The Profession of Education: Responsibilities, Ethics and Pedagogic Experimentation 

Shannon Kincaid, Ph.D.

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

The art of teaching is to teach, to teach well and to teach even better.


Chapter: VII.           Ethical Issues in Education: Changing Habits of Mind


 I. Introduction

II.  Responsibilities of educators to change Habits of Mind

III. The Habits of Mind

IV. Risks Involved in changing minds

V. Ethical Implications: Problems

A.  Do no harm  - no unnecessary and avoidable harms

B. Paternalism

C. Whose Benefit

D. Tolerance

E.  Focus: learner or content

VI.  Conclusion: Responsibility with Sensitivity


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 do so.

 I. Introduction

If it is the case that educators must avoid causing harm to others then there are two major concerns with regard to causing harm and thus concern for the morality of practicing education.  The first concern is with education itself as being an "invasive" enterprise and one that causes harm-intellectual discomfort or distress- to the learner, if only to produce some other more positive result, such as a mind that is "educated" and capable of learning.   The second concern is with harms that might be produced when educators conduct the pedagogic experiments that they must do in order to advance the profession and continue improvement of the efficacy of instruction.  This later concern is the subject of the next chapter in this work.  In this chapter we take up the issue that education itself may be seen by some people, learners and their parents, as causing harm to learners when education is seen as causing changes in the minds of students and some of those changes are perceived as doing just that: causing harm by upsetting learners and their families and friends.  In fact, some view the challenging of the beliefs of students as being unacceptable educational practice precisely because of claims and protests that beliefs are to be held as sacrosanct domains to be held aside from the province of educators as challenges to beliefs often cause upset and even worse in the learners when cherished beliefs and feelings of esteem might be disturbed. 

This chapter presents the case that education is essentially involved with addressing, challenging and changing the minds of learners.   Genuine educational process must alter the mindsets (the beliefs and the systems of beliefs) and Habits of Minds of learners (the manner in which beliefs and information is obtained, organized and evaluated) if there is to be an increase of their intellectual capital to benefit both the individual learner and the more general society. In so doing, educators while fulfilling their professional responsibilities to learners and society must be aware of the possible harms involved in such challenges and must protect learners from whatever harm is foreseeable, avoidable and unnecessary.

It is the case following from the professional duties of educators that 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 do so.

The most significant ethical issues with regard to education arise from the very nature of the act of educating someone.  Beyond that, the most significant issues arise from the social role that the institution of education is to serve. These matters will be the topic of this chapter which will deal with the ethics of education and matters associated with changing Habits of Mind.

Serving the requests of clients :Tolerance

While tolerance is promoted as a value in a pluralistic society to what degree, if any, should educators be tolerant of sets of beliefs and Habits of Mind that establish those beliefs?  All students as learners, beginning with the very young, hold beliefs that are in conflict with one another and with empirical evidence.  Is education to remediate that situation?  If students object claiming that they have a right to their beliefs is such a claim to be recognized and accepted by educators?  Must educators be tolerant of beliefs and Habits of Mind that present threats to individuals and to society itself?

Obligations to others beyond the client and to society :Whose benefit?

There are times when dealing with learners that questions arise as to the appropriateness or acceptability of a program of instruction or a lesson or a mode of instruction and those questions result from there not being a clear indication of what benefit there is to the learner. Whose benefit is being produced?  Is it that of the individual learner, that of society itself, or both at once? How is it that the educator handles the conflict between serving the interests of society in having education support the increase in human intellectual capital to be shared by all in society and serving the interests of the individual learner in increasing the individual's abilities to grow and to occupy a certain desirable position in the social order, principally through some vocation?

