education philosopher

The Dragon’s Den and the Reciprosity of Capitalism

Posted in political philosophy by KevinCK on October 29, 2009

dragon's denLast night, my wife and I watched the BBC program The Dragon’s Den, where five venture capitalists listen to various pitches from struggling entrepreneurs, deciding whether to give them money in return for a stake in the business. Today, I read Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. Coincidence? Yes. Is there a connection? Yes! The former helps to prove the latter wrong by showing that, contra Marx’s assertions, capitalism functions reciprocally for mutual benefit rather than in a master/slave relationship.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx writes of the proletariat (the working class) as if they were slaves to the bourgeoisie (capitalists):

Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.

…and again…

And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.

Marxism sees employer/employee relations – and all other capitalist dealings – as a one way master/slave relationship; “I will pay you what I want and you will work for me regardless of whether you want to.”

The irony is that supporters of capitalism recognize that this is not at all the truth. In fact, defenders of capitalism (rightly) note that capitalism is the one and only economic system where employers may not enslave employees; in fact this is so by definition. A slave, to be a slave, is enslaved involuntarily. Her wishes are not taken into account, she is treated only as a means, and has no say in her fate. Capitalism, though, puts emphasis on contract; an employer cannot force unwilling participants into its employ, and employees are free to leave a job if they can find something better. The entire relationship is quite voluntary on both sides.

The further irony is that the same cannot be said about communism. Marx has it backwards: communism is the type of social structure that takes away choice from members by telling them that they will make what the government says they will make, will work where the government says they will work, etc.

How does this come back to BBC’s Dragon’s Den? (more…)


What Crossing the Street Says About a Person

Posted in Self-esteem movement by KevinCK on October 26, 2009

One of the things that never fails to drive me crazy when walking around the University of Delaware’s campus is the crosswalks. At most crosswalks, cars yield to pedestrians and pedestrians need not stop for cars or wait for lights.

What drives me crazy is not the principle of this but how it works in practice. Students generally walk out in the road without looking, take their time in crossing the street, do not wave to cars for letting them through, and do not ever allow cars to go before them (no matter how long the car has been waiting while previous students crossed).

I have even witnessed several occasions where students exhibit a very “entitled” mentality through all of this. I’ve witnessed, for instance, two separate occasions where students doddling across the street were preventing a car from making a needed right turn. The cars honked after a certain amount of time, only to be greeted by the student’s sternly held-up middle-finger. How dare a car be angry while slow-moving students hold them up for ridiculous periods!

As a former schoolteacher, this really irks me because it exhibits something I found quite often in my high-schoolers: an entitlement attitude. There have been many a book published about the rising narcissism and “self-esteem” of youth: each generation seeming to outdo the last. (See the two books by Jean Twenge or psychologist Young-Eisendrath’s Self-Esteem Trap.) Teachers and others complain that kids are often self-absorbed and with new technologies giving rise to and encouraging self-advertisement (think myspace, youtube, facebook, etc.), the complaint is that we are raising a generation that think much more about themselves than others. (more…)

On the Basic Human Desire to Control Other People

Posted in Philosophy, political philosophy by KevinCK on October 21, 2009

Today, I watched a television interview on a news program. The interviewee was asked what I think to be an absolutely stupid question: should there be a law authoritymandating salary caps on company executives? (to which the interviewee smartly answered in the negative.) Why do I say this is an idiotic question? Because the question is asked as if the answerer’s opinion is at all relevant to whether other people should be allowed to conduct affairs in the way they please.

Tno smokinghe question is, in other words, a brilliant illustration of an unfortunate human tendency: the desire to control the actions of others.

Let’s look at the question again: should there be a law mandating salary caps on company executives? The question can be generalized this way: should there be a law mandating that x behavior (that some find appalling) not be allowed? So, we are asking whether the fact that some people feel that an act is wrong, offensive, or outlandish is sufficient to force others not to engage in it. And those who answer “yes” to the above questions are literally saying that their objection to a particular act is enough to warrant exactly this forcible restraint.

In some cases, of course, this may well be justified. If a person is doing something that actively harms someone who did not asked to be harmed, then we have a matter of coercion offsetting coercion. We are coercing one person to refrain from coercing another. This is similar in kind to to teacher breaking up the schoolyard bullying, or the police arresting and imprisoning the arsenist. We can, if we want, argue that the coercive restraint is more coercive than the action it tries to prevent (the police arresting someone gently pricking a person with a pin) or that stopping coercion with coercion is contradictory (it is, but often there is no other good alternative). But mostly, these are easy cases where it is assumed that individuals shall not coerce each other and the penalty for such action is coercion in defense of this idea.

Then, there are cases like that above: should legislation be enacted to prevent companies from paying huge sums to top executives (or athletes)? Should Peter be prevented from smoking crack cocaine or injecting heroin? Should James be prevented from being from finding willing clergy to marry him and his partner, Steve?
Should Walmart be prevented from employing people at lower wages than many people are just? (more…)

Should We Have Mandatory Tax-Funded Media?: An argument by analogy

Posted in Politics of Education by KevinCK on October 19, 2009

Recently, I have been engaged in discussion with some folks over whether tax-funded public schools with mandatory attendance laws are justifiable. While I can see some arguments in favor of public schooling, I think public schooling also has much to be said against it (for reasons beside the fact that it seems not to be educating very well.) Most importantly, there is a moral argument against public schooling that I think can best be seen by analogizing the public school climate in the US with a theoretical case of public media and compulsory viewischoolng laws.

