Thursday, August 9, 2007

Constancy and Change

I think educational leaders should approach rapid change from the inner strength that comes from their "universal bones." For instance, those who think change should drive a new understanding of ethics or democracy should instead, let their understanding of ethics and democracy drive their approach to new technologies. I can think of no better example than the confrontation between Elliot Schrage, of Google, and a group of congressmen over his defense of Google's practice of helping China to oppress its people.
Schrage is a "Corporate ethicist," a lawyer and consultant with a huge resume (and real achievements) on issues where human rights and global commerce meet. With a very agile mind, he attempts to defend Google's actions as working toward the greater good in a complex world. The congressmen had a simpler understanding, and typically expressed outrage at what Google was doing. They were informed not by the "new technological landscape," but by their own sense of democracy and right and wrong. I am saying they were right, and Schrage, in this case, was wrong. No matter what the "greater good," it was wrong to participate in oppressing China's people. Period. I think as teachers we are stronger when we rely on an armature of truths about democracy, morality, human rights, etc., and I am not comfortable with the relativism so many seem to be expressing. Rapid technological change is here, yes. It needs educational leaders with backbone and purpose!


Jim Burke said...

Joe, I think I hear you saying that, especially in a time of exponential change, we need a moral compass. To add to that metaphor, the rudder of ethics, citizenship, and stewardship is needed as we sail through heavy seas at breakneck speed. I keep returning to Neil Postman's Informing Ourselves to Death to remind me of this.

"Here is what Henry David Thoreau told us: "All our inventions are but improved means to an unimproved end." Here is what Goethe told us: "One should, each day, try to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it is possible, speak a few reasonable words." And here is what Socrates told us: "The unexamined life is not worth living." And here is what the prophet Micah told us: "What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?" And I can tell you -- if I had the time (although you all know it well enough) -- what Confucius, Isaiah, Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, Spinoza and Shakespeare told us. It is all the same: There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and we solve nothing fundamental by cloaking ourselves in technological glory."

It is interesting that the public school missions of old about creating good citizens seems to be increasingly replaced with creating good workers/consumers. Perhaps I've missed it, but I see very little about civics and citizenship in those big-time national reports.

Is it there?


Joe Makley said...

I've heard many arguments for why we prioritize math and science over citizenship and history/humanities. The presumption seems to be that if we don't "compete" technologically or economically, we'll lose the opportunity to be noble or good. I personally would trade a portion of our economic prosperity for an improvement in civility and kindness. Most of the math/science crowd would say we have to incorporate both, and there are good examples of that (21st Century Skills, for instance suggests themes and activities that revolve around community service, solving problems for humanity, etc. and it's a good start.) But there are consequences to leaving history and the humanities out of the big state tests. The MCAST has some wacky items in these areas, but at least it has them. I hope Maine's new exit test will.

Just one example: I would hope that the graduates of tomorrow (unlike the graduates of today) could describe the source of rights U.S. Citizens enjoy, i.e. that all humans are born with them and no government may take them away, rather than assuming that they are something we vote on or the government provides only to legal citizens. I think that distinction is critical to preserving these rights, and if I were the governor, that question would be on the state test.