The rather standard statement of the goals of general
education portion of degree programs involves both the acquisition of
knowledge and the development of skills associated with the "modern"
period of Western history and the mindset or habit of mind that typifies
that period. When the instructional staff that is of the
mind or habit of mind confronts a student body that is diverse in
mindsets or habits of mind and in the values associated with them, there results a
tremendous challenge to bring the diverse group of learners into the
"modern". More attention is needed to the diversity of fundamental
habits of mind in attempting to improve the efficacy of instruction and
accomplish the objectives of a General Education program and the Liberal
Arts and Sciences core and the most basic objectives of higher education.
- - - - - - - -
All educational institutions hold
out and celebrate varieties of expressions of their basic educational
goals and in particular the objectives of their general education
programs. Most common in such expressions are statements to the effect
that graduates would have developed their critical thinking skills,
information literacy and communication skills and are able to make
mature and well reasoned judgments including aesthetic and ethical
decision making. As laudable as such goals may be and as wonderful the
sound of such declarations are those who trumpet these notes at all
serious about the import of such declarations? Do the supporters of the
declaration make commitment to consider and address the most basic
habits of mind and belief systems of their learners? If we were to
seriously consider how well and how we are to achieve the general
objectives for degree programs then we would need to seriously consider
some of the most central elements of the lives of our learners: their
mindsets or habits of mind. We have
not as yet begun to do this. An institution that wants a genuine
general education program that sets out the general objectives and wants
to place great emphasis on the teaching and learning that contributes to
achieving those general objectives has need to be concerned with
are their learners and what do they bring to the community of learning and
to the process of learning itself. It is presented herein that the most
popular set of outcomes of a general education program are those
associated with a particular mindset or habits of mind that are
characteristic of the faculty of most colleges but not of their students.
The alternative mindsets must be directly identified and addressed if
they are to be moved into the that of the rationalist mindset
consonant with the aims of general education.
It is more and more the case that
educators at all levels, and most particularly at community colleges in
urban settings, realize that the groups of learners found in classrooms
are typified by heterogeneity. In fact, there is heterogeneity of
heterogeneity. In the major cities of the United States to observe that
students come together in classes that are characterized as heterogeneous
is pure understatement. The most common basis for describing these
classes as being diversified is based on the ethnic nature of the
learners. Add to that the further distinctions that can be made based on
language differences and cultural differences and religious backgrounds and one just begins to
appreciate how diverse a group each group of learners in a single class
But what are the distinctions that
matter most for the enterprise at hand: teaching and learning? The
diversity that matters for learning comes into focus beyond that of
culture, language, and ethnicity. The learners have different learning
styles that need to be taken into effective consideration by instructors
who want to insure as best they can that the learners achieve the
objectives of the learning experiences being formulated for them.
And, of course, one of the most obvious of differences for educators is
learners have different knowledge backgrounds and different levels of
basic skills attainment.
Habits of Mind or
Beyond the differences in learning styles
and background knowledge there are
the even more fundamental differences in the most basic habits of mind. These include
the most basic ways in which the learners gather and receive information and deal
with it, the background against which new experiences are interpreted,
with which they are valued and to which responses are formulated. There
are at least three basic habits of mind that instructors in a multi-cultural
environment need to be mindful of when designing programs of instruction.
These habits of mind or mindsets may be described in different ways. One
might be to characterize them in a temporal ordering such as: Pre Modern,
Modern, and Post Modern in an effort to link them with those periods where
the mindsets predominate within the modes of discourse shaping the
culture. This terminology might also be viewed as polemical and so it
will not be used here. Another might be to describe them as
fundamentalist, scientific and relativist to use terms popular in
contemporary discourse. These would be both pejorative and
misleading as they would
introduce terms that are value laden for many. In this work the terms
used will be a combination of those cited and those used by Charles
Sanders Peirce in "The Fixation of Belief", Popular Science Monthly 12
(November 1877), 1-15.
Peirce identified four ways in which
people fix their beliefs: tenacity, authority, a priori and science. In
this work the three basic habits of mind being described will be termed:
the tenacious-authoritarian, the rational, and the relativistic.
I am combining the first two methods for fixing beliefs as described by
Peirce and associating it with a popular and most basic mindset that is
herein termed the "tenacious-authoritarian". I
am associating what Peirce termed as the "a priori" method with the
"relativistic" mindset as Peirce recognized that this mindset or method for
fixing beliefs was ultimately based on the most popular ideas of the time.
It makes of inquiry
something similar to the development of taste; but taste, unfortunately,
is always more or less a matter of fashion, and accordingly metaphysicians
have never come to any fixed agreement, but the pendulum has swung
backward and forward between a more material and a more spiritual
philosophy, from the earliest times to the latest. -
Charles Sanders Peirce in The Fixation of Belief.
