Dispositions as virtues: the complexity of the construct.
Henry Hinley to Catherine Morland. Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (chapter XXII)
Contemporary planning dogmas on preparing teachers for their work demand both the establishment of goals and objectives and the ways in which they are to be assessed. A temptation for teacher education institutions, faced with the pressing needs of assessing dispositions under National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE, 2005) standards, would be to fall into one or other version of personality testing as adequate enough for assessing dispositions. This would be a mistake, as it would fail to respect the complexity of assessment constructs that should embody those dispositions appropriate to teaching.
The problem is acute. First, to devise instruments for such diagnosis and assessment, there must be constructs that identify desirable dispositions and respect the complexity of each disposition in pedagogical contexts. This demands an intensive and highly detailed discussion about dispositions as norms implicit in good practice. Second, regardless of whether there is consensus on such disposition descriptions, those scenarios or assessment tools that are then researched, developed, and tested for effectiveness will only be as coherent as the identification of those norms. Finally, if a teacher's professional autonomy is to be valued and enhanced, such effective assessment tools must include the candidate's profound understanding of the standards being sought alongside a self-awareness strong enough to handle the process and the outcomes of such assessment. Assessment constructs must be fully transparent if they are to be educational. Given the varied approaches to dispositions for teaching, the task is considerable.
The main thrust of this article is to illuminate the value of conceptualizing the desirable dispositions of the teacher as virtues and in so doing to point a direction for teacher education practice. It is thus an implicit argument for the use of virtue theory in teacher education, though it does not argue the case as such. In Part 1, I seek to clear the decks by characterizing personality traits as relevant to any description of human behavior, action, temperament, or disposition. But dispositions are not so broadly conceived. Rather, dispositions are the property of the agent, manifest only in intentional action, and they function as predictions about human actions but are not the causes of them. In Part 2, I suggest that virtues are refinements of the concept of dispositions: For while remaining dispositions, virtues attained are the result of an individual's initiative, formed against obstacles and intrinsically motivated. Here, I address complexity at two levels, first by insisting on a distinction between professional dispositions and educational purposes, a confusion I find in the use of "social justice." I then describe three categories of virtues as critical in teaching--virtues of character, intellect, and care--from which I point out the complexity with three examples drawn from each category, namely self-knowledge, truthfulness, and compassion. With assessment in mind, the problem then becomes how to handle this complexity, bearing in mind my stricture that assessment scenarios and tools will only be as good as the sophistication of the construct being assessed. In Part 3, I suggest that the complexity can be approached by setting out questions on each disposition-as-virtue, questions that will enable teacher-educators to focus on what they are assessing. However, with transparent assessment, individual students need to create their own virtue protocols for each disposition on the basis of these questions, both as a way to interpret their classroom practice and to build their own virtuous practice. I indicate how this might be done by using William Hare's (1985, 2007) excellent work on open-mindedness and stress how effectiveness and responsibility in teaching depends on the quality of pedagogical judgment. I begin, however, with a perspective on the dispositions debate.
Introduction: The Dimensions of the Dispositions Debate
Teacher education scholarship was preoccupied in the late 1980s and 1990s with the endeavor to characterize the knowledge base of teacher education. Shulman (1987) argued that professions, like medicine, were primarily characterized by their knowledge and skill. Numerous studies (e.g., Murray, 1995; Reynolds, 1989) followed fleshing out the dimensions of that knowledge, culminating in the recent publication of the Darling-Hammond and Bransford (2005) volume. This line is now political: In the Carnegie Commission of New York (2007) testimony to Congress in May 2007 on the "Teachers for a New Era" Program, the idea of understanding teaching as skilled clinical practice is crisply advocated. But knowledge, including skill, is only one of the defining characteristics of a profession. Sociologists usually see service of a moral kind, accountability through codes of ethics, and self-government, alongside distinctive knowledge as the characteristics of the archetypal profession (Hoyle, 1980; J. A. Jackson, 1970; Pellegrino et al., 1991; Shulman, 1998). The occupation of teaching clearly fails to meet all these criteria, but the establishment of a knowledge base was an important step forward toward professionalization.
Yet the service ideal, if that is understood as moral purpose, has proved difficult to incorporate into the knowledge base. Oser (1994) argues strongly for viewing the professional acts of teaching as demanding effectiveness and responsibility, and neither can be easily examined without the other. The knowledge and the service element, so to speak, are mutually inclusive. Although some researchers (e.g., Katz & Raths, 1985) have done preliminary work on dispositions, it was the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC, 1992) Report that made them significant by writing of "the knowledge, dispositions and performances deemed essential for all teachers regardless of their specialty area" (p. 4), bringing the terminology of disposition into the accreditation framework. The NCATE later installed the notion of disposition in its 2002 standards and revised them in 2005 (NCATE, 2005).
