Lynn's Musings

Values Come Between Research and Policy
We know that U.S. test scores in math and science are relatively low compared to other industrialized countries. We also know that there is a direct correlation between low test scores and poverty. These claims have been documented by fairly extensive and sophisticated quantitative studies. These two statements are relatively uncontested, so let’s assume for the moment that everyone accepts these two statements to be true. What, then, might be several possible policies we could make (as a society) in response to these circumstances:
  • We could abolish all tests in math and science because they apparently discriminate against poor people.
  • Instead of administering the same math and science tests that are used by other countries in the world, we could design math and science tests that are specifically tailored to a U.S. curriculum in order to get a better alignment between curriculum and assessment.
  • We could abolish math and science from the mandatory school curriculum because obviously those subjects are not useful for everybody, and the persistent failure rates are damaging to the self esteem of many students and to the image of the United States in the world.
  • We could establish cram schools in all school districts to make intensive tutoring in math and science freely available to anyone who wanted it.
  • We could establish salary rewards based on the teacher's effectiveness in decreasing the gap in test scores between rich kids and poor kids.
  • We could charge $1000 for people to take the tests in math and science so that only rich people could take them. That way the U.S. test scores will rank relatively high in the world.
  • We could adopt wholesale the math curriculum of Singapore and the science curriculum of Finland.
  • We could initiate national-, community-, and/or school-based programs designed to convert the families (of both rich and poor kids) to Confucian virtues. Such virtues are routinely used to explain much of the academic success of modern Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, and other Asian societies/students. (contributed by Brett Merritt & Kelly Merritt)
  • We could require teachers to use scripted curricula, pacing guides, and practice tests that simulate the high stakes exams in math and science.

Each of these policy responses is based upon a different ideology or worldview--a different set of values. As we have seen, the U.S. has generally decided to follow the policy path expressed in the last bullet, but all of the other possible policy choices are also based "on the evidence." U.S. policy is based on a particular set of values: rational planning, assumptions of individual agency, administrative effectiveness, a salvation mission, and a belief in educationalisation. It is values, not empirical or scientific evidence, that shapes policy.

Peace Education
One way of thinking about obstacles to peace is to look at the limits of tolerance for particular acts, beliefs, or ways of being.

What do we assume to be intolerable?

Critical introspection may help us recognize our assumed limits of tolerance.

Here is some language for thinking and talking about our moral/ethical responses:

Usual array of responses:

  • Condemnation (with various degrees of passion)
  • Approval (with various degrees of passion)
  • Abstention
  • Condemn/approve the act, not the person
  • Condemn/approve under limited circumstances
  • Question the basis for judgment

One way to think about Peace Education is to expand our repertoire of possible responses to moral/ethical judgments.
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