education philosopher

How Much Does Race Matter? (Documenting My Confusion)

Posted in Education, Philosophy of, social theory by KevinCK on March 24, 2010

Generally, I write when I have answers. This time, I am writing because I have questions.

I am a PhD student in education, but also a classical liberal. As an education student, I am often confronted with research on ethnic identity as it relates to pedagogy and scholastic achievement. It is not uncommon to hear folks talk about why teachers should take ‘multiculturalism’ classes to learn how to be responsive to students of different ethnic backgrounds. As a classical liberal, on the other hand, I firmly believe that ethnicity, while existent, is an irrelevant category for deciding how to treat others.

So, I hope by now one can understand my confusion. I have political and social beliefs that prohibit me from seeing ethnicity (and sometimes “culture”) as relevant grounds for differential treatment, but also hear so many colleagues devoting research to showing the large extent that ethnicity does differentiate. I am hesitant to say that my colleagues are wrong in their conclusions, as they are the ones who have studied the matter. But I am also hesitant to let go of a large conviction that I have that all people are people first, individuals second, and ethnicities at a distant third. (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…)

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…)

Want to Raise Tenacious Kids? Be Careful in How Your Praise.

Posted in Self-esteem movement, Teaching by KevinCK on July 6, 2009

Journalist Po Bronson wrote a 2007 articlethat recently became the springboard for his book Nurtureshock (cowritten by Ashley Merryman). The article runs counter to what used to be conventional wisdom about praising kids for intelligence. “[A] growing body of research strongly suggests…  [that g]iving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.”

good jobAt first blush, this may sound bizzare. You mean we shouldn’t praise our kids for their smarts?, one might ask. Actually, that is what Bronson – and many researchers in child psychology – are concluding. One of the most touted researchers (brought up both in Bronson’s Nurtureshockand Daniel Coyle’s magnificent book The Talent Code) is Carol Dweck.

Dweck and her team gave several fifth-grade classes a non-verbal test of puzzles, easy enough that they could be quickly solved. After grading the tests (almost all good grades), the researchers told half of the “subjects” that they did well and must be very smart. The other half of the “subjects” were told that they did well, and must have worked very hard. After this, all students were offered a choice: take another test of about the same ease, or take a harder test.

The results: almost uniformly, the students praised for smarts chose to take a similar test while the students praised for effort chose the harder test. Dweck and her group repeated this test several times with different classes and got the same result each time. When effort is praised, kids respond better to challenge than when smarts and intelligence are praised.

“When we praise children for their intelligence,” Dweck wrote in her study summary, “we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” And that’s what the fifth-graders had done: They’d chosen to look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed. (more…)