Precisely what intellectual, social, or political influences brought about this development or shift in focus is for historians of education to work out. A contributory factor in the 1980s and 1990s perhaps was the revival of scholarly interest in teaching as a moral activity and the moral dimensions of teaching. The field had been previously dominated by Kohlberg's (1981) account of moral development, even though his account was profoundly challenged by Gilligan (1982) and subjected to trenchant criticism (see, e.g., Peters, 1972). Scholars in the last two decades had different foci of interest: the moral life of children (Coles, 1986; Van Manen, 2003), moral and character education (Leming, 1983; Lickona, 2004; Ryan & Bohlin, 1999; Soder, Goodlad and McMannon, 2000), democracy and education (Goodlad, Soder, & Sirotnik, 1990), the profession of teaching (Sockett, 1993; Strike & Ternasky, 1993), teaching as art or craft (Campbell, 2002; Hansen, 1995, 2001; Tom, 1984, 1997; Wineberg, 2008), and studies of classrooms (Jackson, Boostrom, & Hansen, 1998; Stengel & Tom, 2007). In addition, such philosophers as Noddings (1984, 1988, 1999) and Fenstermacher and Richardson (2001) developed specific moral articulations on teaching, derived respectively from Buber and Aristotle. Relevant feminist literature (e.g., Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986) also created important moral perspectives on women's moral development. In addition to this corpus of work, such actors as Barbara Burch, while President of the AACTE in 19961997, emphasized the central place of the moral in teaching to a much larger audience of teacher educators. Common to all these scholars and actors was the sense that the knowledge base work was overinfluenced by the empirical traditions of educational research and that various species of moral relativism (such as the values-clarification project) available in the 1960s had made talk of the moral aspects of teaching disreputable, thereby pushing the concept of the teacher into a technical role. Moral considerations for these scholars were not a mere dimension of the teacher's adaptive expertise (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005) but the heart of the enterprise (Hansen, 2001).
Nevertheless, the reluctance to talk about the teacher's moral character, in a general sense, persisted. First, it was legally difficult to admit graduate students on the basis of character judgments, let alone ideological tests. Second, the ambiguous, even opaque, concept of disposition in the framework of teacher accreditation reflects the political and social volatility of the word moral. Third, it made political sense to avoid the term character, as in the character education movement. Finally, there are worries about legal and contractual issues in any form of "moral" assessment. The concept of disposition, therefore, has by default become a viable if ambiguous concept that allows institutions flexibility in conceptualizing it as a requirement for accreditation.
The primary advantage of this ambiguity, infuriating as it may be to some, is that trying to produce an operational definition--that is, a definition that determines how a disposition is measured--is misguided. Rather, a debate is needed about viable perspectives on teaching and how they can be reconciled. Ambiguity promotes dialogue. Consensus need not be a target, but in the discussion of professional identity, the service role cannot be described as an empty set of nostrums, a sort of "all things to all men." Rather, a tough-minded conception of norms is needed that matter to the individual professional and are to be safeguarded by the profession as a whole. INTASC work, for instance, is concerned with common standards nationwide, a commitment that implies consensus in definitions. "Disposition" thus allows a common starting point for debate. Consensus should emerge over the years from the debates, teaching, and research of teacher educators, though the impress of NCATE standards may jog that process along. In my view, it is not possible therefore to argue much from definitions, though usage may illuminate substantive issues and draw attention to important distinctions. This articles reflects that position.
For the extant literature already suggests a range of perspectives on dispositions--pedagogical, institutional, philosophical, and psychological. For instance, from a pedagogical perspective, dispositions can viewed within reflective practice (Freese, 2006), diversity issues (Garmon, 2005), as part of intellectual character (Ritchhart, 2002), within moral communities of practice, and much else (Benninga et al., 2008). From the institutional perspective, Web site announcements of different institutions' work demonstrate the variety of approaches and the complex task of working for professional consensus. From a philosophical perspective, there are attempts to examine meaning and use as well as the different perspectives offered through moral philosophy (Dottine, 2006; Sockett, 2006). Finally, though some psychological perspectives refer to the cognitive content, the volume of work on personality, with its strong and authoritative place in psychology, might overwhelm work on dispositions in teacher education.
Yet, as has been noted, the connectedness of the empirical and the moral that Oser (1994) emphasizes is expressed in his neat comment: "effectiveness may moderate morality and morality may moderate effectiveness. But effectiveness can also enhance morality, and morality can enhance effectiveness" (p. 64). The import of the remark is to tie moral philosophers down to the empirical conditions of teaching and pari passu to ensure that psychologists do not use inappropriate technical constructs as a quick fix for dispositions, creating morally vacuous constructs. Thus, although we need highly sophisticated work on the empirical aspect of assessment, that work will be blind if it fails to take account of morality in general and the differences of moral tradition in particular. What seems unacceptable is the articulation of a teacher education program that fails to encounter moral complexity, which an overemphasis of skilled teaching as emerging from clinical practice may do (Carnegie Commission of New York, 2007). The task, however, is to illuminate how we might think about dispositions such that it will inform empirical work of different kinds, work that is necessary to success in both teaching and assessment of dispositions. Where teaching is seen as a moral activity, it is the language of virtue that can best articulate desirable dispositions.
Part 1: Personality Traits and Dispositions
Some regard talk of virtues as of no value for empirical research, as they can simply be reduced to personality traits (Oser, 1994). This seems to me a mistaken reductionism. To indicate why, distinctions need to be identified between personality traits, dispositions as a species of personality trait, and, in Part 2, those dispositions called virtues.
A personality trait can be any normative attribution made to stable kinds of human behavior, within the generally accepted classifications of the five-factor model: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness, with each factor set on a continuum to, respectively, Emotional Stability, Extraversion, Closedness to Experience, Disagreeableness, and Lack of Conscientiousness (McCrae & Costa, 2003). Any form of human behavior, with the exception of sleep, is thus susceptible to personality trait analysis. Personality traits on this model make no conceptual demands on whether the individual's behavior is understood by him or her as such, nor is active or passive behavior ruled out.
