Barry Schwartz has enlightened me to the side I have unknowingly been fighting on in the war on wisdom. I have had strict rules and procedures that usually allow my classes to run smoothly. I incentivize behaviors that get my kids thinking and talking about science with a great amount of rewards. These rules and procedures save me from thinking and exhausting even more my reserves for decision making throughout each day. Yet, each and every day, I find myself playing the same role that Schwartz says in his talk that the police, paramedics, doctors, social workers, and judges all played, the role of victim to rules with the all too often spoken script: “I hate to do it, but those are the rules.”
I hated to give a student a warning for just getting out of their seat to pick up a pencil for a friend. I’m was not doing myself any good, nor was I doing good for the student. Because in fact I am degrading their moral skill and reprimanding a good action from one person to another. I would not be doing myself any good either for several reasons: 1) it pains me to do it, therefore in trying to avoid thinking and decision making and brain function, I have in fact created more burden of thought by not following my heart and instinct to accept and reward moral right. 2) I would not be respecting myself or my values. 3) I would not be modeling and promoting behavior that I would want to see in my students, I would be in fact doing just the opposite!
The model of hard and fast rules, procedures, consequences, and extrinsic rewards is just as Schwartz describes it, that rules “may make things better in the short run, but create a downward spiral that leaves it worse in the long run.” Because, he goes on, “moral skill is chipped away by an overrelience on rules” that deprives us the opportunity to be flexible.
This sheds light on why the first year might be a terrible experience, yet manageable, for most teachers, and the second year is a much less terrible experience, and even sometimes enjoyable one, because in the second year we have had an opportunity to question and reformulate our ability to be flexible of our rules in our classrooms. We are no longer in a state of survival mode, unable to make the downhill spiral of death stop until June 1st. In the second year, we must realize, consciously or non that moral skill must be taught in our classrooms. I think when the second year teachers, say, “I’m going to be better this year.” or “I’m going to be more like myself this year.” what they are trying to say is that following the rules for the rules sake is not them and never was, but what they are, are flexible morally right teachers who want to inspire students to simply do the right thing. Maybe I am generalizing and attributing my feelings to others, but I would hope this is the thought process in some.
I resolve to embody moral right. I resolve to respect myself, others, and learning. I resolve to model this, myself, to my students, each day so that I am at least one figure in their lives that they can look up to as an exemplar of an ordinary moral hero.
Barry Schwartz - “Our Loss of Wisdom”: