum by making
them inert, so that countless students never encounter serious intellectual
These pathologies point to a neglect of moral and intellectual virtue in teaching the young in schools, a neglect that fails to prepare them for a moral and intellectual life and leaves them inadequately prepared for college or for life as a democratic citizen. As college students, these so-called “products” of the schools manifest these inadequate moral and intellectual capabilities, attitudes, and dispositions. In Section One of this chapter, I use three studies of the undergraduate condition to support
this claim on the weaknesses of schooling, specifically the neglect of moral and intellectual virtue. In Section Two, I articulate a claim that the strong focus in schools on memory and on getting the “right” answer
(the paradigm in multiple-choice testing) gives the learner what is thought to be objective certainty. Such objective certainty is epistemologically
unsophisticated, if not simply wrong. There are important subtle and substantial differences within and between objectivity and subjectivity
to be understood. To combat objective certainty, I argue, teaching and learning will require intellectual virtues, such as open-mindedness, impartiality, and accuracy, at all grade levels, but notably in history and science. Finally, in Section Three, I frame citizenship education within the development of a person, emphasizing the need to embrace participation
in the wider civil society and in its matters of governance, which are threatened, in different ways, by each of Shulman’s pathologies. The teaching of those virtues essential for life in a democratic political order can be couched within the education and the development of the self, specifically in terms of tolerance, social responsibility, and prudence. Children are too often cast as performers in curriculum roles and rituals, which continues into their student-hood, smothering serious attention to their selfhood and their identity, both as the personal self of individual identity and as the social self of the citizen. Individual virtue, as philosopher
David Norton reminds us, is both personally and socially useful. (Note: I rely in what follows on some of the arguments deployed in my Knowledge and Virtue in Teaching and Learning: The Primacy of Dispositions [Sockett, 2011].)
The mental habits that students form and the ideas they absorb in college consolidate the framework through which as adults they interpret experience and judge matters to be true or false, fair
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or inequitable, honorable or dishonorable. A university that fails to teach students sound mental habits and to acquaint them with enduring ideas handicaps its graduates for public and private life (Berkowitz, 2007: my italics).
The puzzle with Berkowitz’s claim is to understand what it implies about the schooling undergraduates have received before entering college.
The consolidation of the framework must refer back to the student experience of schooling, but it is also a description of the framework of knowledge, attitudes, and habits intended to culminate in the individual self as a college graduate. It is the consolidation of the schooling framework
that is examined here, and it can be clarified through studies of student ethical and intellectual development.
First, William Perry’s (1970) well-known study of the intellectual and ethical development of undergraduates was later elaborated in studies of women, not undergraduates, by Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule,
(1986). Perry’s analysis, based on extensive research with Harvard students, suggested that the student travels through nine different positions
of increasing epistemological complexity. On this evidence, the nation’s brightest students arriving from high school seem to hold that (a) every problem has a solution: all that one needs is the right solution
(see Rappaport, 2010); and (b) even though some authorities may disagree, other authorities, especially in science and math, agree; thus the student’s task is to learn this right solution and ignore all others. That will involve learning how to find the right solutions, but for those problems where there is no correct solution available—everyone has his or her own opinion so it pretty much does not matter what you choose. Such students have not grasped (or have not been taught) any sense of puzzlement, complexity, or intellectual predicament. Problematic matters
of objectivity and subjectivity seem to have simply passed them by. The primary conclusion to be drawn from these studies is that, whatever teachers may think they do, freshman students (1) have very fixed views about what is known; (2) believe that for everything there are right answers;
and (3) apart from those, everything else is a matter of opinion. They arrived at Harvard, in other words, with little understanding of the nature of knowledge or in possession of critical intellectual virtues, such as open-mindedness or impartiality in the face of evidence.
They were not therefore intellectually autonomous, nor were they critical
thinkers. A second and earlier study of medical students, usually the best and the brightest in Britain, showed that students found it difficult to make sound judgments, because they did not understand that “knowlThe
Neglect of Virtue 25
edge of the external world is conditioned by one’s own mental processes, and this shook the students’ previously held beliefs in the concreteness and permanence of things” (Abercrombie, 1965, p. 158). Indeed, these students also had become so highly dependent on authority that the process
of weaning them from that created some classroom hostility because the students were frightened of change itself. These (medical) students seemingly thought of themselves solely as people searching for right answers
and, in their professional practice as doctors, implementing them.
