CRITICAL ASSESSMENT AND VALUES IN EDUCATION
A course to develop educational judgment.
©1999 Edward G. Rozycki

RETURN
edited 8/29/11

Introduction

Many of the parents who allow their children hours of TV and who read little, if anything, besides the newspapers contribute nonetheless vociferously to that chorus that decries the schools for failing to turn out readers. This irony is seldom lost on educators. An ironic situation somewhat less appreciated by school people is that of the many classes in writing taught by persons much less than practiced in that very skill -- this, perhaps, explains the technical mummery with which the subject is approached.

The deepest, most pathetic irony is this: a conference of educational leaders will invariably turn out to be a celebration of non-communication, a values-clarification workshop writ large, each person revealing his or her "philosophy," neither expecting nor offering criticism, incapable of even simple rebuttal or defense, respecting each other's right to his or her own opinion, indeed, respecting each other like crazy. Exercises in civility and understanding "where everyone is coming from" complete the ritual; critical examination is foregone and people finally get down to political "brass tacks."

Are we surprised that our educational leaders, professed "change agents", uplifters and reclaimers, ultimately engage in but one perennial pursuit: bandwagoneering?

The course to be sketched in this brief paper aims at this: to give those who participate in it the capacity to

a. develop, present and defend an intelligent rationale for their commitments;

b. reflect on and criticize these commitments and to come to understand why persons no less rational than themselves may have others. (For a strong argument that a rational democracy can and must permit pluralism, see Nicholas Rescher, Pluralism: Against the Demand for Consensus. Clarendon Press, Oxford. Paperback. 1995)
Developing Critical Intelligence

One way -- by far the most common -- of getting students to examine alternatives is to attempt to indoctrinate them with theories and values contrary to those they already espouse if, indeed, their "theories" are clear enough in their minds for espousal rather than -- as is most commonly the case -- being manifest in some pronouncement of like or dislike. At best such a doctrinaire approach promotes that discipleship thought by many to be a desirable trait of academia; at worst the result is obsequiousness to professorial whim and ultimately a deep disdain for the life of the mind.

The nature of the course is about disputes and how they may be settled rationally and humanely. It is also an examination of the extent which such values as rationality and humanity may come into conflict. The context of the disputes is, of course, the school and other related institutions.

We begin with a simple theory: all disputes are of three types, or admixtures of these. Disputes are factual and/or conceptual and/or valuational. Each type of dispute has criteria by which it is identified an such, and each type is resolvable under different types of conditions.

Factual disputes are possible only if the disputants share the concepts and values which enable appeals to the proper kinds of authority to settle the dispute, be that authority external, e.g. a science text, holy book, a commonly respected judge, or internal, e.g. one's personal experience, communion, a shared insight.

Conceptual disputes occur when criteria are not shared, e.g. a psychologist's vs. a moralist's conception of punishment.

Valuational disputes involve disagreement as to what ought or ought not to be valued; i.e. respected, honored, embraced.

Apparently factual disputes -- Are Blacks less intelligent than Whites?-- are often disguised conceptual disputes: Is I.Q. the same as socially useful intelligence? Conceptual disputes themselves often hide basic value disputes: Ought I.Q. rather than some other measure be used to deny access to certain kinds of educational program?

An elaboration of this theory of disputes with practical instantiation in the educational literature is an ongoing feature of this course. Our concern is to identify the factual, conceptual and valuational aspects of educational disputes and the extent to which they may be resolved. (For an expansion on these ideas, see Clabaugh&Rozycki, Analyzing Controversy.)

The Structure of the Course

A core bibliography is presented. Articles have been chosen for this bibliography because they represent challenges to certain received ways of thinking about certain topics. My selection of an article does not necessarily indicate my agreement with its conclusions. Students read from the bibliography as they choose to meet course grade requirements. Classes are for lecture, simulation or discussion. Special assignments (papers, presentations) may be offered. Student ranked topics provide course structure (see topic questionnaire).

A common myth of academia -- championed by Mortimer Adler in The Paedaeia Proposal -- is that critical intelligence is a unique, organic outcome of a liberal arts education. Doctors, engineers and educators are increasingly more deprived, respectively, of human traditions and critical judgment.

However, that critical judgment is predominant in the liberal arts is belied by our everyday experience with medical and engineering achievement and by the fact that France and the Soviet Union, for example, have long valued technical disciplines above the liberal arts -- remnants of a pre-revolutionary culture -- as prerequisite to social leadership positions.

It is a pernicious myth that critical intelligence is organic, i.e. it somehow miraculously coalesces in the course of training without hope of control. Schools of law have long taught disputational skills and it is only elitism that brands such training sophistry.

Students can be trained to exercise critical intelligence but only in an atmosphere where it is permissible to do so. If the field of education lacks in critical intelligence we need not look to explain this fault by supposing inferiority, say, in the coursework offered in schools of education. Rather, we must look to the institutional environments in which educators pursue their trade: by and large, in bureaucracies postulated upon their general incapacity in which critical intelligence in any but the narrowest of applications undermines their, the educators', very survival.

For expansion and examples see, also, Controversy Analysis Worksheet



TOPIC PREFERENCES

Please order by priority of interest. Indicate greatest interest with "1"; next 2, etc. with topics of least interest ranked "5". (Some hyperlinks to on-line articles are given. Use the NewFoundations site search engine to find others.)
 

_____Punishment, Control and Education: What is punishment? What is cruelty? Is non-corporal punishment better than corporal? What justifies punishment in the schools? How do the legal, moral and psychological concepts differ?

_____Measurement and Evaluation: What is an evaluational model? How is it chosen? What part does measurement play? What in measurable? What assumptions underlie different models? What is objectivity? What does Statistics do?

_____Educational Problems: What is a problem? How can we recognize practical solutions? What value conflicts underlie a problem? How can we assess the feasibility of a purported solution? What role does persuasion and propaganda play in problem solution?

_____Rewards and Reinforcers: How do conditioning phenomena relate to education? What is the difference between a reward and a reinforcer? What are the policy consequences of accepting or rejecting conditioning models of learning?

_____ Rationales for Intervention: How do we reason from test to treatment? What justifies our intervening into the life of another? What is a need? What is natural ability? How does it justify an intervention? What is the logic of intervention policies? 'Where does morality fit in.?

_____Improving Teaching Efficiency: What is teaching efficiency? What is a desirable method? What considerations go into evaluating method? To what extent is learning secondary? What priorities hold in selecting curriculum?

_____Systemics and Organization: What is a system? To what extent are school systems really systems? Do systems serve their own ends? Does talk about systems obfuscate or clarify? Are their limits to systemic analyses?

_____ Pluralism, Culture and Educational Policy: What does cultural difference mean? How does it relate to ethnicity? What keeps a pluralistic society together? How does rationality depend on cultural values?

_____Educational Innovations: What happened to behavioral objectives? Open classrooms? Teaching machines? Affective education? What promises have not been fulfilled? Can needs assessment really help? Competencies? Mastery learning? The Paedaeia Proposal?

_____Cognitive Style: Can intelligence be identified independently of I.Q.? Are there educationally significant variations in cognitive processing? Is the school cognitively biased? What role does family and peer group structure play in determining school achievement?

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