Finally, I rename his fourth and
preferred method with the more general descriptive: "rationalist" as
reasoning and critical thinking is
what it emphasizes and what most distinguishes it from the other methods for
fixing beliefs, habits of mind and mindsets. It is not to be
identified with science as science is but one manifestation of this habit
of mind through which positions taken are arrived at and defended using
thought process that involve reflective and critical thinking that is
considerate of alternatives and insistent upon well formulated and
The use of the terms, "rational" or
"rationalist" or rationalistic" is not to be associated with the meaning
of rationalism as in the long history of that term in philosophy that
links it with thinkers from Plato on through Descartes and others who held
that knowledge was contained in the mind or soul and could be recognized
or achieved without experiences involving the senses, the community of
inquirers or the external world.
To attempt a single manner of
approaching learners in a group with these different habits of mind is
bound for failure for the learners for whom the single approach is without
meaning or value. Instructors have these manners of
approach that are based on their own habits of mind. To operate out of
ignorance of the mismatch between the habits of mind of the instructor
with sub groups of learners in the class is a method that will leave some
learners with little real learning and more likely with some form of
The instructional staff is nearly
exclusively populated by those with the rational mindset placing high
value on reasoning and critical thinking and the need to support claims
with evidence and reasoning.
The student body in our ethnically
diverse urban community colleges is composed of learners with different
mindsets: the tenacious-authoritarian, the rational, and the relativistic.
Tenacious-Authoritarian Habit of Mind
The tenacious-authoritarian students
come from cultures in which there is high value placed on respect for
authorities and official texts. They are literalists and unfamiliar
with and anxious about multiple interpretations of texts and information
and history. They are also inexperienced with diversity and find it
difficult to accommodate with the pluralistic society they find in the
country and on campus and in their classes and with the faculty.
People are acculturated into possession of this mindset with little
conscious effort on their part. The perception would be that this
habit of mind is simply the way people think within their culture or their
At this moment this mindset is oft
times described as “fundamentalist” when those so characterizing it want
to identify the set of religious beliefs that are a part of this mindset
as being the defining characteristic of it. This may be historically
and socially relevant but in terms of the cognitive or psychological
processes it is not. The mindset is a deeper formation that accepts
a particular form of religious life but is not constituted by that. With
this habit of mind faith is generated by a basic need for order and order
at any cost. Faith can be set against reason as a result of
satisfying a basic drive, perhaps rooted in a genetic disposition (a "god
gene"), that results in a belief system conveyed through story that
provides order or "cosmos" for the believer. Such faith is held tenaciously and all the more so when
reinforced by its endorsement and promulgation by a variety of social
institutions each carrying the weight of authority.
The tenacious-authoritarian mindset
would view the rational mindset as a threat to disturb the order of things
as held in the belief system that was uncritically acquired.
The tenacious-authoritarian mind would
likely view the relativistic mindset as no threat to persons of the
tenacious-authoritarian mindset as the relativistic accepts and is
tolerant of all views
and so the tenacious-authoritarian belief system and its habits of mind
are not capable of being challenged. The tenacious-authoritarian can hold that their
beliefs are better than others and expressions of the actual one and only
truth and there is not a way the relativistic can
criticize them given the relativistic claims of relativity with its
absolutes, trans-cultural universals, objective knowledge, and objective truth.
The Rational Habit
The characteristics or the rational
mindset are those found in the outcomes of the typical general education
component of the Liberal Arts and Sciences core of any degree program.
This mindset places a high value on reason and believes in the possibility
of human progress through the use of reason. This habit of mind is
characterized by critical thinking skills and reflective thinking. Those
with such a mindset accept science and technology and place trust in
reasoning and experimentation and fact gathering and testing of hypotheses
and ideas. They are willing to offer and ask for reasons and evidence in
support of claims that are made and in defense of positions taken on
issues. The critical use of reasoning or rationality itself is
applied across disciplines. Science is but one form of thinking in
which reasoning is an essential method for arriving at conclusions and for
defending positions using evidence in support of claims and for the
verification of hypotheses. The rationalistic habit of mind is
developed by Mathematics as a form of thinking that develops appreciation
for methodology and for systemic knowledge along with reliance on logical
analysis and inference. The rational mindset is not one that embraces the
philosophical tradition of rationalism with its holding for innate ideas
or for truths that are realizable through thought alone. The
rational mindset values science but does not make it either the summum
bonum or establish science on a pedestal of faith. The rational
habit of thinking is far more likely to interpret and analyze religion as
a social phenomena and religious beliefs as expressions of values than to
accept religious claims as literal truth or unquestionable claims.
Unlike with the
tenacious-authoritarian mindset and the relativistic mindset people are
not acculturated into possession of this mindset with little conscious
effort on their part. This habit of mind is the result of effort and self
reflective thought. It is not perceived of as simply the way people
think within their culture or their cultural groups. It is the result of
education, whether formal or informal. It is not an innate habit of
mind. Neither is it often the mindset typical of most groups within
which people develop and from which they learn. It is the mindset of
professional scholars and researchers and people of letters and others who
are themselves products of formal education.
Despite it being the case that the
rational mindset is the goal of General Education, students with the
rational mindset are nearly always in the minority of those entering
colleges in this country at this time, particularly in large urban settings with a multicultural setting
and a multicultural student body-a stated desire of many colleges.
Students with the rational mindset are both native born and immigrants.
