Pragmatism in Education
Focus on Learning-Three Inhibitors
Several years ago, I developed an interest in the topic of leadership. Needless to say, leadership itself is a very hot topic in today’s world—its presence or its abject absence. Annually at least 3,500 books on leadership in business alone are published in the United States.
I took particular interest in the thoughts of Howard Gardner on the topic. Most of us know him for his pioneering leadership on “multiple intelligences,” but he has also devoted himself to what he calls “leading minds.” In his book of the same title, Gardner argues that authentic leaders are actually good storytellers. They are superb in crafting a leadership narrative and embodying it. Such a narrative contains three elements—a protagonist, a set of goals or actions the protagonist wishes to advance and in the process make changes, and a foil—that against which the protagonist fights for the advancement of her goals.
With this background in leadership, it is now appropriate to introduce a proper subject for a leadership narrative today and that I invite you to write and embody. I suggest three challenges—the self-esteem movement, accountability, and either-or thinking—that I believe need to be confronted through a leadership narrative for substantive learning to take place in our schools and for the profession of teaching and administrating to increase credibility. I state in advance that most of the references in this presentation are to American pedagogical theory and practice because an inordinate amount of such application occurs in international schools.
Now, if we accept Gardner’s definition of a leadership story, I suggest that you—the teachers and administrators in this room—are the protagonists in this educational story. It is you who must lead. The goals of the leadership story I offer you are clear. You are to expose three popular educational practices that, when embraced in an absolutist manner, represent severe dangers to learning—again, self-esteem, accountability and either-or thinking. You are to replace them with much more rational, effective and commonsensical strategies. The foils—those people or ideas you must oppose—are also obvious. They are these three practices and those absolutists—the true believers—the zealots--—who advance them. It is against these entities that you must rail daily in a professional, well-informed, yet pointed way. It is my challenge to you this morning to become story tellers who advance a new vocabulary for change and who from the special vantage point of international education alter the current narrative of teaching and learning to embody a new one.
And what is so critical for us this morning is that self-esteem, accountability and either-or thinking defined in an absolutist sense—are all nefarious educative contributors to what has gotten us into the global economic and political mess in which we find ourselves today. Our world through most of the 1990s and early 2000s, has been lorded over by those who operated with such inflated egos and sense of entitlement that decency and common sense were despised in favor of personal gain at any cost. A world in which single-digit accountability guided all certitude of action in the global financial market to the point that financial risk was calculated by one index number, knowingly leaving out powerful areas of consequence that could not be accounted for quantitatively and yet, turned out to be the source of our most powerful and devastating challenges. And, finally, by a political leadership that positioned itself towards the world in such a way that you were either for them or against them and if you were against them, you were rendered evil, irrelevant or worse.
I turn to you today as global educators to confront these destructive attitudes and practices. Let us restore dignity to our profession and some sanity to the world. Again, you as international educators are at particular advantage to take on this leadership—you are removed—or at least should be—from the vagaries of American educational quick fixes—the “flavor of the year” in pedagogical theory and practice. You remain closer that any of us in education to teaching and learning tempered in and out of the classroom by the wide diversity of peoples and ideas that in practice tolerate little indulgence in that which does not work for the greatest range of students.
Beginning in the 1980s, there was a massive, worldwide effort to increase children’s and young peoples’ self-esteem. According to Professor Jean M. Twenge in her 2006 book, “Generation Me”, “the number of psychology and education journal articles devoted to self-esteem doubled between the 1970s and the 1980s. Journal articles increased another 52 percent during the 1990s, and the number of books on self-esteem doubled over the same time…[and]… all emphasize[d] the importance of self-esteem for children, usually promoting feelings that are a lot closer to narcissism (a more negative trait usually defined as excessive self-importance).”
