Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Teaching Character

Via crossfit.com comes this article on education. There are lots of reasons to read it, e.g. to whet your appetite as to what might be possible if free-market innovation were ever let loose in the sector, but I'll highlight this:
In fact, though, the character-strength approach of Seligman and Peterson isn’t an expansion of programs like CARE; if anything, it is a repudiation of them. In 2008, a national organization called the Character Education Partnership published a paper that divided character education into two categories: programs that develop “moral character,” which embodies ethical values like fairness, generosity and integrity; and those that address “performance character,” which includes values like effort, diligence and perseverance. The CARE program falls firmly on the “moral character” side of the divide, while the seven strengths that Randolph and Levin have chosen for their schools lean much more heavily toward performance character: while they do have a moral component, strengths like zest, optimism, social intelligence and curiosity aren’t particularly heroic; they make you think of Steve Jobs or Bill Clinton more than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi.
If today's generally accepted ethics were actually aimed at making each of our lives go well, there would be no such divide. But under altruism it's a real problem.

(This is but one example of why Yaron and Onkar argued for a new moral code --Ayn Rand's -- in a CNN editorial last year.) Their commentary is relevant to the quote above.
Ask someone on the street to name a moral hero; if he isn't at a loss, he'll likely name someone like Jesus Christ or Mother Teresa. Why? Because they're regarded as people of faith who shunned personal profit for the collective good. No one would dream of naming Galileo, Darwin, Thomas Edison or John D. Rockefeller.

Yet we should. It is they, not the Mother Teresas of the world, that we should strive to be like and teach our kids the same.

If morality is judgment to discern the truth and courage to act on it and make something of and for your own life, then these individuals, in their capacity as great creators, are moral exemplars. Put another way, if morality is a guide in the quest to achieve your own happiness by creating the values of mind and body that make a successful life, then morality is about personal profit, not its renunciation.

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