Cherishing and the Good Life of Learning: Ethics, Education, and Upbringing
reviewed by Alisa Lowrey - April 18, 2019
Title: Cherishing and the Good Life of Learning: Ethics, Education, and Upbringing
Author(s): Ruth Cigman
Publisher: Bloomsbury, London
ISBN: 147427885X, Pages: 224, Year: 2018
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Reviewing this work has been one of the most significantly challenging reviews I have undertaken in quite some time. Cigmans work is provocative in its notions of how we think about good and how we shape good in our students in our role as educators. My copy of this text is littered with notes, from the resounding Yes! of absolute agreement to the astounded WOW! of complete and utter disagreement. It was with great relief I found Kristjanssons review on the back cover, which begins with I often disagree with this author. I too share that frequent disagreement. Disagreement, however, is not good or bad in and of itself. Disagreement may drive us to ponder the specifics on which we disagree and, upon deeper investigation, may sometimes lead us to identify strands of agreement. It may also lead us to firm up our own perspective with deeper investigations into why we believe as we do. Cigmans text is like this for me.
The first chapter sets the stage for my recurring disagreement with the author. In A Sense of Moral Crisis, Cigman invites the reader to dismiss behavioral perspectives, specifically those that would concentrate on targeted, operationally defined skills and then measure the attainment of those skills. Cigman refers to this as an enhancement agenda (p. 15). Utilizing an example supplied by Jackson (pp. 1213), Cigman makes the case that the behavioral objectives model has a defect: teaching could not be neutrally observed, recorded, fed into an evidence base (p. 13). To use her quote of Jackson, There is no such thing as a behavioral definition of teaching and there never can be (p. 13). This sets up the moral crisis of the text; namely, that the current enhancement agenda (p. 15), successor to the standards agenda, is ill-suited to the education of children.
This idea of enhancing children in scientifically validated ways (p. 15) reduces the complexities of education to simple measurement. The oversimplification of behaviorism presented by Cigman in Chapter One is used to set up the remaining text through an argument that educational philosophy should be more engaged with everyday experiences (p. 15). However, this misses many of the foundational pieces of behaviorism. Cigman does not address that behaviorism defines all behavioral response as a communication and that those responses have a specific function. She seems to disregard that those who seek to work with students to create those objectives must first find the function of that behavior in order to set a meaningful objective. An effective teacher, utilizing the behavioral model, must understand the responses of her students, their likes and dislikes, their interests, strengths, and challenges. Cigmans portrayal of a behaviorist as a teacher who sets objectives that are completely disconnected from the everyday experiences of her students is not a portrayal of a behaviorist at all; this is a portrayal of a disconnected, ineffective teacher in any philosophical positioning. On closer examination, Cigmans real objections seem to be rooted in the idea that measurement for measurements sake has become the mantra of educational systems. There are many, many behaviorists who would agree with this position.
Cigman continues her theme of disdain for behaviorism through the use of Dunnes work, saying the behavioral model sacrifices education on the altar of objective knowledge (p. 25). Dunnes answer is that rather than teaching efficiently (the behaviorist way), we should teach conversationally, allowing, as Pullman supports, children the time to think, to write, to craft a story (p. 25). She goes on to discuss this conversational responsiveness as a better, more responsive way to teach. The reader is introduced to true education and true conversation, which leads to true moral education (p. 32). This positions teaching as a type of ministry to the good of others (p. 37) and finally introduces the reader to her concept of cherishing (p. 39). Cherishing, this idea that a practitioner is drawn to the other persons good as though it were a magnet, understanding that it will never be fully apprehended but intent on doing all she can do to support and enhance it (p. 39), is the premise on which the rest of the text resides. Understanding how and why teachers must cherish their students, or at least see them all as cherishworthy (p. 39), fills out the remainder of her discussion.
An additional challenge in the text begins in Chapter Six, Should We Foster Respect Through Inclusion? This chapter begins with Cigmans personal example of a situation in which she conducted a seminar about inclusive practices. Although she recounts the experience through her personal lens, her description leads the reader to deeply query their own philosophy of inclusion. For me, I found the tone of her description of the young man with cerebral palsy given on pages 108 and 109 disrespectful. Equal treatment is key to inclusion. It is clear that (a) she did not provide equal treatment to this man because of his disability (i.e., he shouldve been held to the same speaking time as others) and (b) she projected feelings and interpretations of how the young man saw the crowd, how he felt, etc., onto the situation and as an explanation for her actions. Throughout the remainder of this chapter, I was challenged to disagree over and over again with her portrayals of individuals with disabilities, special education, and most importantly, the efforts behind inclusive practices. This chapter would truly benefit graduate study of inclusive practices. It is precisely the type of document that pushes one not only to disagree, but to ferret out within oneself why there is disagreement and to prepare a counter-argument supported through different philosophical interpretations.
Overall, Cigmans text offers the idea that we should cherish children and that good enough schools are communities of cherishing (p. 184). It is doubtful that educators would argue with the idea of cherishing children. However, Cigman lacks a plan on exactly how the education system, under-resourced and fraught with teacher shortages, can prepare classroom teachers to minimize measurement and maximize cherishing. Her initial chapters maintain behaviorism as the de-personalization of education through objective measurement, but her later chapters provide examples of shaping behavior socially, identifying preferences of learners, teaching to meet learners needs, and other concepts that could be viewed as behaviorist in nature. This text is one that should be read slowly, pondered, and read again. It challenges the reader to look within at their own educational philosophy and to compare and contrast it to what Cigman offers.