Of course, once society in general seized upon the self-esteem mantra, the schools were not far behind. They bought into it completely. A veritable “self-esteem curriculum” was introduced in the years following 1980 and its remains pervasive and strong today despite overwhelming evidence that such targeted focus on self-esteem clearly does not yield results that help individuals nor society at large. Again, Twenge on the subject: “Many school districts across [the U.S.] have specific programs designed to increase children’s self-esteem, most of which actually build self-importance and narcissism. One program is called ‘Self-Science: The Subject Is Me.’ [poor grammar, of course]. The Magic Circle … designates one child a day to receive a badge saying ‘I’m great.’ The other children then say good things about the chosen child, who later receives a written list of all of the praise. At the end of the exercise, the child must then say something good about him- or herself. More from Twenge: “As John Hewitt points out in “The Myth of Self-Esteem,” the implicit message is that self-esteem can be taught and should be taught. When self-esteem programs are used, Hewitt notes, children are ‘encouraged to believe that it is acceptable and desirable to be preoccupied with oneself [and] praise oneself.’ In many cases, he says, it’s not just encouraged but required. These exercises make self-importance mandatory, demanding of children that they love themselves. Most of these programs encourage children to feel good about themselves for no particular reason. In one program, teachers are told to discourage children from saying things like ‘I’m a good soccer player’ or ‘I’m a good singer.’ This makes self-esteem contingent on performance, the program authors chide. Instead, ‘we want to anchor self-esteem firmly to the child … so that no matter what the performance might be, the self-esteem remains high.’ In other words, feeling good about yourself is more important than good performance—more important than substantive learning that in the best definition should make you feel uncomfortable about what you know in the process of obtaining knowledge and skill. Children, the guide says, should be taught ‘that it is who they are, not what they do, that is important.’ ”
Teacher training courses are, of course, affected by this demand to advance at all costs self-esteem through instruction regardless of actual quality of a student’s academic performance. And classroom teachers are often instructed by their administrators not to correct students mistakes in class or on homework; if they do so, to use a “pleasant” colored pen (not red; it has a negative connotation built up over the centuries and thus does not build self-confidence—I kid you not here! Green and aubergine are preferable). According to Twenge, in 2005 a British teacher even “proposed eliminating the word ‘fail’ from education; instead students should hear that they have ‘deferred success.’ ”
Now, one would think that this decades-long demand for self-esteem instruction in schools would yield positive results—that we would graduate young people who were realistically confident, who truly felt good about themselves, who achieved well in school and out of school, who could handle any challenge, who possessed the highest integrity. Well, actually, the very opposite is the case, but that does not at all stop the absolutists, the true believers, in demanding self-esteem instruction in the schools—they are already far too invested in the notion to tolerate opposition. Today’s students in general (of course, there are exceptions) are emerging from secondary school unable to deal with personal criticism or defeat. They become rude and unfriendly when challenged by anyone about anything. They are not accepting of anyone asserting more knowledge than they about a subject—a teacher, a professor, a boss in the workplace—since they have been instructed for years that they get to determine what is true and what is important. Personal truth is more important than objective truth. What “I feel” is more important than what I or anyone else knows. Students exist absent deep and sustaining commitments to society and other people and, in fact, are more depressed and unhappy with life than any previous generation—including those that experienced in the U.S. such massive events as WWI, WWII and the Great Depression. It seems that their exalted sense of self-worth they now take for granted because of years of instruction telling them just that, does not hold up to the harsher realities of the wider world and its indifference to their self-proclaimed achievement and anticipated reward. According to Twenge, self-esteem instruction unquestionably does not lead “to better grades, improved work performance, decreased violence or less cheating. In fact, people with high self-esteem are often more violent and more likely to cheat. It is very questionable whether [the few benefits] justify the effort and expense that schools, parents and therapists have put into raising self-esteem.”
Twenge hits it right on the mark when she says, “Self-esteem is an outcome, not a cause. In other words, it doesn’t do much good to encourage a child to feel good about himself just to feel good; this doesn’t mean anything. Children develop true self-esteem from behaving well and accomplishing things.”
The self-esteem movement has also contributed, I suggest, to the collapse of the art of conversation—a key ingredient in enlarging over time human understanding—a mission of schooling.
Conversation appears to be a dying practice in our society today and that is bad news for education and learning. “There is no such thing as conversation,” the novelist and essayist Rebecca West argues, “It is an illusion. There is an intersecting of monologues that is all” [cited in Stephen Miller’s 2006 book, “Conversation: A History of a Declining Art”]. You see this all the time in the classroom. Students are not really listening in a concentrated way to each other or to you as teacher. If they are present at all and have their ears open to the one speaking, they are not listening but preparing their argumentative response. Words often cross in meaning-less ways.
We are defined by an “argumentative culture” in America that is intent on persons prevailing through words, if not physical force, over other people at all costs. The preservation of self and self-esteem are thought to be all important—far more important than listening carefully and patiently to what someone else might believe and then perhaps disagreeing civilly or altering one’s own perspective.