 II. Responsibilities of educators to change Habits of Mind

Learners will at times claim that they have a right to their opinions and beliefs and that they have the right to go on believing what they believe despite what the instructor is teaching including evidence to the contrary of the learner's positions.  This claim is often made with regard to religious beliefs but it carries over to any belief, even those beliefs concerning claims relating to the physical states of affairs: empirical claims.  Too many learners believe and hope that associating any belief that is either highly valued and/or closely held with religion will afford them the opportunity to escape reflection upon and criticism of their beliefs by tossing  what they hope will be a cloak of immunity over those most basic beliefs with which they identify and which identify them to others.  Such beliefs may provide them with comfort and consolation or at least the stability of the familiar and thus function to stave off what the learners perceive as a number of undesirable consequences. Such claims of immunity are sometimes made in the name not of "religious" beliefs but for "personal beliefs as well.

"You have no right to challenge my beliefs!"

"I have a right to believe what I want to believe!"

"These are my personal beliefs and I am entitled to the right to hold them without being examined or criticized."

Unfortunately,  there are educators who think that to some extent the learner is correct and that the educator has no right to be addressing, challenging and seeking to change beliefs that are claimed by the learner to be either highly valued and /or core or foundational beliefs.   While this concession to the claim of immunity may be fairly wide spread, it is deplorable as it is in effect a denial of some of the most important goals of education.  A mind that is unchanged by a single or program of  educational experiences is a mind that has not been educated.  An unchanged mind is not an educated mind.  If educators make no change in a learner's mind through a course of instruction where has there been any learning?   To educate is to lead out of a mind what it is capable of doing.  This is to change that mind, to make it grow.

The whole object of education develop the mind. The mind should be a thing that works. -Sherwood Anderson 

In addition to the actual beliefs there are the Habits of Mind with which the beliefs are settled into the mindsets of individuals. The Habits of Minds of learners are the  systems of beliefs and the manner in which beliefs and information is obtained, organized and evaluated. There are some, even within education, who may think that there are limits to addressing let alone attempting to change a Habit of Mind as it includes some fundamental beliefs and some of them are related to religious beliefs.  While this may be a fairly common idea it is nonetheless 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. 

If students are permitted to maintain beliefs, especially inconsistent and contradictory beliefs and beliefs concerning empirical claims that have been refuted or disproved by evidence, and to maintain them without challenge and without serious attempts to have them think reflectively and critically about those beliefs and to think about the Habit of Mind that had them accept and order and hold those beliefs,  well then granting that permission would constitute a formal failure on the part of educators.  Such educators may be motivated by one of several concerns but they are failing their students nonetheless.   Educators who fail to encourage and promote and support the examination of beliefs for fear of being subjected to criticism by organized groups of ideologues, dogmatists, or fundamentalists of any order are guilty of a failure to fulfill their professional responsibility as educators.   Those who teach science and grant permission for their learners to regard science as being a belief system akin to any other and akin to religion in particular also fail in their professional responsibility to advance their academic discipline.  Such educators undermine understanding of, respect for and valuation of science.

" I tell them that I don't care what you believe; all I care about is what you answer on the exams."

Educators who accept the claims of immunity or allow the learners to believe whatever they wish to believe as long as they memorize and offer back the "official" correct answers on exams and other forms of assessment are in a very fundamental manner failing in their professional responsibilities as educators to engage the minds of their learners in an examination of and alteration of the basic Habits of Mind through which their beliefs systems are created and maintained.   Educators who remain shy and retire from direct engagements with the actual belief systems and the Habits of Mind of their learners are not  developing the critical thinking skills and the reasoning abilities of their learners.  They are not encouraging of reflective thought and the need for and methods of reviewing ideas and beliefs to determine the accuracy of empirical claims and the value of non-cognitive claims.

"In my class I teach science.  I tell them to keep their other beliefs out of this class."

Education is about challenging and changing minds.  Education is at its most basic level about addressing and changing Habits of Mind.  Educators must move or change a mind from habits and conditions which close it off  and which prevent its growth.  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 challenging of the received view, of the facile, of that which appears directly, of the simplistic notions and the uncritical attitude is an essential part of what genuine education is about.  Education is about opening minds and having them grow through careful and critical thought about experience.  Education is about the active pursuit of thought.  Education functions well when it fosters inquiry that leads to continual growth.  Education does this for people of all ages.