For example, a disagreeable person--as understood in personality theory--does not have to set out to be disagreeable and indeed may think of himself as charming. Extroverts don't say to themselves, "How shall I be extrovert today?" Or, "What should the extrovert do here?" Being an extrovert is not something one can intend to do, for extroversion is a type of behavior classified and identified as such by others. Of course, a person may find out, through a Myers-Briggs test for instance, that he or she is an extrovert and seek to curb or to maximize those elements of behavior that can be classified as extroverted. Similarly, with the neurotic, if you are a neurotic, you cannot set out to be neurotic, asking yourself such questions as "How hard shall I try to be neurotic today?" for that would indicate that you are merely pretending to be neurotic. You would be more likely to admit, "I know I'm neurotic, but I can't help it."
It is not the case, however, that any form of human behavior, with the exception of sleep, is susceptible to analysis in terms of dispositions. Dispositions are much narrower, and we can regard them as personality traits if we wish, provided this narrowness is respected. For dispositions seem to have three characteristics. First, a disposition is a disposition to act (friendliness), not merely to "be" (closed to experience). Second, a disposition to act implies awareness of what one is doing (e.g., being friendly). Third, acting with awareness implies that a person acts with intention: That is, this specific act is intended as a friendly act. To intend to do something is to be aware that this (and not something else) is what one is doing (Searle, 1983, chap. 3.). We should note here that philosophical literature on intention and action also covers instances of unintentional (rather than nonintentional) action, as in the difference between manslaughter (where the intent was not to kill) and murder (where the act of killing implies malice aforethought). These three characteristics nonetheless specify how much narrower a disposition is than a personality trait. So consider a friendly person, where friendliness is her disposition. She hugs and kisses other people whom she meets not just to be polite, or to offend them, but to be friendly. Her kisses are those of friendship, not malice, perversion, or accident. Her disposition to be friendly, we may say, is manifest in her actions.
Understanding dispositions in this way is of great significance to teaching in two ways. First, without the manifestation of a disposition being intentional, it is difficult to see how effectively a teacher could undertake sustained reflection on his or her (intentional or unintentional) teaching actions and/or their intended or unintended consequences. For the reflection must in part be on the way in which the teaching acts actually did manifest the disposition. For a teacher cannot be passively friendly, firm, fair, or enthusiastic: It is precisely the actions expressive of his or her dispositions that matter. Second, dispositions don't dictate their own application. However friendly our kisser may be, she will often have to judge whether it is appropriate to embrace this or that person. Dispositions to act always raise questions of judgment. Similarly, the teacher may be disposed to be truthful and compassionate, but he or she may frequently encounter situations where it is not clear whether either being truthful or compassionate is appropriate. Problems of judgment, examined reflectively, are all focused on how the teacher acts with intention and thus must be central to a description of desirable dispositions.
Dispositions as Personality Traits
It has been argued so far that dispositions are much narrower in their application to human action than the concept of personality trait that rules out no area of human behavior. Since Plato, philosophers have written of the dispositions of physical objects. Sugar is soluble; glass is brittle. Solubility and brittleness are dispositions of sugar and glass, respectively. These dispositional facts about objects enable us to predict how they will behave under the appropriate conditions (see Mumford, 2003, especially chap. 2). Prediction, but not explanation: for the glass did not break because it is brittle. Brittleness does not explain why the glass broke, nor does the solubility of sugar cause it to dissolve. Dispositions of physical objects are not causal.
The same is true of personality traits and, more narrowly, dispositions. A person does not wash his hands continuously because he is an obsessive: The word obsessive functions here only as a way of describing what he does, of classifying it as a type of behavior, and describing him as obsessive can help us predict his future behavior. It may be that attributions of all personality traits are predictive and empirically testable once criteria are established. Equally with our friendly person, our attribution of her friendliness and more important her self-awareness of her friendliness enable us to predict how she will behave. But "being friendly" is not an explanation of her kissing people. The kissing is an instance or an example of her friendliness. To say she is friendly is informative but not explanatory.
Precisely why this person is friendly will no doubt be a highly complex story of upbringing, temperament, moral belief, or a mix of all these and more. Catherine Morland, in Jane Austen's pretty example, has a disposition of teachableness, but it is not part of her individuality or her temperament, which we need to distinguish. Every would-be teacher comes to teacher education with a complex individual history. Teachers will need to come to understand their background, at least in part. Teacher educators can only grapple with the development of those dispositions that are open to learning and fostering by the individual through teaching support. Perhaps one of the most significant moral/pedagogical problems for such work lies in those students who describe themselves in personality-trait-cliche: "Well, I'm just a (insert the trait) kind of person," as if this was a self-fulfilling prophecy, not an obstacle to professional development.
How do we as teacher educators trying to assess students, make descriptive evaluations of a student's dispositions accurately? Three preliminary comments need to be entered at this stage. To begin with, once we start discussing human actions and behavior, we are necessarily using normative, not technical or purely empirical language. Our description of human actions in dispositional terms is therefore not mere description or prediction but is also evaluation of action. Because these are actions, accuracy will depend hugely on the agent's (in this case, the student's) perception of those actions.