Contributing also to the decline of conversation is an increasing proclivity for youth to see the world in imperfectly adopted ideologies that limit their curiosity early for discovering other points of view. This behavior takes place usually in the areas of politics and religion. It has a stifling effect on learning and leads directly to argumentation rather than receptivity to new thought and tolerance. It was strikingly noticeable only a few years ago when students would come to undergraduate studies from high school with already-established political dispositions—liberal, conservative or green—and demand that all intellectual material and professorial reflection conform to their world view. Ideas that they considered contrary to their belief systems were thought purposefully corrupting and thus subject to legal action. Additionally, ideologically-driven people tend to accuse others of not “wanting to really talk about issues” or not welcoming conversation when what they really mean is that others are not agreeing with them and the ideological position they represent through talk. I am sure you witness this in your classrooms. In such a charged and limiting atmosphere, learning can hardly expect to occur.
My message to you is that it is time to move away from the folly of self-esteem, “feel-good” instruction and advocacy and reclaim that teaching and learning that advances children both though supportive and sustained engagement with their variety of abilities and by repeated exposure to substantive content and skill well beyond the subject of their self and its value. It is time to push back in and out of the classroom when learning is taken prisoner to “how I feel,” rather than “what I know.” It is time to reclaim conversation in the classroom and not mere talk. It is time to engage students in the classroom in real conversation and not as teachers just to accept their monolithic statements with short verbal evaluations of “That’s great!”, “Really terrific”, when, in fact, the statements are inaccurate, poorly expressed or irrelevant. Call it what it is in the true sake of advancing a student’s learning.
Please join me from your domain—international pre-collegiate education—a domain separated from the fads and clichés of American education—to take on this destructive force to learning in our contemporary world. Exert together leadership and become a character in a leadership narrative.
There is urgency to my remarks today. You might have already perceived this. I say this because your control of what you personally administer and teach is about to be taken away from you. The threat is accountability taken to extremes and it comes at you in all innocence. It offers many good measures—principally seeming security and exactness about good performance versus poor in educational instruction—but exaggerated and turned into an absolute, it possesses the capacity for much harm.
A potentially beneficial program that used accountability detrimentally is the No Child Left Behind legislation in the United States. I explain this assertion by first quoting from an article, “Making the Grade” in the September 15, 2003 edition of The New Yorker: “The most striking thing about the sweeping federal educational reforms debuting this fall is how much they resemble, in language and philosophy, the industrial-efficiency movement of the early twentieth century. In those years, engineers argued that efficiency and productivity were things that could be measured and managed and if you had the right inventory and manufacturing controls in place, no widget would be left behind. Now we have No Child Left Behind, in which Congress has set up a complex apparatus of sanctions and standards designed to compel individual schools toward steady annual improvement, with the goal of making a hundred per cent of American schoolchildren proficient in math and reading by 2014. It is hard to look at the new legislation and not share in its Fordist vision of the classroom as a brightly lit assembly line, in which curriculum standards sail down from Washington through a chute, and freshly-scrubbed, defect-free students come bouncing out the other end. It is an extraordinary vision, particularly at a time when lawmakers seem mostly preoccupied with pointing out all the things that government cannot do. The only problem, of course—and it’s not a trivial one—is that children aren’t widgets.”
Learning, of course, is not merely a matter of what can be quantitatively assessed by standardized tests and thus subjected to extreme rationality. Such a disposition reflects the radical conviction that inputs must yield anticipated outputs in a predictable and highly efficient manner with cost thereby controlled and penalties exacted for inefficiencies. This disposition, of course, represents a rather crude, macho distortion of a business mentality that defined the 19th-and early 20th-century industrial age. What we have here is a naïve science, indeed, the naive notion that we can find a purely technical solution to a perceived social or educational problem. No Child Left Behind and similar initiatives are actually the direct product of a dogmatic Anglo-American sensibility and rationality about knowledge—a markedly incomplete vision resolved that knowledge is only as worthy as it can be measured quantitatively and put to some targeted use and, further, that all instruction to be defensible and publicly supportable must adhere to this paradigm. The more we measure, the more accurately we see what things are actually like—quantitative assessment reveals the truth. It is a disposition that prefers practicality to romanticism and holds that the truth of any proposition, whether it be scientific, moral, theological or a social one, is based on how well it correlates with experimental results and produces a useful, measurable outcome.
