Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Fundamentally Devoid of Value Judgement?"

Paul Tough:

What appealed to Levin about the list of character strengths that Seligman and Peterson compiled was that it was presented not as a finger-wagging guilt trip about good values and appropriate behavior but as a recipe for a successful and happy life. He was wary of the idea that KIPP’s aim was to instill in its students “middle-class values,” as though well-off kids had some depth of character that low-income students lacked. “The thing that I think is great about the character-strength approach,” he told me, “is it is fundamentally devoid of value judgment.”

"Fundamentally devoid of value judgement?" Is he twelve? Is this how David Levin actually thinks?


Duckworth’s research convinced Levin and Randolph that they should try to foster self-control and grit in their students. Yet those didn’t seem like the only character strengths that mattered. The full list of 24, on the other hand, felt too unwieldy. So they asked Peterson if he could narrow the list down to a more manageable handful, and he identified a set of strengths that were, according to his research, especially likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement. After a few small adjustments (Levin and Randolph opted to drop love in favor of curiosity), they settled on a final list: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity.

Let's look at the whole list, with the ones they chose in bold:

  • Wisdom and Knowledge
    • creativity
    • curiosity
    • open-mindedness
    • love of learning
    • perspective and wisdom
  • Courage
    • bravery
    • persistence (grit?)
    • integrity
    • vitality (zest?)
  • Humanity
    • love
    • kindness
    • social intelligence
  • Justice
    • active citizenship / social responsibility / loyalty / teamwork
    • fairness
    • leadership
  • Temperance
    • forgiveness and mercy
    • humility and modesty
    • prudence
    • self-regulation and self-control
  • Transcendence
    • appreciation of beauty and appreciation of excellence
    • gratitude
    • hope (optimism?)
    • humor and playfulness
    • spirituality

Of course, choosing to value "life satisfaction and high achievement" is a value judgement. And as you can see above, the strengths and virtues chosen certainly reflect value judgements. It is a cliche for American school districts to put fostering "love of learning" right in their mission statement, and they typically and uncontroversially emphasize several from this list. Your list would almost certainly look different than KIPP's.

I guess mine -- for a school -- would be roughly:

  • creativity
  • curiosity
  • open-mindedness
  • love of learning
  • perspective and wisdom
  • love
  • active citizenship
  • appreciation of beauty

But those are just my middle-class values showing. Poor kids apparently need something different.

1 comment:

mweisburgh said...

A circle has an infinite number of points. If we pick 4 points, we no longer have a circle, we have a square. We can approximate the circle by picking more points, but we never actually have a circle unless we include all the points.

I think the same is true when we pick X number of values and say these are the appropriate focus of schools.