Yet it would be mistaken, in my judgment, to claim that these mid-twentieth century studies are not applicable to schooling in the early twenty-first century. For the same contemporary dominance of the right answer embodies the acquisition of knowledge as the mere quest for certainty,
a feature of the school curriculum entrenched by testing. Yet in the modern pedagogical idiom of high school, stress is also laid on students
forming opinions, leaving students with the inadequate epistemological
legacy of “if it is not certain, it’s just your opinion.” In this sense students from their high school experience share the outlook of Perry’s students. However, whereas both the Perry and Abercrombie studies focus
on the epistemological weaknesses of the incoming undergraduate, Arum and Roksa’s (2010) recent study is more suggestive of failures of personhood and individual purpose.
This lack of student intellectual autonomy is widespread. “Many students,”
they write, “come to college not only poorly prepared by prior schooling
for highly demanding academic tasks that ideally lie in front of them, but – more troubling still – they enter college with attitudes, norms, values
and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment. They enter college academically adrift.” (my italics, Arum & Roksa, 2010, p. 3). Gains in student performance are “disturbingly low,” “the market-based logic of education encourages students to focus on its instrumental value – the credential – and ignore its meaning and moral character (p. 16), and that logic translates into the undergraduate’s view of the college as a consumer or a client, searching for the best deal, rather than as a student. That best deal is too often corrupted: Posner (2007) writes that “. . . an estimated one-third of all high-school and college students have committed plagiarism or a closely related form of academic fraud, such as purchasing a term paper from a ‘paper mill’” (p. 8). Whatever technical
doubts teaching faculty in colleges and universities might have about the Arum and Roska studies, many would agree with its conclusions as they encounter their students.
Students thus enter college “academically adrift” in two respects. First, the education given them in the default school curriculum is focused intensively on finding the right answers, on objective certainty, not on regarding those answers as intellectually puzzling. The primary arena
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for understanding intellectual puzzles lies in the nuances of the relation between objective and subjective judgments (see Section 2) that renders this quest for certainty epistemologically sterile. Addressing uncertainty, accepting the provisional or controversial character of knowledge, demands
intellectual virtues, such as open-mindedness, impartiality, and accuracy, enabling the student to tackle these nuances and complexities. Second, this quest for certainty through memorizing right answers ignores
the intricate character of subjectivity in how the self enters into the making of accurate impartial judgments, and that requires self-knowledge,
courage in taking intellectual risks, and other personal virtues. That is a particularly delicate matter in making judgments as citizens, which will demand tolerance, social responsibility, and prudence. Each requires sophistication of judgment, the ability to stand back and think through situations, to which, of course, a cogent curriculum could contribute.
“The first essential is that a conception of objectivity must establish a public framework of thought sufficient for the concept of judgment to apply and for conclusions to be reached on the basis of reasons and evidence
after discussion and due reflection” (Sen, 2010, p. 62). In this, Amartya Sen is echoing James Madison and his intense concerns in the framing of the U.S. Constitution about people following their passions, not their reason. History and science, as public frameworks of thought, provide interesting challenges to the idea of the right answer, and with it the question of objective certainty.
The importance of historical understanding delivered through a school curriculum cannot be gainsaid, for “history is quite central to our political and cultural grasp of the world” (Williams, 2002, p. 57). But what is it that we must “grasp”? Little (2011) outlines the parameters of historical understanding: “(1) What does history consist of—individual actions, social structures, periods and regions, civilizations, large causal processes, divine intervention? (2) Does history as a whole have meaning,
structure, or direction, beyond the individual events and actions that make it up? (3) What is involved in our knowing, representing, and explaining
history? (4) To what extent is human history constitutive of the human present?”
Without further argument here, I claim that history as a school subject
must be governed by the norms and the methodology of those who practice the discipline of history—which is not to say that both norms and methodology are never in dispute. Taught as a tool of socialization, quasi-history simply becomes political indoctrination, for it intentionThe
Neglect of Virtue 27
ally ignores the fact of the intellectual problems and puzzles that understanding
history must confront, presenting ideas and information as certain. Politicians and officials have some rights in determining the broad frames of curriculum. But, if the school’s task is educational, then the differing interpretations of events in history must appear consistently in a curriculum where the “regulative ideal” of truth, as Denis Phillips (1987) calls it, trumps the political prejudices of the moment.
There is no particular reason why the undergraduate entering college should not have some acquaintance with Little’s questions. Specifically, his third question “What is involved in our knowing, representing, and explaining history?” is especially significant because history sits right in the middle of the objective-subjective continuum. To begin with, each and every individual has an identity which must be partly historical, in terms of the families, states, societies, or cultures s/he inhabits and thereby
the subjective understandings which s/he has of his or her world. In understanding history and our own history, we are starting to understand ourselves. Furthermore, that identity may be mixed, even insecure, for example, where an immigrant’s identity embraces two distinct cultures. Moreover, national identity itself is not necessarily opaque. There may be much more congruence on national identity in, say Japan, than there is in the United States of America, where an individual’s national identity may be politically and socially controversial.
Our individual, personal, social, cultural, and national identity will thus be shaped by how we understand our nation’s and our own history, “individual actions, social structures, periods and regions, civilizations, large causal processes, divine intervention” (Little, question 1 above). At the heart of the school subject reflecting the discipline that the student encounters, there should lie the task of interpretation, as well as getting to understand eventually differences of interpretation (e.g., as in a Whig or a Marxist account), thereby becoming heirs and partners in historical interpretation and its controversies.
As with the undergraduate, there is no particular reason why children going through their years of schooling cannot grasp the centrality of interpretation
in history, rather than being taught to memorize. Very young children exploring a primary source, say, a bell dug up in the schoolyard, can search for alternative explanations. Bill Hare (1979) suggests that the voyages of Columbus can provide a powerful arena for discussion of perspective
and objectivity, as indeed can the treatment of Native Americans by colonists. Interpretation will also have to encounter the complication that the language we use to describe human actions are also words which we use as evaluative: Describing the soldiers in Pickett’s Charge as courageous
may be both a statement of fact and a value judgment.
Where history is taught in schools as a tool of socialization, not edu28
National Society for the Study of Education
cation, it sheds its links with the intellectual discipline, apparent in the “history” curriculum guides in such states as Indiana and Texas. Its indoctrinatory
purpose then becomes to instill in children certain patriotic stuff to memorize which is not simply antithetical to the discipline, but to the child’s intellectual development in general. However attractively history is presented pedagogically, the educational, as opposed to the socializing task is not to hide the complexity of objectivity and subjectivity,
but have children understand it, learning from an early age how to figure out possibilities and probabilities in the light of evidence, not just develop a lust for certainties or worshipping preselected heroes.
Students arriving in college should have learned how to handle ideas, i.e., conflicting or different interpretations. That requires at least following
methodological rules in their studies. The public community (historians
and/or the rest of us) will form our own judgments as to the truth of an interpretation, as well as its persuasiveness. This is not to dub it objective, but neither is it subjective. We might call it epistemologically “inter-subjective” to convey that everyone who has a serious interest can make a judgment about it. Yet if this account of history as a discipline instantiated in history as a school subject is on the right track, then children
need to be taught virtues: to be open-minded, accurate about the facts, discerning that facts may be hard to come by in history, and impartial
through making judgments after consideration of alternatives. They will see this ideal of objective certainty and the right answer as the misleading
illusion it is.
Before turning to discussion of these intellectual virtues more specifically,
it is also important to comment on objectivity in science. The great debate in science in the last half-century has been whether there can be objective truth, unassailable evidence and meanings that don’t change (see Phillips, 1987). This debate rocked the foundations of science’s invincibility
and power, and it has been further disturbed since the 1970s by feminist attacks on gender and cultural biases in science (Harding, 2003). Phillips, however, shows that whereas the justifications advanced historically for what we know were first based on authority, then especially
in the Enlightenment, on the basis of reason, underpinning both was a notion of these being absolute truths, or truths for all time. This notion of absolute or ultimate scientific knowledge has become epistemologically
untenable, in the light of such massive changes as Einstein’s theories building on, but replacing, Newton’s theories. In the work that began the debate in 1962, Kuhn (1962) suggested that scientists worked within paradigms which changed historically but which could simply not
The Neglect of Virtue 29
connect with each other, be “incommensurable.” Most of the argument against this view has been that, at some level, scientists do agree, even though the differences in language between, say, a Piagetian psychologist
and an astronomer are obviously diverse. But before Kuhn’s analysis,
Karl Popper had articulated a position that science does not seek to establish truths (for all time, as it were), but proceeds by trying to falsify what is accepted as true (Popper, 1963). The most we can say, Phillips (1987) argues, quoting Stephen Toulmin, is that a “person’s rationality is displayed in how his or her beliefs change in the face of new evidence or experience” (p. 17). We allow the perspectives of different scientists to contribute
to our understanding, so we do not, if we are interested in truth, want to lock ourselves into particular perspectives. (For a discussion of the perspectival feature of objectivity, see Dancy & Sosa, 1992.)