First, because dispositions are dispositions to act, the context is all. That is, when we make a judgment about the friendly person, we need detail, circumstance, and how an act is received and understood by others. We cannot just judge by self-report, important though that is.
Second, we need to take conceptual care. Consider the case of the man jumping in the river to save a drowning child. It seems obvious that we should call him brave. Yet if we discover he is a first-class swimmer and a real showoff, we might be guarded in calling his actions brave, less still that he was a brave person, and just say he was a showoff. That apart, why should we not alternatively describe him as fearless rather than brave? Is fearlessness the same as bravery? Or can a person be one without the other? What is an act of bravado? Needless to say, the accuracy of our attribution of the disposition depends significantly on how the agent saw the situation (i.e., what his intentional awareness was). Caring about conceptual complexity is needed for all disposition concepts we might use of and with students.
Third, if the dispositions we think desirable in teaching are to be objects of intention and if they are to be distinguished from temperament, then they will have what we may term a cognitive core. The standard for bravery, though this is arguable, demands that the individual have a cognitive recognition that this situation is dangerous and that he or she is therefore fearful (not fearless) of the circumstances. So dispositions are not nervous tics that just happen; rather, we must understand reality (i.e., "use our cognition") as being like this for us to act or behave as our dispositions metaphorically prompt us. This is precisely why some people who jump into rivers to save drowning children (and are not showing off) make remarks like, "Anybody would have done it," and we should praise them for their fearlessness, though not on this account for their bravery. Why? Because they didn't even think about the dangers to themselves. Paradoxically, they are heroes because of the results, not because of their disposition to bravery, but their actions are nonetheless laudable. It is not that our disposition to bravery prompts us like some internal voice. Dispositions do not cause us to do anything. Fostering student dispositions, on this account, demands developing their understanding and insight, not their feelings.
To summarize briefly at this stage, dispositions are dispositions to act with awareness and intention. Reflection on such actions is based on the intentionality of those acts, and judgment is always necessary, as dispositions don't dictate their own application. Furthermore, dispositions don't provide explanations of actions, but they can enable us to predict the actions of others and to offer descriptive evaluations of those actions in dispositional terms. For that we need a content and conceptual carefulness. To put the point differently, our actions thus stem from our cognitive appraisals of situations where we act intentionally within which acts our dispositions are manifest. Trying to develop constructs for assessment of dispositions looks, on this account, to be a highly complex matter.
Part 2: The Complexity of Dispositions as Virtues
While dispositions are important to our moral lives in general, the focus here is on the professional teacher, a person engaged in teaching the young and in doing so is necessarily engaged in the moral activity of assisting in the development of the young as persons. The language of virtue, in this argument, refines our talk about (a) which dispositions might be desirable; (b) what those dispositions are, so to speak, in descriptive reality and in evaluation; and (c) setting intention and self-awareness in the minds of practitioners and their teachers.
Why therefore are dispositions-as-virtues appropriate to teaching and teacher education? First, the application of the disposition-as-virtue to teaching, rather than the disposition-as-personality trait, is justified by the normative moral context of teaching. Techniques in teaching are always determined with regard to moral ends and described in the light of them. Similarly, those dispositions to be fostered are determined by the professional contexts of teaching. Second, the normative context demands not just that the teacher have certain dispositions-as-virtues (e.g., truthfulness or open-mindedness) but that these qualities are also to be taught to children.
For a moral or intellectual virtue shares three general characteristics of a disposition: It is stable, learned, and has a cognitive core. But these characteristics are neither necessary nor sufficient for virtue. For the distinctive character of the virtue-as-disposition is threefold, with which personality theory need not be concerned. To become virtuous (in any specific description)
(a) is the result of the individual's initiative; indeed, it is an individual's achievement (Norton, 1991, especially chap. 4 and 5). We become virtuous by seeking to become generous, kind, and so forth through the specific contexts of our lives.
(b) implies that the individual has surmounted internal counterinclinations (e.g., laziness or fear) or overcome external obstacles (e.g., lack of money) to be said to have such a virtue (Williams, 2002).
(c) is always driven in its exercise by intrinsic motivation.
To be truthful or generous for instrumental motives, for example, is not authentically to be truthful or generous.
These three general characteristics of a disposition-as-virtue refine the conceptual framework of a construct of assessment in teacher education. Each criterion of virtue requires much more developed argument than can be attempted here.
As we seek to describe those dispositions-as-virtues relevant to the profession of teaching, we would be seeking virtue in three main categories: virtues of character, intellect, and care (Sockett, 2006). The categories frequently overlap, and the following list is intended as indicative not definitive:
(a) Virtues of character include self-knowledge, courage, sincerity, integrity, trustworthiness, and endeavor as including virtues of the will, such as persistence, perseverance, and heed (see Sockett, 1988).
(b) Virtues of intellect include truthfulness, accuracy, consistency (e.g., in the application of rules), fairness and impartiality, especially in making judgments, clarity, thoughtfulness, and open-mindedness.
(c) Virtues of care include tolerance, tact, discretion, civility, receptivity, relatedness, and responsiveness notably in becoming trustworthy and compassionate.