In education—especially that which treats pre-collegiate education—this turn to quantification took place in all earnestness in the early twentieth century. It was John Dewey and fellow progressives who ironically framed the intellectual construct for what became the SATs. This empirical turn was motivated in part by insecurity and a feeling of lack of respect by the public towards educators because learning was not scientifically based. In a world that was increasingly valuing science as the measure of all things, education remained underpowered and undervalued. Well, educators remedied that immediately and satisfied their “science envy.” Standardized testing became suddenly an integral part of educational practice and was introduced in a comprehensive manner. And since knowledge to be assessed had to be subject to quantitative scrutiny and efficiency, it increasingly became itself technical—focused on short-term impact and partial to “little ideas”, facts and procedures, rather than those big, complex ones involving questions of the meaning of life, aesthetics, moral and ethical judgment that are not readily embraced by standardized assessment. Learning in recent years has been short on those big ideas involving the aims of education and the meaning of life as a classroom pursuit. This trend is underscored by the now almost total absence of the philosophy of education as a full course of instruction in graduate schools of education. The results are evident. If you ask today’s college and university students—as I have—what “big ideas” influence comprehensively the conduct of their lives, they can come up with none. If you ask them the name of a philosopher or a fictionalist or a poet who influences how they live their lives and define themselves and their actions towards others, they are often clueless. If you ask them further what learning has contributed to them understanding who they are and to what purpose they exist, they stare back in bewilderment.
I urge you then today—I beseech you—to reclaim for your schools and classrooms “big ideas” that extend beyond the quantitatively measurable and thus appear to the misguided as merely trivial, inefficient and without power and effect. I urge you to speak up proudly and defiantly for that which cannot be quantified but which securely belongs to learning and the ultimate definition of an educated person in a complex world. I urge you to reclaim the art of teaching—for today we possess merely the science of teaching and that is inadequate to move forward a total child, much less a people. I urge you to redefine accountability—which is an otherwise worthy pursuit—so that it balances that which can and should be empirically measured with that which involves the advancement of spirit, soul, creativity, and character and citizenship —the meaning of life—all that which is not so readily subject to general standardization and progressive quantitative assessment—much less to short-term results. I urge you to live both “in the bone” (quantitative testing) and “in the connective tissue” (the worthiness of seemingly ambiguous intent). In fact, I would be so bold today as to urge you to replace accountability as currently understood (after all, facts can readily be manipulated and “spun” as we all learned painfully with numerous political and financial scandals in the United States and elsewhere and teaching can be radically manipulated to correspond merely to that knowledge required by the tests), with another concept for assessment—transparency. Transparency is here understood as making available regularly to the public all sorts of data—empirical and subjective—and thus bestowing upon the public the trust to analyze and judge as they will of an education. I urge you to consider that students in the United States are already the most “tested” by standardized measurement in the world and yet, we still seem to be in a position of deficit in the actual improvement of what students know and need to know to function productively in society. Is there truly the belief that more standardized testing will lead to improved teaching and learning—that is, are we so convinced that “to test is to learn.” Are we so convinced still—historical evidence to the contrary—that more testing will fundamentally change the learning and instructional culture and practice of schools? Are we so blind to the fact that despite the massive testing that is already occurring in the United States, for example, the results are seldom if ever used in a diagnostic-prescriptive manner in the classroom to improve the fundamental literacies (verbal, mathematical and scientific) and learning deficits of an individual student?
And finally, I urge you not to retreat and cower in the face of those who would aggressively attempt to make you feel less of a teacher by demanding that the only learning worthy of the your schools is that which can be quantitatively tested. I urge to assert proudly that there are some areas of learning that escape measurement but are the more essential for it. I urge you to confront confidently these critics as teachers and administrator—those closest to the moment when learning actually takes place—and reveal them for the charlatans they are.
Either/or Approach to Teaching Practice
Dualistic, mutually exclusive thinking permeates pre-collegiate education both in the United States and internationally. It has done so historically and we can’t seem to escape this well-imprinted cycle. A mutually-exclusive set of educational either/ors—ability grouping vs. cooperative learning, phonics vs. whole language, “exclusion” vs. inclusion, homogeneous grouping vs. heterogeneous grouping, even quantitative testing vs. qualitative assessment--and the potential harm both to educators and students is immense.
Teachers today are asked repeatedly by theoreticians and their supporters in professional associations and corporate America as represented by the textbook trade (education is after all big business and the acceptance of a particular textbook and its bundled materials can mean millions of dollars to certain parties) to make choices between polar opposites. In so doing, you as teachers and administrators are deprived of a reflective professionalism. Each pole of your choice is championed as a solution for an astonishing and dissimilar array of education problems. Moreover, your decision must be made between dualities in which both of the poles are politicized and ideologically framed, and where often, there appears to be only one “politically-correct” choice.
In essence, choice for you is illusionary and the basis of selecting instructional strategies becomes more of a matter of advocacy than of scholarship. The distinction is not without consequence. You are in this way being asked to be intellectually acquiescent in the face of political and emotional deck-stacking.
Cooperative learning vs. ability grouping is a case in point. Two scholars held in considerable regard by the education-research community have nevertheless characterized ability grouping in their writings as “running against our democratic ideals,” in one case, and, in the other, “against our national ideology that all are created equal and our desire to be one nation.” The questioning of another’s patriotism in this educational context is clearly emotionally-charged power politics and is the moral equivalent of a politician claiming that a citizen’s honest disagreement with a particular administration’s practice and policies is “un-American.” It is simply a cheap shot for partisan political reasons. Equally alarming is when advocates of—in this case—non-ability grouping call for the suspension of rational study. For example, a Texas school principal stated in an educational journal that, “The ability grouping of educational opportunity in a democratic society is ethically unacceptable. We need not justify this with research for it is a statement of principles, not of science.” In a display of the most egregious application of post-modernism to education, it is clear that here “facts don’t matter” and that you should give up your rational, scientifically-based professionalism for blind trust. This is simply insulting to our profession.
For pre-collegiate education to regain its intellectual integrity in this politically-charged atmosphere will not be easy. It will take substantive, forceful leadership from precisely you. A possible alternative “leadership story”, however, lies before you and it is initially suggested in part, I believe, in an article by Peter Schrag appearing decades ago in the progressive public policy journal The American Prospect. In “The New School Wars,” Schrag comments: “It’s striking how quickly our struggles about curriculum ideas escalate into quasi-religion controversies over social or moral absolutes. The right [political right] sees a conspiracy by the federal government and its secular humanist legions to strip parents of control over their children and inculcate them with relativistic values, witchcraft, and Satanism. The left looks at every parent who walks into a principal’s office complaining about a book or school assignment as a tool of religious fanatics. A generation ago people who challenged the absolute primacy of phonics were attacked in school board fights as socialists; Fair Test [which no longer exists today] regards anyone too devoted to the SATs as, at the very least, an unconscious racist or sexist. In the face of such heat, and in the absence of vigorous centrist forces speaking for parents, it’s not surprising that politicians and school bureaucrats tend to capitulate easily.”
Mr. Schrag pinpoints in the words “absence of vigorous centrist forces” the plight of educators trying to help children without falling victim to diametrically opposite ideologies—either/ors—masked as innocent instructional strategies. Demanding allegiance through blind faith (science and research are not necessary) to a particular ideology leads to the loss of honest, professional perspective on what the actual instructional needs of particular children are. Often, a school becomes entrapped by the zealotry of a superintendent, principal or school board member who attends a spirited conference like this and obsessively seizes upon a one-sided and perhaps, unsubstantiated (although charismatically presented) educational technique to such a degree that instructional hegemony reigns back at the school. Of course this happens every year when the administrator hears yet another “wizard” idea for instruction at the next conference. The school declares itself all cooperative learning, all phonics, all individualized learning, all inclusion, regardless of the variety of strategies necessary to educate most fully the wide diversity of students requiring instruction. The entire educational community is unreflectively forced to teach or learn according to ever-changing and arbitrarily-imposed ideologies and practices. A “one-size-fits-all” position prevails and teacher dissention is penalized.
Pre-collegiate educators need to reestablish with confidence the “leadership story” that no one instructional strategy fits all students, but rather, that after an enlightened assessment of each child’s strengths and weaknesses, an instructional method is applied from among a wide arsenal of possibilities. Indeed, numerous methods will be applied over the course of a single child’s education. I urge you here tonight to assert the value of individual difference in a school setting and reclaim for our profession a commonplace that people learn (and achieve) at different rates, in different styles, and at different levels. And the “system” must embrace this “leadership story” for learning organizationally and attitudinally. In essence, the proper role of the administrator and teacher is to take the centrist position and assert that kind of high-level professionalism that restores professional judgment and individual choice to the classroom teacher—that respects your dignity and professionalism—and thus, helps a child receive an appropriate match between educational need and educational service.