Imagine the situation:

In 2050, the United States, in an effort to ensure that everyone has access to quality news and information, mandates that a certain percentage of all local taxes will be spent on a tax-supported, governmentally run, media. Because it is in the interest of all to be informed by good information, the government has decided that it will (a) make media listening mandatory for at least one hour a day by all citizens under penalty of arrest; (b) ensure that, while private media are allowed to run, they will be required to be approved/accredited by the Department of Media (c) allow citizens to either listen to the “free” government-run media outlet or pay separately for private media (meaning that they have to pay for the government media they have opted out of and the private media they’ve opted into). If they opt out of the government media, they can only do so by filling out paperwork with their local Department of Media to ensure that they are in compliance with the mandatory listening law by getting their media through a government-accredited alternate media source.

It is easy to spot the problems with this above scenario. (more…)

An Unjustly Forgotten Voice of Dissent: Review of Isaac Leon Kandel’s “Cult of Uncertainty”

Posted in Book reviews, Education, Philosophy of by KevinCK on October 18, 2009

To know about the philosophy of education today is to know about John Dewey, Edward Thorndike, William Kirkpatrick and progressive education. One of the most unfortunate byproducts of this singular focus is that many of the works critical of progressive education – and there have been many – have since been unjustly forgotten. It is quite standard to see a philosophy/theory of education course read the educational works of John Dewey (as well they should). Unfortunately, reading lists don’t tend to give voice to some of the criticisms (old or new) of progressive education that Dewey represents.

 One such remarkable book that has unjustly gone overlooked is Isaac Leon Kandel’s Cult of Uncertainty. Like so Kandelmany other books critical of progressive education, this book is currently out of print, but can fortunately be seen and downloaded for free from googlebooks. In Cult of Uncertainty, historian of education Kandel criticizes what he saw as the excesses of progressive education – its flexibility and laxity with curriculum, overemphasis on maintaining children’s interest over teaching intellectual essentials, and conflation of authority with authoritarianism.

By contrast, Kandel’s view of education is somewhat reminiscent of Edmund Burke’s conservatism . Rather than the emphasis on each generation and individual creating and discovering their own knowledge, schools’ first goal should be to impart to students the essential knowledge that past generations have created and discovered. (more…)

Caring Theory Goes to School: Should Public Schools Teach Moral and Emotional Growth?

Posted in Education, Philosophy of, Self-esteem movement by KevinCK on October 13, 2009

Today, a colleague of mine gave a very interesting presentation on , Nel Noddings, an education theorist who pioneered the idea of “caring theory.” The article my colleague spoke about, authored by Noddings, is entitled “A Morally Defensible Mission for Schools in the 21st Century (1995, Phi Delta Kappan v. 76[5], 465-368). This brief article outlines Noddings vision that too much focus on academics has left our students uncared for and outlining a vision of the future where schools’ primary focus is on nurturing students moral and emotional lives.

There is much to agree with in Noddings articles and much to disagree with. To start with my agreements with Noddings, she and I share a deep belief that one-size-fits-all curricula and schools have more costs than benefits. In their quests to cater to the greatest number, they end up catering to no one in particular.

In trying to teach everyone what we once taught only a few, we have wound up teaching everyone inadequately. Further, we have not bothered to ask whether the traditional education so highly treasured was ever the best education for anyone.

Noddings points out, very controversially, that “The vast majority of adults do not use algebra in their work, and forcing all students to study it is a simplistic response to the real issues of equity and mathematical literacy.” As a former schoolteacher, I believe that I and my colleagues did damage to many students who may have been ill-served by taking Algebra II and Chemistry in a quest to keep them on the college track. It has been my experience that standardized curricula is the moral equivalent of trying to make everyone to fit into the proverbial “round hold” regardless of their shape. In other words, we mold students to fit the curricula rather than the other way around.

But Noddings alternative vision to the standardized curriculum is one I cannot share. (more…)

Why Justice Asks the Impossible, or, Why Generalities are Always Imperfect in the Concrete World

Posted in Philosophy, political philosophy, Uncategorized by KevinCK on October 8, 2009

One of the most important yet longest and least resolved quests for human beings is to define what is just as devise a way to achieve justice. It is a most important quest because in many things that we do socially, justice is what we strive for. But for such an important discussion – what is justice and how can we achieve it? – there seems to be so little resolution. One group defines justice this way while the other points out how that concept leads to some unjust results, and vice versa. (For a concrete example, some see justice as substantive – justice is when everyone has the same amount of x. Others point out that this can lead to unfair results when people receive equal desserts for unequal contribution. A different group conceives of justice procedurally – justice is equal application of rules and procedures. Their detractors point out, of course, that this leads to unfair results when some rules put disproportionate burden on justicesome than others.)

For any conception we can come up with (with the exception of divine justice which is not subject to human constraint and fallibility), all we have to do is to think hard enough and we can come up with examples where such a conception of justice leads to unjust results.

While thinking about this today, I began wondering why all of our human conceptions of justice fall short. Is it that humans are fallible and as fallible beings we are bound toward fallible results? I’m sure that’s part of it. But there is another bigger reason why all concepts of human justice (in my view) are bound to fall short of the ideal: there is an inevitable disjunct between using abstractions to deal with a world of particulars. As humans, we have to abstract – what else are rules but abstract principles to be applied irrespective of context? – but abstractions, as abstractions, ignore particularity. (more…)