This classification is not simply a useful heuristic and, once again, requires another paper to establish its value. A short pseudojustification of this selection would be to ask, "Which of the above virtues are not needed in teaching?" Positively, however, the typology is justified, I suggest, because it represents three major areas in which we might expect every teacher to be well-equipped, for these three areas are immanent both in the practice and the content of teaching. Character describes the kind of person the teacher is. Intellect is the teacher's stock-in-trade, however the curriculum is construed. Teachers have children placed in their care. Moreover, these virtues are profession specific. Were we talking about priests or pastors, we might want to talk of spiritual virtues-humility, for instance. Were we discussing military officers, we would classify virtues of leadership, including physical courage. Teacher dispositions, as with other desirable professional dispositions, have to be identified from the specific professional context.
However, there are least two kinds of complexity in the articulation of dispositions-as-virtues, both of which need to be illuminated. The first general complexity is the need to differentiate desirable dispositions from educational purposes. Presumably, we recognize that there are legitimately different emphases within educational goals that may well give rise to different conceptions of desirable dispositions (Sockett, 2008). Teachers must be well educated enough to understand and be prepared to espouse or to emphasize different views of such purposes.
We may take the example of social justice that is regarded by many teacher educators and teachers as a staple of modern educational purpose. This, so to speak, is what the schools are for. The term social justice functions as an institutional goal under some such rubric as "all children can learn," "treat every child equally," "no child left behind," or "equality of educational opportunity." Its reference point hardly needs to be stated, viz., that today's teachers work in classrooms of diversity of race, gender, and income, in a multicultural society, and that the teacher's aim should paramountly be equality of treatment, and in the case of children with special needs, there should be forms of compensation, with its manifold and controversial implications for curriculum. Brighouse (2000) provides a coherent account of the educational purpose:
Education Policy should aim at ensuring that every child has a real opportunity to become an autonomous person, and should aim at rough equality of educational opportunity. Equal educational opportunity requires at least the following three things: the quality of the educational inputs in the school system should not reflect the level of wealth of the parents; they should not reflect the decision-making ability of the parents; and children with disabilities should get substantially greater educational resources than children without disabilities. (p. 163)
Yet social justice, as it seems to me, has been a locus of considerable confusion in discussion of a teacher's dispositions. Clearly, the requirements set out by Brighouse are not in the same conceptual basket as say "open-mindedness" or "truthfulness" because social justice cannot be coherently described as the property of an individual. One might be disposed toward endorsing social justice as an educational purpose, in which case one would expect an individual's dispositions be at least those of fairness and maybe compassion (but see below). Likewise freedom, as a broad educational purpose, would not be understood as a disposition.
What irritates conservatives (e.g., Damon, 2007) about NCATE's (2005) and other formulations of social justice is not that one should ignore children "left behind" or renounce principles of equality of opportunity, such as that set out by Brighouse, but that the notion of social justice is turned into an item of political faith and political priority, masquerading as a disposition necessary for a professional teacher. Insisting teachers have this "disposition," in their view, is to make students tow an ideological, indeed a political line. One way or another, of course, schools are vehicles of social engineering and political debate and perspective. Yet it is a political judgment that social justice should be the primary purpose for schools, not least because it implies the deployment of resources to accommodate this political preference. Thus, conservatives have been alarmed by the idea that "social justice" should be a disposition for assessment of would-be teachers as the NCATE originally suggested, because it carries with it political baggage way beyond the primary significance of the underlying principles of equality. It may well be, of course, that teacher education institutions, when they assert the need for a disposition called "social justice" are simply bundling together a package of desirable dispositions--for example, treating individuals equally and fairly, having a special regard (i.e., compassion) for the underprivileged in society, and so on. But that leaves open issues of educational purpose that presumably cover a variety of positions appropriate for examination in teacher education about which student teachers should be encouraged to be open-minded, if they are to be professionally autonomous.
Why, for example, is a commitment to social justice (a manifestation of the principle of equality) more important than a commitment to children becoming free (a manifestation of the principle of liberty)? After all, child-centered theorists (from Rousseau to A. S. Neill and mavericks like Homer Lane) have consistently emphasized the centrality of the child's autonomy and the creation of a "free" learning environment. Indeed, there are critical educational issues about the development of "free persons," how that is done, how freedom connects to freedom of choice (Peters, 1966, 1972). Indeed, perhaps most important is the problem of being free--intellectually and morally--in a social and cultural climate, which though it seems to espouse individualism, simultaneously creates huge pressures to conform.
The purpose of these comments is not specifically to attack social justice as an educational purpose but to put it in its place. It is one of various educational goals on which there will need to be political compromise. It draws attention to alternative educational values, such as freedom or liberty. It indicates that a line has to be drawn between distinguishing social goals for education and the dispositions required of the professional. This is an uncertain line over which there will be much debate, even haggling, and over which people of conscience may disagree--inevitably in a democracy. However, I find it a very odd paradox that American civil rhetoric is so permeated with talk of freedom, but in educational institutions, the word is hardly uttered. The tradition of educational thought about freedom since Mill seems to be ignored in contemporary educational discussion. Moreover, the cacophony around social justice suggests that teacher education ignores the education of teachers as citizens, within which discussion of democratic principles takes place (Gutmann, 1999).