They share much in common with faculty and find it relatively easy to
perform well on all forms of assessments prepared by a faculty with
rational mindsets as their own.
With this habit of mind faith is the
result of what reason holds and supports and faith is maintained for the
sake of hope. Belief systems must adhere to the rational criteria of
coherency and consistency. This is so even for religious belief
systems and they are held as sources of value and as the reservoir for
hope. Religious language is operative as expressive of axiological
positions rather than empirical claims.
The rational views the
tenacious-authoritarian as uncritical and even irrational and in need of
further education or development into the rational.
The rational views the relativistic
as riddled with inconsistencies and self refutations and in need of reform
that incorporates the core values of the rational.
Habit of Mind
There are a large number of students
with the relativistic mindset. In the main they are products of European
and American cultures that are post religious and post modern. For them
all opinions are of equal worth and entitled to equal respect and
protection. For them there is no position that is privileged except
through power of some form. The power that establishes the preferred
or privileged position or sets out the criteria for judgments and sets out
the values to be held is not the power of tradition nor of authorities as
established by tradition or by some divine act as with the
tenacious-authoritarian mindset. It is the authority or power of the
social group or institution. It is a power that rests on the most
common or most popular beliefs. The learners who are relativists will accept as a correct answer that
evolution is the best explanation for the development of life forms on the
planet earth in order to get credit for the preferred answer of the
empowered instructor but many of them will maintain that creationism is also
true or even more true or true because they believe it to be true and are
so entitled to believe it to be such.
As with the tenacious-authoritarian
mindset people are acculturated into possession of this mindset with
little conscious effort on their part. Again the perception would be
that this habit of mind is simply the way people think within their
culture or their cultural groups. This habit of mind is the
consequence of a series of historical events and movements that challenged
the assumptions and operations of those engaged in the disciplines that
marked the rise of the "modern age". The presence of this habit of
mind in individuals is not likely to be accompanied by an awareness of
itself or of the historical dimensions of the development or popularizing
of this mindset. This mindset as with the tenacious-authoritarian mindset
is arrived at through an unquestioned acceptance of both the habit of mind
and its attendant and resultant set of beliefs.
The relativistic views the
tenacious-authoritarian as one of many possible mind sets that are equally
acceptable. The relativistic views the rational
as being intolerant and outmoded with sets of values and criteria for
evaluations and judgments that are not absolute or universal or objective and
, worst of all, not popular.
For the relativistic mind acceptance
by and assimilation within a group is the valued end This mindset rejects
as its goal to be possessed of the most well founded position on an issue
or the best hypothesis as supported by reasoning and evidence. Science is
no better than any other way to arrive at a position, belief or thought
for the relativistic mindset. It is the popularity of the position that
matters. The criteria for accepting a belief has become for this group
whether or not the holders of the belief have a community within which
they feel comfortable and accepted. The distinction between fact and
opinion and the real and the simulated has broken down for the post modern
and relativistic learner.
With this habit of mind faith is a
form of discourse and is akin to any other in its basic social foundation
and functioning. A religious set of beliefs is as valued as its social
setting has determined. Beliefs based on faith need not adhere to any
criteria external to the group discourse nor be subject to any review by
those outside the group of faithful that the adherents to that faith need
The relativistic mind has moved
beyond science and reason as having diminished in their importance and any
position of privilege that they might occupy in the determination of
knowledge or truth, even truth concerning such physical matters as the shape of
or the origins of illness and disease or the process through which life
The relativistic mindset is post
historical and focuses on the eternal “now” with no value placed on
historical perspective. The past matters little as an aid to
understanding because all thinking about the past is just discourse or
opinion and all opinions have equal status.
The relativistic mindset flourishes
in what is an age of simulation. The simulation is no longer opposed to
the real or the authentic. The distinctions are not respected. They have
no effective meaning for the relativistic mindset. The distinction of the
real from the fake or the representation or simulation is meaningless.
The real is whatever is perceived. “Reality TV” no matter how prearranged
and orchestrated is reality. What is seen on television or through any
other media is as real as it can get and as authentic as with any other
mode of receiving information. If it has been on TV or in the movies it
is real and genuine and as accurate as any other report or depiction or
interpretation. There are no criteria for determining authenticity or
accuracy that are objective so, anything goes!
For many of the young with the relativistic mindset
fame is real and fame, no matter how achieved, is the value. All fame is
equal and is itself what matters. Opinion polls no matter how conducted
and how influenced by media reporting are the indication of the real and
the genuine, no matter how produced or measured.
So there are people who arrive in
college with minds that are developed enough to have accomplished college
admittance and yet they hold beliefs that are not rational in the sense of
not having been arrived at through processes involving careful and
critical thought and some beliefs that are
even anti-rational in the sense of being inconsistent with or in
contradiction to other beliefs that are also held with equal fervor.
In taking college classes the basic
mindsets can remain submerged from view as much formal instruction does
not reach down to the level of the basic manner in which ideas and
information are processed and beliefs are fixed in the learners. In
teaching some subjects such as Philosophy the basic mindsets are
exposed. Over a number of years students in Philosophy classes have
admitted to or spontaneously made claims to many or all of the following
beliefs and many continue to hold them throughout their time at the
college as they are not effectively challenged to do otherwise:
If a person believes that "X" is
true then "X" is true.
If a person believes that "X" is
real then "X" is real.
There can be one god, many gods
and no gods all at the same time.
A physical object can be a flat
disk and a sphere at the same time.
Astrology and astronomy are just
different ways of knowing things but equally valuable.
Evolutionary Theory and Creation
Theory are equally acceptable explanations for life forms on planet
John Edwards talks to and hears
dead people. (cold reading trick)
David Blaine can actually
levitate his body. (the Balducci levitation illusion)
Science is no more than a
special type of opinion.
All opinions are of equal worth.
There is no objective knowledge
or objective truth about anything.
There is no real problem in
holding beliefs that are contradictory.
They are concerned with being
“politically correct” or socially correct or popular and accepted rather
than accepting that there may be criteria for determining the correctness
of beliefs that have been established in ways that all peoples may share
in regardless of culture, class, religion, age, or any other consideration
that may be relative.
The student with a relativistic
mindset is more concerned with appearance than what might be under or
beyond that appearance. They mistakenly accept that “perception is
reality” and arrive at conclusions that there are multiple realities that
exists simultaneously even when “reality” is defined to be "the sum total
of all that is real". They are as indifferent to equivocations as
they are to other mental machinations that would be termed "fallacies" by
those possessed of the rational mindset.
Tenacious-Authoritarian to Relativistic Habit of Mind
The tenacious-authoritarian mindset
that arrives at college is more inclined to go to or relate to or fit in
with the relativistic mindset when confronted with a pluralistic society
that has great cultural diversity and a range of mindsets and habits of
mind. As the tenacious-authoritarian mindset believes in a “truth” even
as a sacred or unquestionable “truth” and does not want to subject that
truth to examination let alone to possible revision or rejection. The
tenacious-authoritarian mindset thus accepts the relativistic mindset’s
celebration of the equality of all truth claims and all claims of
privilege. In this manner, the tenacious-authoritarian mindset can
maintain that their traditional dogmas and doctrines and received truths
go on as such even in the midst of contrary and contradictory claims by
those who are possessed of the rational mindset and its mechanism for
establishing truth and for determining which would be the best defended of
all hypotheses and positions and beliefs.
Since all positions are afforded equal entitlements
within their social settings in the post rational or relativist mindset,
so it is that the tenacious-authoritarian mindset can
feel that their "official" or received beliefs are just as important and to be just as
valued as with any other set of beliefs or claims or practices, for that
matter. This explains how what would appear as conflicting
mindsets can coexist in a pluralist society. There is the appearance
of respectful tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The frictions that
lead to violence in a pluralist society are not likely to be those of the
rationalist mindset with either of the other two mindsets but of the tenacious-authoritarian with
the relativistic because lurking under this surface appearance of peaceful
coexistence there are still the deeply held beliefs and intolerant mindset
of the tenacious-authoritarian mind that can act against others if
threatened or if the ability to resist being "converted' is feared to be
weakening. In contemporary times this is evidenced by fear of the
challenges to the belief systems of the various orthodoxies being made by
the materialism and wantonness of the "infidels" of relativism.
A pluralistic society holding
pluralism as a value based on conclusions arrived at by the rational habit
of mind is much more secure than that resting on the relativist habit of
mind. This is so because it would not hold for uncritical acceptance
of all belief systems nor for an unqualified celebration of tolerance.
base for Habits of Mind
Mindsets are the product of habits of
mind and they are composed of ideas that are foundational or most basic.
Such ideas are inherited from the previous generation. They are known as
“replicators”. Genes and memes make for replicators. Memes are a unit of
cultural transmission in the thought of Richard Dawkins. (note 1) Memes
are units of imitation. They include ideas and beliefs and belief systems
and in this case, mindsets or habits of mind. memes propagate in the gene
pool by transmission from brain to brain through communication and
imitation. Replicators are passed from one generation to another as
physical constituents that characterize physical aspects of the brain or
as ideas that have had survival value within the culture. Replicators
that enhance survival are thereby transmitted to the next generation.
Early replicators for humans included an enlarged brain with capacity for
creation of symbolic representation, thought, language and abstraction.
Those with the ability to organize the overwhelming diversity of sensory
inputs had enhanced survival potential. Brains that could organize chaos
into cosmos were better able to note change and particularly changes in
the sensory input against the the pattern stored in memory of the physical
environment that might be indications of danger.
Given the tremendous amount of
apparent disorder in the changing physical environment -the weather and
movements of animals of all types - the mind that supplied an order
through abstraction held a survival advantage. Ideas of supernatural
forces emerged as organizing tools by minds that sought order. The ideas
of deities and the order of deities provided a cosmos to the environmental
chaos. The idea of an afterlife for those who held a life expectancy not
much past 25 years of age provided not just order but consolation and
hope. Order, consolation and hope are needed for human enterprise and
that held a survival advantage for those who participated in that belief
system that was set on foundational beliefs as the source of order that
became imbued with value as well and functioned to provide for a great
deal. Upon the set of foundational beliefs rests ideas of the self in the
grand scheme of things and ideas of the importance of things and the
generative engine for hope.
When a person has their foundational
beliefs called into question they react in ways that do not appear to be
rational. The explanation is that the discourse that has threatened the
foundations has moved from one involving a cognitive use of language
employing reason and examining empirical claims to one that threatens self
identity, group membership and identity: the basic sense of order needed
for making sense of the world and having hope for the future in either
this physical realm or in some other supernatural and spiritual realm.
The earliest mindset or habit of
mind that rests on acceptance of the foundational beliefs and respect for
the authoritarian sources of those beliefs is not open to considering
change or the possibility that the foundational beliefs may be wrong.
Acceptance of authority without question had a survival advantage as in
earliest times for humans as homo sapiens the
young needed to be taught by their elders.
Today other mindsets have evolved
that enable enhanced survival potential. The rational mindset with its
desire for examining beliefs and testing hypotheses and valuation for
increased knowledge has produced survival of greater numbers of humans and
for longer periods of time and with increase in goods and services
available to them.
Confrontations of the rational
mindset with the early authoritarian mindset are fraught with
difficulties. Two different mindsets can at times produce two different
uses for the same language occurring simultaneously. The rational mind
attempts to point out problems with the belief set of the earliest
mindset. Pointing out contradiction in beliefs or noting that there is no
support for a belief and that there is empirical support for the
contradictory claim will not be accepted as a serious occasion for
reflective thought but instead it will be treated as a serious threat to
what makes for the sense of self and all that is held as being most
Refuge will be taken by the
believers who think that they are being attacked by the users of reason
and empirical evidence: refuge into claims of mystery and defensive
assertions of their right to believe what they want to believe. It is
more a case of what they believe that they must believe for fear of chaos
or damnation. They will make immunological claims that their beliefs are
not to subject to critical examination and held open to rational analysis
and empirical verification. They do this as a form of self defense, not
so much defending any claims about truth but instead defending their self
identities and values.
Such minds are not open to change
and resistant to education at both its highest and deepest levels. Formal
instruction is put up with as educators and educational institutions are
seen as necessary experiences to endure on a path to some desired goal
requiring a credential. Teachers are gate keepers. Teachers are for the
most part members of the realm of reason and critical thought and the open
mind looking for support for claims and mindful on inconsistencies and
contradictions and the closed mind will pay the coin of the realm of
reason but be unaffected by the experiences at any meaningful level as the
pass through the doors and gates of the academe on their way to better
paying jobs and careers.
At the most meaningful level the
closed mind of the pre-rational authoritarian is incapable of education.
Unless and until that mind is opened there is not possibility of change.
Education is about change. The development of critical thinking skills
and evaluative judgments and increase in knowledge and the value of
knowledge and reason are what education is about. If there are such minds
enrolled in colleges they may achieve the credits required for a degree
but they will not be moved. They will not be changed. They will continue
to hold the foundational beliefs despite evidence to the contrary and
defend their doing so with the claims of a tolerant and pluralistic society
resting on relativistic habits of mind:
"I have a right to my beliefs. I
can believe whatever I want to believe."
" You have no right to try to
change my beliefs I have my beliefs and you have yours."
" Let's just respect one
The survival potential of the
tenacious-authoritarian mindset is not as high as with the rational
mindset. The rational have increased the survival potential of the tenacious-authoritarian population
with the medicines and technologies that are some of the productions of the rationalistic
The relativistic mindsets have
brought about some conflicts and endangerments as they hold for the
possibility of coexistence of all mindsets and beliefs systems without
evaluative judgments: a universal equality of mindsets and beliefs.
Such a mindset sees no rational method for the resolution of conflicts.
Power and physical domination are accepted as the effective method for the
settlement of disputes between cultures and belief systems as their are no
trans-cultural or objective criteria for evaluation or for the criticism
of belief systems.
The relativistic mindsets do not have
the same values as the tenacious-authoritarian mindset nor the
rationalistic mindsets. They do not have an idea of knowledge that is
critical. They are also resistant to education at the most meaningful
levels as they do not hold that changes in beliefs or in habits of mind
are necessary or in any way an improvement on whatever is the "given" and
is operative within a social group. They, as relativists, are opposed to any universal or objective schema and
criteria for measurement of any claims, regardless of contexts and modes
The relativistic mindset defends the
non-critical stance and positions based upon their foundational beliefs
with their own immunological claims.
You have your beliefs
and we have ours.
What is right for you may not be
right for me. So, let us be.
They blur the distinction of
cognitive use of language from the non cognitive and the axiological use
with its ethical and aesthetical claims and judgments. All beliefs
despite content are relegated by the relativistic mindset into the realm
of subjectivism and relativity.
For the tenacious-authoritarian
mindset and the relativistic mindset education is very problematic. For
the tenacious-authoritarian mindset there are many opinions and there is
also the truth that they already possess so all other belief systems and
claims have no effective consequence for them. The other non orthodox claims and
theories are not to be considered seriously for they are presumed to be
false and worse still paying serious attention to them might be confusing
or threatening. For the relativistic mindset all beliefs and claims are
opinions and all opinions are equal. Some people who have opinions also
have power and that is a distinction worthy of note and what is to be
respected. The educator/teacher is a grade and credit dispenser who
guards the gate to the credential they seek and so they are afforded the
very practical and temporary respect one gives to the holder of power over
one’s condition and future.
The Ethics of
Changing a Habit of Mind
There are some, even within
education, who may think that there are limits to addressing let alone
attempting to change a fundamental habit of mind as it includes some
fundamental beliefs and some of them are related to religious beliefs or
belief systems. While this may be a fairly common idea it is nonetheless
fundamentally mistaken as to what education has been and is and will
continue to be all about. It is an idea that is itself a product of a
relativistic mindset that holds for no manner in which basic habits of
mind can be or should be legitimately compared let alone evaluated.
The whole object of education
is...to develop the mind. The mind should be a thing that works. -Sherwood Anderson
Education is about changing minds.
Education is at its most basic level about addressing and changing habits
of mind. Educators teach subject matter and information but even more so
they attempt to inculcate the skills of acquiring information and
knowledge and of organizing such in the most effective manner for humans
to address problems and to question, set and accomplish their goals.
The object of teaching a child is
to enable him to get along without a teacher. -Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)
Education is also directive as it
attempts to foster growth of learners in both the acquisition of
information and knowledge and in the abilities to think critically and to
organize information effectively in order to form the most well founded
beliefs upon which to make decisions and formulate judgments concerning
Educators have a fiduciary
responsibility towards those whom they teach to both do them no harm but
also and most fundamental to the relationship of teacher to learner to
assist the learner to gain benefit to the learner through the acquisition
of information, knowledge and intellectual skills.
Educational institutions have a
fiduciary responsibility to those who attend them as learners to assist
the learners to gain benefits to the learners through the acquisition of
information, knowledge and intellectual skills. Such institutions have as
part of that basic responsibility the subsequent responsibility to hire
and retain and further develop educators who fulfill their
responsibilities to educate and thus to most effectively address the task
of developing the basic intellectual skills of their students.
Education: Being able to
differentiate between what you do know and what you don't. It's knowing
where to go to find out what you need to know; and it's knowing how to use
the information once you get it. - William Feather
Learners and their parents place
trust in educational institutions and in individual members of the
profession to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities.
Both educational institutions and
their instructional staff have a fiduciary relationship with their
learners as they need to protect and advance the interests of the learners
and in so doing to make the best judgment about what is in the interest of
Education is about teaching people
how to think and the foundation of the academic enterprise is suffused
with reasoning, the value of reasoning and the hope that reasoning will be
accepted as the corrective to much that is wrong with some thinking.
Educators can not allow learners who
refuse to embrace rationality itself to go unchallenged as to the efficacy
of their beliefs about making judgments and about formulating and
maintaining their beliefs. Learners who want to remain unchanged do not
want to learn. If the learners refuse to enter into the community of
learners and the more general community of rational discourse amongst
members of the human species planet-wide, there is no obligation to accept
that refusal nor to respect the claim that there is no need to reason nor
to change fundamental beliefs about how claims of knowledge are to be
analyzed, criticized and reviewed.
The moral foundation for promoting
the use of reason in drawing conclusions is argued in In The Ethics of
Belief (1877) ( Originally published in Contemporary Review, 1877)
http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/w_k_clifford/ethics_of_belief.html wherein William K. Clifford concludes that :
We may believe
what goes beyond our experience, only when it is inferred from that
experience by the assumption that what we do not know is like what we
We may believe
the statement of another person, when there is reasonable ground for
supposing that he knows the matter of which he speaks, and that he is
speaking the truth so far as he knows it.
It is wrong in
all cases to believe on insufficient evidence; and where it is
presumption to doubt and to investigate, there it is worse than
presumption to believe.
For explanations of the resistance of
learners to the changing of their habit of mind, their basic mindsets and
systems of beliefs, if only to conduct a critical examination of them,
there are a variety of factors to be considered. There is in nearly
all humans a desire for a stable and secure world and environment in which
to live. This includes the belief system with which the world is
experienced and ordered. There is the desire for a cosmos and avoidance of
chaos. The questioning of the tenacious-authoritarian habits of mind
and the relativistic habit of mind is seen as threatening to the sense of
comfort enjoying by those possessed of such mindsets. If
critical examination and questioning and consideration of alternatives and
measuring or weighing of such is perceived as potentially threatening to
displace the familiar beliefs with no ready replacement immediately
perceived as capable of providing and preserving the essential components
of mental life that rest upon the previous belief systems then resistance
to such efforts to encourage or even require serious critical thinking is
the likely result. There is fear of the unknown and fear of having
the known and familiar and the safe being removed.
In resistance to examining ones own
habits of mind and belief systems there is also the lack of motivation to
do so, as long as the current set of beliefs and habits of mind are
providing all that the thinker/learner wants or considers as valued or
relevant. If efforts to educate so as to develop the rational habit
of mind are not made evident as relevant or to be valued in some way,
learners are likely to resist, dismiss or minimize any effort to enter
into experiences that might cause a change in the basic habit of mind.
"What do I need to know this for?"
"What has this to do with me?"
"This is not needed for my major."
With little or no motivation to
change there is likely to be little effort to change. Changing a
mindset or a set of beliefs involves a good deal of mental effort or work
and the tendency to avoid doing what is not absolutely necessary and what
involves great effort likely wins out over curiosity.
and the Habits of Mind
Education is, in its most genuine
sense, the effort to develop the rational habit of mind. People born
into cultures in which the other habits of mind are predominant and even
linked with popularity and success simply acquire those habits of mind
through acculturation. Only the rational habit of mind results from
education. The self reflective and careful and critical thinking
that mark the rational habit of mind are not innate but are the products
of a series of interactions with others who model that behavior and
encourage and recognize and reward it in others. In the perspective
set out herein the rational mindset is the basic goal of education.
Education is about preparing people
for life and not simply preparing people to occupy a very limited and well
defined location in a community of believers and a community of
employees. Education is not simply about preparing people for entering
into a vocation or the labor market and not about assisting people to
learn how to learn and how to reflect and criticize and enter into the
exploration of the wider range of experiences in order to derive a greater
amount of the potential of those experiences offered.
able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don't. It's
knowing where to go to find out what you need to know; and it's knowing
how to use the information once you get it.
- William Feather
Education is not about the transfer
of information and the development of some limited set of skills.
The things taught
in colleges and schools are not an education, but the means of education.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Education in the liberal arts and
sciences is about examining, developing and changing habits of mind.
It is about moving people from a closed to an open mental posture that
will enable continued growth, more efficacious thinking and an expansion
in the range of human experience of that which is valued. Rationality and
the need for evidence and supporting reasons are common to the disciplines
of science and the liberal arts. The natural and social sciences are
founded upon a reasoning process and habit of mind that advances knowledge
and criticizes claims of knowledge. To teach science effectively is not
possible without every effort to develop the rational mindset and habit of
mind. To teach History or Philosophy also requires the inculcation of
reasoning as a habit of mind, and so it is likewise with Literature and an
exploration of the Arts. The aims of any General Education Program, once
enunciated, are the litany of the components of what has been described
herein as the rational habit of mind.
Education is a radical activity as it
is most basic. It is that through which humans develop the modes of
experience that typify the species. It is the process through which
humans develop their abilities to have experiences as humans.
Even where formal schooling carries
the aim of technical skill development and vocational training there may
appear to be less a need for the mental skills set of the rational mind
but that is a conclusion drawn by considering the human only as an
employee and technician and not in the fullness of the human experience
with the roles occupied by any and all humans beyond those of the
workplace. Even in technical schools or programs there is the need to
have the learner be a learner and thus to be capable of and practitioner
of the sort of thinking that will best serve any human whether in the job
Not only is it ethically or morally
appropriate and correct to address and seek to remediate habits of mind
but it is also a fundamental responsibility of professional educators to
When the instructional staff that is
of the rational mindset or habit of mind confronts a student body that is
diverse in mindsets and diverse in habits of mind and in their associated
values there results a tremendous challenge to bring the diverse group of
learners into the rational mindset or to have them achieve the outcomes of
the typical general education component of the Liberal Arts and Sciences
core of any degree program.
Given the tremendous and complex
heterogeneity of the learners there can be no single effective approach to
teaching and learning that will work with all of them. Some factors in
successful teaching are known and they can be and should be widely known
and demonstrated in the instructional designs of classes. There is a
large body of research on the factors that contribute to effective
teaching and learning. There would be a significant contribution to that
research if there were an examination in a systematic way of what works
with the heterogeneous student body that are typical of classes at a
diversified campus that takes into account their various learning styles
and habits of mind or mind sets.
A QCC Colleague, Bob Rogers , responds to this idea
of the multiple mindsets with these comments that focus on the need to
have a serious regard for the acculturation process and what the attempt
to change a mindset represents to the learner. Mindsets or habits
of mind might serve their possessors in positive ways within certain
environments or communities from which they stem and within which they,
at least in some manner, flourish.
This raises the larger question of enculturation
in general and intellectual enculturation in particular. It could be
argued, I think, that both of these other "minds" are adaptive within
their own Darwinian cultural niches. The tenacious-authoritarian mind is adaptive to
a religiously society where people genuinely believe that their
salvation depends upon the adherence to rules set forth by a deity. The
relativistic mind is ideally suited for a consumer-oriented society where
a population of consumer/producers serves an economic engine in which
psychological value (as opposed to labor and material) drives wealth.