If at whatever period we choose to take a person, he is still in the process of growth, then education is not, save as a by product, a preparation for something coming later.  Getting from the present the degree and kind of growth there is in it is education. --John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 1920, Boston: Beacon Press, 1952,p. 184-185.

Minds that work too impulsively and reflexively are close to minds that do not work at all as they respond at the lowest levels at which humans think.  Education is about developing or the drawing out of a complexity of operation that the mind is capable of and through which achieves its finest productions.  Education succeeds when the learner inculcates that process of inquiry that fosters intellectual growth.

The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along without a teacher. -Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)

For too many people education has not succeeded well at all.  It has been reported in studies indicating the underpreparedness of students for college work and we have too often seen people who have proceeded through several levels of formal education and yet they are possessed of incorrect information, deficiencies in intellectual skill and debilitating Habits of Mind.  One of the important aims of education is to address those conditions and to remediate them. In so saying it is clear that the aim of education is to change the manner in which minds operate and the contents of minds.  Habits of Mind that close off a mind to inquiry and provide for false notions of certainty are the nemesis of education and a threat to social well being and advance.

There are students/learners who enter college believing that:

  • heavier things fall faster than lighter things because they are heavier

  • the sun rises and sets

  • only cold environs or exposure to drafts cause colds

  • humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs

  • the earth and universe have existed for just over 6,000 years

  • events associated with a house in Amityville in the movie, the “Amityville Horror”, are true because they were described in a movie or book

  • members of one group of people are naturally inferior/superior  to others

  • if a person believes that X exists then X does exist

  • if a person thinks that a proposition or claim is true then the claim is true

  • all opinions on all subjects are of equal value

  • the shape of planet earth can be flat and spherical at the same time

  • evolutionary theory and creationist theory are equally acceptable and effective explanations of life forms on planet earth

  • a person is entitled to believe that any claim or proposition  P may be held to be true until someone else can prove that claim P is not true using an empirical-logical  method that is avoided in the initial holding and asserting of the claim P and not even then must a person surrender belief that claim P is true

  • there is no problem in holding beliefs that are contradictory to one another

For the rational mind educated in logic and science none of the above claims are true.  Education needs to address the believing in or holding of such claims and, even more importantly and most essentially, education must be involved with altering the method of thinking that leads a person to hold false claims to be true.  Effective pedagogy seeks to identify such ideas that are empirical claims or logical claims as may be false but that are still held in the mind as being true and then educators proceed to correct them and to correct or change the method of thought that lead to those empirical or logical claims being held as true.  Education as a process has a multiplicity of desired outcomes but the one most highly valued for its utility for learner and society alike is Truth.   Falsehoods may serve short term interests but that perspective is itself born of ignorance and needs to be remedied by the same process of education that distinguishes those modalities of thought through which and in which the false is detected and the true is approached.

There are people possessed of such beliefs who may not like being challenged to confront their ideas and beliefs that may be false or unsubstantiated and to examine their Habits of Mind that may not be beneficial to them and/or to the human community.  Some learners may feel threatened and may insist on their right to continue to hold their beliefs.  Some beliefs may be closely held because they provide comfort and protection from the anxiety that results from seriously examining a set of truths about the physical world and human life that produces a sort of existential terror.  Beliefs can and do provide a sense of order for the human in the midst of an otherwise harsh and chaotic universe, as well as provide identification with something greater than the individual, and a sense of belonging with others. Beliefs can operate to stave off and keep such fear and terror of having no such coping mechanisms available at bay and thus the prospect of critically reviewing such beliefs creates the possibility of having to face the world without the familiar compass and measures and meanings.  To avoid such a prospect those who have fundamental beliefs challenged will often respond with an experience of a heightened  need to maintain faith and remain loyal to the beliefs and to those who hold them.  Those who would criticize fundamental beliefs that are part of or constitute entire worldviews will be seen as the deviant other who must be resisted and even fought off.  Thus, will come the claims from learners that educators "have no right" to do anything that might cause them some disruption in their thought process and beliefs. The closed minded and obstinate believer is often the person acting out of a real fear of being left to cope with reality and the disquietudes of human existence without the familiar beliefs that provide the becalming salve of certitudes.  Theirs is the fear that to enter into a critical consideration of belief would threaten a disintegration of the edifice of belief that is itself believed to be the only viable remedy thus thought of as irreplaceable by any other set of beliefs erected by any other Habit of Mind other than that which they have been acculturated into assimilating and with which they think. 