This is one aspect of the complexity of defining dispositions-as-virtues and creating assessment constructs. To elaborate a second kind of complexity we need to get inside dispositions-as-virtues. I will therefore take one virtue from each category: self-knowledge from character, truthfulness from intellect, and compassion from care. A complete examination of all the suggested virtues-as-dispositions is thus not attempted here, and the descriptions of each of those selected badly need to be extensively developed (as in, e.g., Ritchhart, 2002).
Character and self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is a personal and pedagogical virtue. The injunction of the Delphic oracle to "know thyself" is at the core of the person who avoids self-deception. Such a person constantly explores how he or she is seen by others and is self-reflective but open to the assistance of others in determining reasons and motives for his or her actions and beliefs.
How do teachers learn about themselves from children? How do they facilitate the acquisition of that knowledge? How do they ensure that they are not deceiving themselves about the classroom narrative? The interpersonal character of teaching, especially where the learners are children, requires constant attention to how the teacher is seen by the child(ren). The elements of control immanent in the teacher's authority can facilitate self-deception. The (official) definitions of what happens in classrooms are determined by teachers, not learners, so counterdefinitions or descriptions that may upset the official narrative are easily brushed aside.
How do teachers handle the complexity of roles internal to teaching and search for resolutions of conflict to provide self-knowledge? One major obstacle to acquiring such knowledge is the teachers' role, especially with older children, as both examiner and critic. That is, students are "examined" through being given grades by a teacher on which there is little or no external check but which cumulatively have profound influences on a child's "career" as a student. Yet simultaneously, the teacher must act as a "critic" of children's work, indeed helping children through difficulties and problems of understanding that would seem to require a different kind of interpersonal relation from that of the examiner. In American schooling, the teacher has a multifaceted role, often with conflicts, such as that of disciplinarian versus advocate. Self-knowledge requires understanding the demands of each subrole and the consequent challenge of reconciling them.
How furthermore do teachers become sufficiently self-aware to ensure their teaching stays dynamic? Teaching (whatever its potential variety) can easily be routinized by the individual. Indeed, teaching demands the establishment of habits of conduct and routines that make classroom work possible. Such habits and routines can be anything from mannerisms of speech through to veiled prejudices, stereotyping, and inappropriate attitudes to children, yielding teaching practices that cease to be dynamic as the teacher develops an individual rhythm of practice. Self-knowledge and its acquisition demands moral and intellectual honesty, a preparedness to reevaluate each aspect of one's individual practice, precisely when that rhythm has become static and repetitive.
Intellect and truthfulness. Truthfulness is a personal and pedagogical virtue, and without argument here, we want teachers to help children become truthful people. (This account owes much to Williams, 2002.) The connection between the moral and the intellectual, in terms of truthfulness, is seamless: There seems to be no context in which the need to be truthful, intellectually, is not ipso facto moral, and vice versa. For, at the very least, to be truthful is a cognitive matter, being able to distinguish truth from falsity, deceit from honesty. Like all other relevant virtues, being truthful has a cognitive core, but placing the emphasis on the intellectual virtue here should not therefore diminish its moral significance.
The challenge for teachers in terms of truthfulness as an intellectual virtue lies first in the content being taught. Typically, the arena for truthfulness is that of being accurate about events, ideas, and establishing areas of bias. Different methods in different disciplines demand different understandings of accuracy. Mathematical accuracy in calculation, for instance, is different from the accuracy demanded by historically accurate statements. The most significant part of truthfulness for teachers in those disciplines that are interpretative (e.g., history) is for teachers to explain their own ignorance and/or the complexity of different viewpoints to children.
However, embracing truthfulness as a pedagogical virtue is most significant in interpersonal relations--that is, establishing trust. In classrooms, this means children recognizing their teachers as trustworthy in the knowledge of what they are being taught. The internal and external obstacles to the teacher's being truthful, however, are extensive. First, the control over knowledge that teachers have, as with self-deception, may lead to truthfulness being marginalized in favor of order or certainty, especially, but not solely, in history and social studies. Second, the teacher may be aware of contrary explanations of events but reluctant to introduce them, sometimes for good reasons (e.g., the belief that these children could not handle the dissonance). Here, it is a matter of judgment as the extent to which children should have access to those contrary explanations. Truthfulness, therefore, as the central element in the creation of trust, does not imply that a teacher should explain everything or not dissemble, creating a large arena for pedagogical judgment.
Finally, therefore, truthfulness is connected not only to accuracy but to sincerity. The establishment of a context of trustworthiness is the child's belief in the teacher's honorable motives. An important example of this is candor. Children who are misled by nice friendly teachers about the quality of their work, even though they see the teacher as trustworthy, are not being well taught. Setting high standards for a class inevitably means that there is no lockstep progress, and those whose work (or attitude) is not up to standards set are not helped by being deceived. On the other hand, a candid assessment of a child's progress is complicated by the teacher's role conflict as part examiner, part critic. A teacher risks undermining the very trustworthiness he or she has sought to create through being truthful.