Everything is marketable. Every lifestyle and value system is but a
niche to be colonized. I think one could make a case that civil rights
in America took a significant leap when it was discovered that
minorities represented a significant market, and as I recall part of the
civil rights strategy from the beginning was an economic boycott. To
that extent political correctness is motivated by economic as well moral
The question then becomes, Of what value is the
Rational Mind going to have for people who are being prepared on every
level other than the classroom, to participate in the relativistic world,
and to what extent is (and has been) rational thinking based on
scientific principles, historically an activity of an intellectual
elite? Clearly everybody benefited from the discovery of penicillin,
but not everyone with an infection is capable of discovering it, let
alone understanding enough of the principles of pharmacology not to use
it against viral infections. The same can be said of the Constitution.
I think that the intellectual bias of this
discussion might be made a part of the question. Where do we, who like
to think of ourselves (to varying degrees) as possessors of Modern
Minds, fit into a world where we are the clear minority? (Adlai
Stevenson was approached by a supporter who said, "Mr. Stevenson, you
have the vote of every thinking American." To which he replied. "I'm
afraid that won't be enough. I need a majority."
So the core question then is, given this
diversity and the tendency for students (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s
opinion of America in general) to go from intellectual “barbarism to
decadence without ever having had a civilization,” how do we develop an
approach to education that acknowledges this diversity of minds as well
as encourages students to develop the “Rational Mind”?
I think what you are looking at is both
interesting and important, not only for the questions it raises about
how we should organize or teaching and even our institution, but as to
the kind of society we are preparing our students for. The first
question I have is to what extent can we in fact shift the kind of mind
in a student if they have not already begun to question it or their
intellectual history and orientation on their own? In other words, if
the kind of thinking you are concerned about (pre/post) is not to some
extent distonic already, e.g., the student has on their own already
begun to feel the need for new answers, what effect can we have on their
thinking? As you observe, the relativistic mind is particularly
pernicious, in that whatever we say is deflected as simply another point
of view and as a result no real intellectual purchase can be gained to
challenge their thinking.
The more sinister (or cynical) question for me
is to what extent do the major curricula of the school—Electrical Technology, Nursing,
Business, etc. actually prefer or even nurture the
relativistic minds of our students. We could argue that many aspects of
modern medicine do not encourage independent thinking but rather merely
adherence to a set of canonical procedures that are to be followed
without question. Many modern business practices are set forth with
similar certainty along with the idea that anything that works (as long
as you’re not caught) to promote a profit is acceptable (very
What kind of life does a “Rational Mind” in fact
prepare students for? Will a pedagogy that develops it actually
“produce graduates better able to deal with the contemporary world.” I
am reminded of the speech by the Captain in” Fahrenheit 451 when goes
through the secret library and trashes all the reasons for writing
books—biographies, histories, philosophies, etc.—mostly organized around
the unhappiness the ideas they contain bring to their owners and the
social discontent they generate in the larger society.
I think that the Rational mind you espouse is one
that questions the world it encounters in ways that often challenge the
status quo and as a result such minds are, in fact, less able to accept
contemporary world views. Galileo springs to mind. A pre/post -modern
mind would be much more comfortable on academic committees and dealing
with the administration, for example, than some of the more rational
ones I know.
With regard to the arts, that’s also an
interesting question. All students of whatever “mind” are possessed of
a creative unconscious, and in my experience, it is accessible to
varying degrees. I have students from all backgrounds who are able to
understand the aesthetic principle behind photography and become
excellent practitioners. One particularly brilliant student was born in
a tin shed in Jamaica. Talk about culture shock! Other students from
third world cultures and fundamentalist societies all have traditions of
art that they bring with them to varying extents and it finds expression
in their work. The oriental students grasp aspects of design more
readily as their everyday world is organized around aesthetic principles
as part of their heritage. The Japanese in particular exhibit this
tendency. I also had a orthodox Jew from Iran who made images of
tessellated designs (the tradition of Islamic art) for the longest time
until he started to understand that the material world could be
represented photographically as well. But the “Mind” being tapped here
is the Right Brain, not the left, so I would postulate that a different
set of problem arises for the teachers in these areas than those you are
concerned with in you discussions.
I think one of the problems may be general
cultural orientation. I have long maintained, (and even once proposed
formally) that there be a cultural remediation course required for
entering students, exactly to provide students with the historical and
social context for the kind of world view on which the “Rational Mind” is
based. I find in teaching the creative arts that although students come
with an innate potential for creativity, they often possess no social
context in which to perceive the arts as valuable, or to see themselves
in the role of an artist in society. So although they have an impulse
to create, they don’t know how to place it meaningfully within their
lives. In my Photo 2 class I try to address this by a series of
discussion organized around films such as Fahrenheit 451, The Horses
Mouth, and reading from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, etc., as a way
of giving them some cultural reference for their creativity.
I think this kind of orientation would be
helpful for addressing the problem you so clearly described.
The other problem, (and I am in danger of being
relativistic, here myself) is that the pre and postmodern minds are
adaptive within some cultural context. I believe that students from
these worldviews will tend to find and/or recreate lives for themselves
where these worldviews still function. In other words, rather than
develop Rational Minds they will find or recreate new cultural/social/
environments in which their current ways of thinking continue to be
useful. As I mentioned in my first note, this leads to the problem that
unless they are already questioning their own worldview/mindset on their
own, it is hard to shift their thinking from a “standing start”.