The forces in opposition to your move to centrism are formidable. Despite the need for this centrist approach in the classroom and the numerous laments about its absence, it will not so readily be established. The problem lies with centrism as a “force” (much less a “vigorous force”) and its being accepted as such by educators and the general public. The simplicity of strongly drawn dualities (the either/ors), the uncompromising adherence to one pole rather than the other, and the comfort brought by the deceptive promise of one seemingly magical instructional solution for all children are welcome in educational settings that are often characterized, regrettably, by chaos, lack of time, deprivation of resources and underperformance. Either/Ors are equally welcome as simplistic political solutions and “battle” cries—left/right, capitalist/socialist—in a politically, culturally and economically complex world.
Centrism, however, is often viewed in the contemporary United States at least as a position of indecision and weakness, an amorphous no-man’s land possessing no “force” whatsoever. I ask you to move beyond this inherited, limiting and unimaginative notion and begin the exploration and practice of framing centrism in a quite different way—an approach first recommended as distinctive to the United States by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay “Self Reliance”—a position that suggests that human cognitive force is actually achieved by an individual entertaining simultaneously a set of multiple, seemingly contradictory positions and applying each one selectively depending upon the situation at hand—not by “staying the course” with a mutually exclusive either/or set of practices regardless of changing circumstance. I ask you to entertain a sustained “situational” decisiveness that matches instructional options with a vigorous array of well-defined strategies otherwise held mutually exclusive ideologically and thus devoid of the expansive power a full arsenal of instructional strategies might lend to help an individual student achieve (note the more “forceful” language of this reframed centrism). And even better move for you is to embrace the centuries-old philosophical practice of pragmatism first introduced in America by Charles Pierce and then make popular by William James. Pragmatism is a term that in its very evocation—the very word—signals “force.” One believes that if something is “pragmatic” it means action will take place—something will get done. Actually, however, pragmatism as originally understood involves conscious choice in a particular situation to accomplish best a desired objective. According to William James, choices are struck between the duality of the “tender minded” or rationalistic way of assessing a situation and the “tough-minded” or empirical method (Think a moment about the duality that is framed by “conservatives” with reference to accountability. Qualitative assessment is considered insubstantial—it is “tender-minded” because it deals with impressions and quantitative assessment is considered “tough-minded—it deals with numbers and not vagaries). But in this duality, the pragmatist does not align permanently and unquestionably with one side of the equation. Both poles of the duality are considered and applied depending upon the most useful way in the instance of advancing the objective. One can be both in the course of a profession or a lifestyle both “tender minded” and” tough minded” and still be respectable.
I urge you then ultimately to be a new generation of educational pragmatists. I urge you from your vantage point of international education to rediscover the “centrist force” that is most defining of responsible teaching and learning and that gives you the professional opportunity and responsibility to apply regardless of ideology that instructional strategy that best advances learning for an individual child. I am asking you to join with me and destroy the enduring cycle of mutually-exclusive duality in educational practice and learning from which there appears until now to be no escape. I am asking you to join me and restate utility and the power of operating comfortably in the “grey” when it comes to the education of a child and to overcome the deceptive consequence of black and white pedagogical decisions.
By so doing, we will have truly invested the words learning with dignity and professionalism.
As teachers and administrators in international education, you are in a distinctive position to change the value bestowed upon self-esteem, accountability and either-or thinking in our schools and to educate for the sake of a saner, better world. Change requires for teachers and administrators a certain type of educational institution free of the shackles of “what has always been,” “what all the others are doing” and functioning successfully amidst high degrees of difference with necessary tolerance for ambiguity. These are your schools. You have the very real opportunity to connect your classroom teaching and school administration to something far greater than your immediate area of influence and to lead change. Again, these three directions in pedagogy over the past few decades have contributed directly, I contend, to the political and economic mess in which we all find ourselves. It is time for you to assert the advantages of your educative setting and reject vehemently those notions of education that would yield from our schools entitled, self-satisfied young people who think all that is worthy in life is that which can be measured by a single number and who fail to appreciate that ambiguity can be productive and worthy of exploration and that simplistic either–or thinking, is most toxic.
It was again Emerson who when writing about the most favorable places of learning described actually international schools well and their capacity to advance change and transformation amongst young people: “[These schools] have their indispensable office—to teach elements. But they can only highly serve us when they aim not to drill but to create; when they gather from afar every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and, by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame.”
May your dedication to teaching and learning be made passionate by the “flame.” And may the transformative heat of that flame fix through education what is so desperately broken in our global world. Thank you for inviting me to NESA and Cairo.