Confronted by educators with counter claims and evidence to the contrary of closely held beliefs and with demonstrations of the inconsistencies, contradictions and inadequacies in sets of beliefs and the problems and disadvantages of some Habits of Mind as opposed to others, some learners experience real fright for they know no alternative to what has been given previously and have been their basic conceptual frameworks and worldviews.  Further there is as well for some the real sense that they are being tempted to become "disloyal" to what they have held for so long and to those who have shared those beliefs with them.  There is what might be termed a "cultural anxiety" that to reflect on their most common and basic beliefs and to accept challenges to those beliefs would constitute a threat for it would tempt them "betray" a faith in their worldview and that would be to fail to uphold the standards of the worldviews with which they were raised.  This acculturation process that sets out the Habit of Mind used to set beliefs would include the belief that a blind allegiance to or steadfast defense of those basic beliefs and worldviews in the face of any and all opposition or challenge is owed to those who share them.  And so the defense will be made and the claim asserted and repeated and reinforced that the educator "has no right" to be do anything that disturbs the belief systems and the Habits of Mind that have created and maintained those most basic and closely held beliefs, whatever their content.

 People may hold their beliefs to be immune to challenges from strangers and leaders of faith based associations may hold their beliefs immune from the critical examination of their members but such immunity is not the case in the relationship of a learner with an educator.  But there is no such right to be held as immune to challenges to beliefs and Habits of Mind where the relationship of the educator to the learner is concerned and there is instead the obligation of educators to assist learners to confront their false beliefs and belief systems and their method for fixing beliefs in order to change them and have learners develop more productive methodologies resulting in a more accurate understanding of how things are and how knowledge of such matters is obtained and how such claims are evaluated.  This would include claims that are empirical as well as claims with relation to interpretations of texts and situations.  If it is the obligation of educators to teach and thus to provide the methods for determining truth,  then should the learner be possessed of any impediments to the learning the educator is obliged to effectively address and remedy that situation by removing or surmounting the obstructions to learning and to developing the methodologies for distinguishing truth from falsehood.

The things taught in colleges and schools are not an education, but the means of education. - Ralph Waldo Emerson .

No learner who comes to a professional educator has a mind that is tabula rasa.  Minds come to educators filled with a great many things and even the youngets of minds arrives as tabula congesta.  The task of educators is to have the learner examine the content of the mind and the methods for acquiring ideas and fixing beliefs.  The experiences and information and mental habituation of learners need to be engaged by the instructor in a manner whereby learners can become more  aware of the contents of their own minds through reflection.  Educators guide that reflective examination so that it is productive of critical and effective discernment especially distinguishing of the true from the false. That there are false beliefs is evident in the listing previously given.  That there are methods for distinguishing the true from the false is but a part of what education seeks to bring into the awareness of learners.  Educators at whatever level aim to engage learners in taking on the methods by which educators have come to make distinctions and to develop in learners the intellectual abilities to acquire not simply information such as what is known to be true and what is known not to be true but to mature in the intellectual skills with which to discriminate what is true from what is not true and to be able to effectively represent this in a manner possessed of some refinement.

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

Education is at its core all about changing minds.  The core of a curriculum at the level of higher education is the most general education that people can receive.  This is in the Liberal Arts and Sciences.  This is what General Education is about.   It is not about training.  Training involves the deliberate shaping of minds in order to fit the thought and/or behavior of individuals into some set manner of relating to their environment and their fellow humans in some common enterprise. Education is all about learning how to adapt and to grow and thus to change. Education is about growth as presented by John Dewey. 

If at whatever period we choose to take a person, he is still in the process of growth, then education is not, save as a by product, a preparation for something coming later.  Getting from the present the degree and kind of growth there is in it is education. --John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 1920, Boston: Beacon Press, 1952,p. 184-185. 

