The Six Virtues of the Educated Person: Helping Kids to Learn, Schools to Succeed
reviewed by Laura Reimer - January 28, 2010
Title: The Six Virtues of the Educated Person: Helping Kids to Learn, Schools to Succeed
Author(s): J. Hurley
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 1607092751, Pages: 176, Year: 2009
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If Americans are united on one thing, it is their desire that students receive a good education. Education is valued because it gives students the things necessary to succeed in a modern technological society. A minority of citizens know that education is also important for a more generous and caring society. The way to improve schools is, however, becoming increasingly contested. Currently, bureaucracy is the way education is delivered. But since the writing of Karl Marx and Max Weber, there have been many critics of the self-serving, rigid and undemocratic tendencies in bureaucratic structures. In his recent book, The Six Virtues of the Educated Person: Helping Kids to Learn, Schools to Succeed, J. Casey Hurley joins the voices from the past who have been concerned about bureaucracy, politics, and education.
Placing a further separation upon the politics-administration dichotomy, Hurley proposes an alternative model that divorces politics entirely from the delivery of education at the K-12 level. The purpose of public education, according to Hurley, is to produce educated people, who are recognized by six virtues: understanding, character, generosity, courage, humility, and imagination (p. xi). These, he says, are the most fundamental of the intellectual, character, and spiritual virtues (p. 45). The purpose of the book is to start a philosophical discussion about what it means to be educated (p. 141).
Following experiential convictions that voter apathy, deceitful advertising, corrupt researchers, and public officials have disconnected public good from the good governance of school systems, Hurley proposes a model for education that excludes formal politics, educational research, and public voice from the classroom. He argues that the current school system exists to protect the bureaucratic hierarchy (p. 19). It is time to remove political processes at the federal, state, and local levels from practices in the classroom in order for school improvement to move beyond good intentions into practice; this includes excluding educators from elected office as well (see Chapter 6).
Hurleys solution for educational reform and school improvement is found in the six virtues. He argues that the current politically-based system of education promotes vices rather than virtues, and that in a politics-free, research-free environment, teachers will model and teach the six virtues that Hurley says identify an educated person (p. 28).
The book counters the familiar ideas that public education (1) [is] driven by politics, (2) serves a public interest, (3) strives to improve standardized test scores, [and] (4) is bureaucratically structured (p. xi). If one embraces these as the current driving forces and primary purposes of education, then the alternative model proposed throughout the book provides food for thought. According to Hurley, the alternative model, based on the six-virtue definition of the educated person, unifies classrooms and schools, and can guide what parents teach their children.
It is unfortunate that the governance of education has produced school systems that, according to Hurley, actually work against the six virtues he identifies. The original purpose for including democratically elected representatives as governors over the school system was to ensure local relevance, the guardianship of American values, and the wise stewardship of fiscal and human resources. Hurley makes compelling arguments that those elected by the public do not do what they are legislated to do and supervise instead of govern. He also says that they model and leverage the vices inherent in politics and in bureaucratic hierarchy to achieve personal ends. He says that, policymakers and educators do not value imagination, courage and humility because they, themselves, learned to be intellectually incompetent, fearful and proud (p. 50). Teachers, however, do not succumb to these vices, and so this supports Hurleys assertion that classrooms can be the site of virtues training and modelling.
Hurley despairs that school board members, like other elected officials, tend to seek research support when developing policy rather than accepting the opinion of educators (p. 6). Hurleys point is that the research emerging from academia promotes and reflects progressive romanticism and the personal and social agendas of politicized scholars, rather than compelling evidence applicable to better teaching and learning. However, attendance to these values is the constitutional responsibility of federal and state education departments, and it is most decidedly the responsibility of the local school board members. Hurleys book argues that these institutions have utterly failed to guard the public trust in education.
The book contains diagrammatic schemas of the diverse purposes of education to help us understand how public education has lost focus, and why the alternative model negates the necessity for what have become corrupt democratic traditions, according to Hurley. The current model of schooling (p. 2) and the alternative model of schooling (p. 25) are both presented as nesting ovals that progress from Core Beliefs on the left side of the diagram, through Governance, Purposes and Organizational Structure, to the Improvement Paradigm on the right. The similarity of the general categories of the models, differentiated by details, provides the reader with better understanding of the alternative model. For example, in the current model, the core belief of education is belief in the desirability of democratic governance (p. 2). According to the alternative model, the core belief driving education is educated citizens continually develop the six virtues (p. 24). Another key difference is in the organizational structure: bureaucratic hierarchy versus community. Ultimately, then, the improvement paradigm is starkly different. In the current model, the school improvement paradigm is based on social science research. In the alternative model, school improvement is based on the aesthetic definition of what it means to be educated.
Hurley is clear that he is opening a philosophical discussion about what it means to be educated, though he does not actually define who in our society may be educated, nor the six virtues, which are general and potentially open to misinterpretation, especially in the context of modern diverse and multi-cultural classrooms. Although Hurley argues consistently that it is teachers and no other members of school systems that model the six virtues, teachers are trained and educated in the hierarchical public university setting that replicates the very criticisms Hurley makes of the K-12 system. At the end of the book, Hurley invites real life stories from those who have attempted to implement the alternative model in their classrooms, which he hopes to release in a follow-up book.
Many of the examples in the book are based on Hurleys experiences in North Carolina, and so readers from other states and from Canada may find some of his strong criticisms of school boards and other public officials in the education systems somewhat unfair. For those school systems with school board members and state legislators that maintain careful guardianship of the public trust, exercise careful stewardship, and monitor the administration of public goals by those hired into the school system, the alternative model provides a reminder of the multi-generational import of defining education in terms that will promote the highest virtues of American society. But for those who live and work in school systems like the ones described throughout The Six Virtues, there seems no allowance for integrity among educational governors. Hurleys conclusion is that we abandon current democratic structures and rethink the purpose and credence of political voice in education.