We know that science is interested in the investigation of phenomena so it does not differentiate in terms of its inquiries between the objective existence of things (like falling objects) and our subjective experiences (our dreams). However, in the late nineteenth century, Introspectionism was seen as the only way to get at what went on in people’s mind, as opposed
to physical entities that, like Chesapeake Bay, could be observed. Roughly, if you wanted to know what was going on in people’s heads, you had to ask them. That came under serious attack from such Behaviorists as Hull, Watson, and Skinner, who established the Behaviorist principle that equated psychology to the natural sciences. You could only take into account what was observed. However, this stance did not rule out subjective
phenomena, but the phenomena had to be manifest in observable behavior, objective in the ontological sense, for it to be a subject for science.
It existed because it could be seen.
The epistemological character of objectivity has been portrayed in the case of science as the firm belief in total scientific objectivity being whittled
away: “On all sides in science,” writes Phillips, “there is commitment to truth as a regulative ideal (as Popper and others have termed it): scientists
try to determine the truth and to hold true beliefs – their disputes are about whose views are true, or are best regarded as being true” (p. 24). Yet the notion of objectivity in science was also criticized by Polanyi and others as being either unrealistic or false. Polanyi (1962) regarded a person’s
belief in a scientific theory as undermining the idea that a theory could have the objective reality of, say, the existence of Chesapeake Bay. His point, briefly, was that a scientist has theories, or indeed conclusions,
to which he is committed, often with passion. This view need not undermine the quest for truth Phillips has described, even if Polanyi is phenomenologically correct, as one would suspect. Indeed, the pedagogical
danger becomes one of fostering Polanyi’s commitment, of getting children to commit to a belief as a substitute for searching for Phillips’s
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truth. Fostering commitment without sustaining the open-mindedness, accuracy and impartiality will undermine scientific inquiry. It is the virtuous
analysis of the data that children should care about in the search for truth, not the ephemera of their opinion.
We therefore have two major disciplines of our intellectual, social, and political life, both of which epistemologically challenge the idea of the right answer and the quest for objective certainty. The pedagogical challenge
is to have all children understand these epistemological factors standing at the heart of what they are being taught, with the habits of mind, dispositions, or intellectual virtues necessary to that inquiry. If students
are to consider questions of climate change, for instance, they must be able to examine evidence (historical and scientific) impartially, to be accurate in the use of data within which they make judgments, and to be open to new evidence confirming or refuting their beliefs. If students are to be taught to think historically, away from the glib certainties of patriotism,
they will need to examine, say, the Vietnam War with an open mind about the war aims of the protagonists and their justifications, impartiality
in an examination of the conduct of the war, and accuracy in terms of what leaders and generals on both sides wanted. We need to be clear about these three intellectual virtues and what is required for them to be taught. (see Sockett, 2011, Part II) We turn first to open-mindedness.
William Hare (1979) argued that an open-minded person is “disposed to revise or reject the position he holds if sound objections are brought against it, or, in the situation in which the person presently has no opinion
on some issue, he is disposed to make up his mind in the light of available evidence and argument as objectively and as impartially as possible”
(pp. 8-9). We might add that this occurs both in the acquisition of beliefs and in changing already held beliefs. In direct opposition to certitude, open-mindedness is primarily an attitude toward oneself as a believer, rather than toward any particular belief, or the range of beliefs
we hold (Riggs, 2010, p. 180). It means that we are aware of our fallibility as believers, acknowledging the possibility that we are wrong. Open-mindedness may also be seen one of the virtues “constitutive of, and not just instrumentally related to, the project of free and responsible
intellectual inquiry” (Montmarquet, 2000, p. 140). The challenges are more entrenched than we might think. Psychologists tell us that the “importance of open-mindedness arises from the massive evidence that people are biased in favor of ideas that are already strong in their minds” (Peterson & Seligman, 2004, p.144). It seems that schools do little to prevent
such casts of mind from developing, which leaves the college task to be remediation. Again, there is no particular reason why this would
The Neglect of Virtue 31
be needed, if children in schools were encouraged to be open-minded, to think through possible explanations or examine alternatives with a robust teacher who rewards and fosters open-mindedness.