Care and compassion. Compassion is a personal and pedagogical virtue. The child, it is said, is more important than the subject. Without further explanation, we might agree. However, to be compassionate, one requires "a sense of vulnerability to one's own misfortune." "Compassion involves the recognition that another person ... has suffered some significant pain or misfortune in a way for which that person is, or not fully to blame...." "This requires ... a highly complex set of moral abilities, including the ability to imagine what it is like to be in that person's place (what we usually call empathy) and also the ability to stand back and ask whether the person's own judgment has taken the full measure of what has happened" (Nussbaum, 1998, p. 90-91). We can both describe all kinds of teaching situations in which what the child palpably needs compassionate personal help and support more than more social studies, so to speak: Equally, we can find situations in which paying attention to the content of what is to be learned, rather than dwelling on a personal misery, will distract a child from that misery. Compassion, therefore, like all virtues, needs strong cognition--that is, a profound understanding for its exercise to be well judged. The balance is a complex matter of judgment: Feeling compassionate toward children and caring about their plights and predicaments is not necessarily well manifested by giving up on the standards required for their work.
Working with a compassionate motive is different from a charitable or an eleemosynary (alms-giving) motive, where it is seen within the category of the caring virtues. The motives for giving charity or alms differ in the sense that one need feel no specific empathy for the recipient. Giving charitably can become a routine duty, in ways that being compassionate cannot. The point for teaching is one of authenticity. If a teacher only acts as though he or she were compassionate, that very compassion is degraded, morally speaking. Yet authenticity is required on both sides: The recipient can be quick to spot inauthentic compassion.
Compassion has thus to be felt as such by its recipient. The compassionate treatment the child is receiving has to be understood by the child as such, not as, say, charitable or as a manifestation of favoritism--once again an arena in which children have to learn or be taught. On this account, charity has no place in teaching, for the charitable gift is just that--a gift. Teaching is not dispensing gifts. Charity can also easily be spurned in ways that compassion cannot. Compassion thus provides obvious opportunities for its misdirection. Moreover, it requires sensitive and careful judgment, not merely the affect of sympathy. Once again, the motives for compassion must be intrinsic, not just because the principal is watching. The difficulty of judgment for the person of compassion is of this kind: Does this person deserve my compassion? The obvious personal intimacy of the teacher-learner relationship provides a refined context for that. Compassion requires a certain robust edge to it, lest it dissolve into mere sentiment.
These examples demonstrate the complexity of the construct vis-a-vis the virtues themselves, where we seek dispositions-as-virtues in teachers. What they do not do, however, is to provide sufficient depth for us to connect the qualities discussed to a form in which they can be worked on empirically in classrooms, upon which assessment constructs may be built. It is to this problem finally that I turn with the example of open-mindedness.
Part 3: Protocols for the Virtue of Open-Mindedness in Teaching
The virtues-as-dispositions described above as virtues of character, intellect, and care do not function independently, given the complexity of human life and classrooms. Crucially, being virtuous does not mean the blind pursuit of the value the virtue encapsulates, as in Ibsen's play The Wild Duck, where Greger's pursuit of the truth destroys a family. Differently, an individual's commitment to tolerance is not a blank check. It does not include, for example, tolerating young children blowing up frogs with bicycle pumps as an exercise in learning by discovery. The virtue-as-disposition, once again, has a cognitive core that is internal, in the sense that the agent knows what he or she believes in and acts accordingly out of these virtues. You don't become truthful by accident or unintentionally--to repeat the point. But the aspect of cognition is, to repeat, the judgment of whether one's tolerance (or compassion or open-mindedness) is appropriate in this situation.
Without detailed argument, I have indicated above that assessment tools, including scenarios, have to be transparent to the assessor and the assessed. The framework of assessment thus becomes a framework of growth for the student. But with Oser's (1994) injunction in our minds about the need to link effectiveness with responsibility, this framework for assessment should encompass all appropriate virtues. This can be illustrated by using the excellent and subtle work Canadian philosopher of education William Hare (2007) has done on open-mindedness. His most recent articulation provides a detailed account of the assessment questions one might ask in seeking to find out whether a teacher is "genuinely open-minded."
(a) a description, explanation, and justification of the disposition-as-virtue (e.g., open-mindedness),
(b) a set of questions like Hare's (see below) that articulate clearly questions that an assessment construct (and an assessor) addresses to manifest what has been worked out in (a), and
(c) students working with their teachers on developing their own "protocol"; spelling out how, for their context, the questions are to be understood in terms of action, thereby also providing benchmarks for improvement in learning. The variety of protocols would depend on students as individuals and the contexts of their teaching.
Such constructs then form a basis for empirical work on their effectiveness and, of course, their unforeseen consequences. If a precise set of dispositions-as-virtues (see above) can then be elaborated, as Hare has done with open-mindedness, it would provide a student with a set of benchmarks, the achievement of which, as with other virtues, is a matter of his or her own initiative.
Hare's (2007, pp. 216-217) questions on open-mindedness are set out below. For each question, I have posited in italics how a student might interpret each question as part of his or her dispositions-as-virtues protocol:
1. Is the teacher someone, like Socrates, who seems to recognize the limits of his or her own knowledge and abilities, someone with a certain intellectual humility?
How often do I convey to students I am not a know-it-all and that as a class we need to approach knowledge with care and respect?
2. Does the teacher convey a sense that our grasp on knowledge is not absolute and final, and that inquiry must be ongoing?
What ways do I have to convey that we are not just processing information but searchers on an adventurous quest for knowledge?
3. Does the teacher encourage the students to go on thinking about an idea even though consensus has emerged in discussion?
Do I respect divergence as much as consensus? Do I help students search for divergence even if we seem to agree?