To insist on getting something right, Bernard Williams reminds us, can be ”a matter of conscience, honor or self-respect” (2007, p. 126). Yet, of course, it is not merely getting it right, but getting it right in the right way. Accuracy relies on efficient and effective investigation, such that some ways of going about finding out what is true. (Williams, 2007, p. 130). Accuracy invites a strong personal commitment, not the passing “that will do.” Interestingly, Williams dwells on the obstacles to accuracy, especially those associated with the self, e.g., laziness or self-deception. Indeed it might be that the bored adolescent (who was once the excited child of infancy) has not been helped to address such obstacles to learning.
These internal obstacles are often associated with the method of inquiry. Being accurate in math, in history, or in science is going to demand
different conceptual frameworks, different modes of inquiry and different understandings of objectivity, subjectivity, and the status of true statements in each discipline respectively, within the prism of a strong personal commitment to achieving accuracy. But the importance of accuracy
being taught with vehemence is this: playing fast and loose with accuracy is to accord less priority to truth than falsehood, to install what Williams calls other “forms of persuasion” than the educative, and to demean
the child’s interests. (see also Sockett, 2011, Chapter 4).
The object of impartiality is to come to a judgment from which issues a decision. “A is impartial in respect Q if and only if A’s judgments in respect of Q are formed by the examination of alternatives in such a way that each alternative is given intellectual respect in coming to those judgments” (Sockett, 2011, p. 102). Of course, to give a point of view intellectual respect is not to imply accepting that it is correct or even worthy. Thomas Nagel pointed out that there is no such thing as the impartial
spectator, an account he dubbed “the view from nowhere” (1989). The educational task, then, is to foster the child’s judgment. Perry and Abercrombie’s undergraduates seem incapable of such distance as they are wedded to certainties in the way that contemporary undergraduates are too often wedded to their certainties and right answers. Of course, judgments take place in a context with a relevant conceptual framework. A judgment is both a task and an achievement as the account offered of impartiality above indicates. Judgments are susceptible to all kinds of
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weaknesses, haste, lack of consideration, morally lacking in fairness, or being simply stupid, but judgment (and impartiality) can be taught (Peterson
& Seligman, 2004, p. 157). Judgment can also be suspended and the maxim of not rushing to judgment applies in classrooms.
Open-mindedness, accuracy, and impartiality are virtuous habits of mind that are in direct opposition to the inculcation of the right answer. They are deeply embedded in anything that might be taught in schools. Like moral virtues, they need self-conscious examination by children, not blithe acceptance. They need, in other words, to become a part of who the child is and is becoming, such that these features of the individual’s
intellectual equipment will not need remediation in college. But the child does not float free from moral space and a political order. The self is both personal and social and, in a turbulent world, a grip on “who I am” in the democratic society demands attention in schooling. For the individual is not merely a historical individual, but a belief-holder and an individual with a sense of themselves, of who they are.
Education has value in a democratic society because of its social, not merely its personal, utility. Since the idea that the people of a polity might rightly have some share in its governance emerged in fifth-century
Athens, a recurring theme has been that such participation would require an education with judgments made on the basis of reason not on ignorance or passion, witness the pervasive concern with fear of the tyranny of the mob, from Plato to J. S. Mill. That sentiment is reflected throughout the history of electoral reform in Europe and the United States, which gradually installed universal adult suffrage. As the British Cabinet Minister Robert Lowe put it after the Second (Parliamentary) Reform Bill in 1867, “we must now educate our masters.”
The fundamental requirement of the democratic life is that, as far as possible, people act freely and are able to choose how they can live their lives autonomously as moral agents. We require a democratic polity, not because it is perfect, but because, as Karl Popper (1962, chapter 3) would have put it, its systems prevent those who want power from doing too much damage. Being free, being able to choose, being autonomous, and being moral agents are not natural endowments of the human being. They are learned and they demand a social and political environment that supports human flourishing. Monarchies have subjects. Totalitarian regimes have comrades. Theocracies have true believers. Democracies have citizens who need to be educated in such a way that they acquire the virtues, dispositions, and attitudes, as well as appropriate knowledge and skill, to become free, autonomous, choosing moral agents living their
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lives in civil society and a democratic polity (see Sockett, 2011, Chapter 9; see also Nussbaum, 2010).
Democratic theory in education has long placed responsibility on the teacher as a democratic professional and teacher of citizenship, emphasizing
the preparation of children for democratic life (see, for example, Gutmann, 1999). In recent years, there has also been continuing interest in how universities educate for civic respons

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