4. Does the teacher remind the students not simply to take his or her word on matters under discussion but to consult other sources and to consider all the evidence?
How often do I present counterevidence? Do I ever use my personal authority to override student questions?
5. Does the teacher draw attention to the way in which he or she has inevitably shaped the curriculum, and does he or she welcome critical comments from the students?
How often should I have the students discuss the curriculum, and what ways would help them critique their content learning?
6. Is the teacher someone who seems to monitor his or her own claims and ideas, signaling that an opinion, not a fact, is being expressed, calling attention to the controversial character of an idea or suggesting that they themselves remain uncertain?
How do I have children work at the fact-opinion distinction? What pedagogies can I use to inform children what issues are controversial and why? How do I foster the notion that a "good" opinion is rooted in facts of the matter?
7. Is the teacher someone who appears to have read widely including authors who do not share his or her conclusions?
Am I always looking for books and articles on topics I am teaching? Am I excited by works that run counter to my own views?
8. Does the teacher give an idea an opportunity to be presented and heard, or is a signal given early on that it is not to be taken seriously?
How do I make sure everyone has a say and protect children trying to get a thought together in a classroom discussion?
9. Is the teacher someone who appears to include and welcome a wide range of diverse views without stacking the deck or having an agenda?
How do I get away from being committed to right answers in complex subjects, like history, as opposed to complex but axiomatic subjects like math?
10. In response to student questions, does the teaching appear to have kept up with the subject?
How much do I coast from semester to semester, and how do I get children inside developments in all subject areas?
11. In terms of the knowledge the students already possess, does the teacher seem to present ideas accurately and impartially?
Should I be neutral? If not, how do I present different sides of a topic, or are there some areas (e.g., slavery) for which this does not work?
12. Is a question or a problem posed a genuine one inviting the students to think, or is it, as Dewey warns, an invitation merely to satisfy the teacher?
How do I develop in my students the sense that I don't want them to guess at what 1 think to get the "right answer"?
13. Does the teacher ask challenging questions that call on the students to support their beliefs with argument and evidence?
How do I challenge students for evidence without appearing threatening?
14. Does the teacher listen carefully and respectfully to questions and challenges from the students, showing in his or her responses that the points made have been given serious consideration?
How do I distinguish between a student giving a worked-out thought from a student just being voluble and thoughtless such that 1 can weigh how to treat each response with respect, but without judgment?
15. Does the teacher appear to have a ready-made answer to every query, especially an answer that employs a common, perhaps simplistic, theory or principle that explains everything?
Write out 50 times: "I must not rush to conclusions in class."
"The answers to these questions," Hare (2007) concludes, "help to reveal whether or not the teacher is genuinely open-minded" (p. 217).
The central features of dispositions-as-virtues that I have mentioned are manifest in this protocol. Open-mindedness has to (a) be a result of the individual's initiative, (b) be achieved against obstacles, and (c) be intrinsically motivated. However, every item in the protocol invites not merely understanding but requires pedagogical judgment. So one would expect students to record problematic cases, germane to each, and no doubt to share their experiences in their communities of practice. In each item, too, the possibility of deepening and extending the sophistication of the teacher's understanding is present, suggesting not a reduction of open-mindedness to a set of pedagogical habits but a constant development of improved judgments.
Finally, in teaching and teacher education, however, it is critical to distinguish judgment from decision-making. Decisions in classrooms are the results of judgments and judgment is logically prior to making a decision. Judgment is the quality of balancing competing kinds of claims (e.g., from different virtuous possibilities and understanding their complexity). Judgments can be correct but implementation a disaster. However, making good judgments is not something that can easily be taught, though wise and experienced individuals can prod students into examining and re-examining their judgments such that such self-reflection does become habitual. Good judgment arises from constant reflective practice, again an achievement of one's own initiative.
Faced with the challenge of creating diagnostic tools, therefore, conceptualizing dispositions as virtues is to go beyond a methodological reductionism, whereby these complexities get shuffled down to a formula that limits the complexity, to a methodological framework that embraces that complexity and stands up to its challenges. That implies that the temptation to say of the "moral" that it is embedded in everything done simply sidesteps the intellectual challenge of making it explicit.
In principle, the framework Hare provides for open-mindedness can be developed for each and every disposition-as-virtue thought important for teachers to manifest. Dispositions on this argument are thus seen as the professional virtues, qualities, and habits of mind and behavior held and developed by teachers on the basis of their knowledge, understanding, values, and commitments to students, families, their colleagues, and communities.
Such dispositions--of character, intellect, and care--will be manifest in practice, will require sophisticated judgment in application, and will underpin teachers' fundamental commitments to education in a democratic society, such as the responsibility to set high standards for all children, a profound concern for each individual child and for a classroom and school environment of high intellectual and moral quality (see Sockett, 2006, p. 23).
Author's Note: In struggling to work out these ideas, I have been helped immensely by discussions in the AACTE Teacher Education as a Moral Community Task Force (TeamC), especially from Mary Diez, Erskine Dottin, Peter Murrell, Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Jacques Benninga, and Alan Tom. TeamC has been supported too by AACTE Staff, notably Carol Smith, Lisa Stookesberry, and Alicia Ardila-Rey, who have contributed especially to literature searches.
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George Mason University
Hugh Sockett is professor of education in the Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University.
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|Date:||May 1, 2009|
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