Growth requires minds that are open to growth and thus to development and change.  Education is about fostering Habits of Mind that are not settled with fixed notions and resistant to a continuing process of inquiry that invites reexamination of settled opinions and beliefs and is open to the possibility of the need to change beliefs in the light of new information and changing circumstances.  

Societies create institutions to provide for many things necessary for their  maintenance and progress.  Among those institutions is education offered in order to increase human intellectual capital.  This means educational institutions and programs produce humans with knowledge and skills and shared values that is not only of benefit to the individual but also is of benefit to society as it provides for social cohesion and progress.

I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform. All reforms which rest simply upon the law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile.... But through education society can formulate its own purposes, can organize its own means and resources, and thus shape itself with definiteness and economy in the direction in which it wishes to move.... Education thus conceived marks the most perfect and intimate union of science and art conceivable in human experience. --John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, 1897

When the identity of the moral process with the processes of specific growth is realized, the more conscious and formal education of childhood will be seen to be the most economical and efficient means of social advance and reorganization, and it will also be evident that the test of all the institutions of adult life is their effect in furthering continuing education.  --John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 1920, Boston: Beacon Press, 1952,p. 186.

What is of benefit to society is of benefit for the individuals within it assisting them to realize what they are capable of being, having and doing.  What is of benefit to individuals through education is of benefit to society as well.   There are no individuals as human individuals without society since incorporated in those characteristics that define homo sapiens is a set of properties, skills and features that are the products of a social life: being with other humans.  Humans are as Aristotle phrased it zoon politikon, social animals.  Of course without individuals there is no human society.  The goal of society is the development of its members.  Society provides for the movement of the nascent mammal, the human infant with potentiality for rationality into the conditions within which the individual can realize in an ongoing manner the freedom and support for the realization of that potential growth.

Government, business, art, religion, all social institutions have a meaning, a purpose.  That purpose is to set free and to develop the capacities of human individuals without respect to race, sex, class, or economic status.  And this is all one with saying that the test of their value is the extent to which they educate every individual into the full stature of his possibility. --John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 1920, Boston: Beacon Press, 1952,p. 186.

These benefits are particularly realized at the level of higher education through the study of the liberal arts and sciences more than through the training programs that prepare people for occupations.  Individuals on their own may be inclined to look to the institution of education to derive a personal benefit: an instrumental and self centered benefit rather than to obtain a portion of the public benefit, the public good serving the public interest. 

Education provides a structure for changing the lives of people.  Education does this through a process that can, does and should change the lives of people.  Education changes lives by changing minds, by changing the contents of minds and the manner in which minds operate. It changes ideas and beliefs and the methods for fixing beliefs.  Education changes Habits of Mind.

Professional educators have a responsibility to do what they do in producing minds capable of continual growth as that which they owe to those they teach through an explicit relationship and often a formal contractual obligation.  More importantly professional educators have responsibilities to those they instruct that arise from sources other than their direct relationship with the learner and that extend beyond the period of instruction.   Educators are not simply providing a service for the consumers of instruction.  Professional educators, particularly in higher education, have a responsibility to their academic professions and to society to produce changed minds that continue to change as they grow.  They owe it to society to increase human intellectual capital: one of the aims of education.  They owe it to their academic and pedagogic professions to transmit their knowledge and to develop the skills of acquiring such knowledge and skills as are possessed by members of the professions for the continuation of the profession itself.

Society creates and sustains the institution of education for a purpose.  That purpose is rather pragmatic.  Society needs members who are capable of living peacefully with one another, supporting the common good and in joining together for common purpose and for contributing to the general advancement of society.  None of this is possible without education.

The heart of the sociality of man is in education.  --John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 1920, Boston: Beacon Press, 1952,p. 185.

Education is about preparing people for life the most important and essential aspect of that life is that it is typically lived with others:  a social life.  It is not simply preparing people to occupy a very limited and well defined location in a community of believers and a community of employees or to occupy a position in the economic order.  Education is not simply about preparing people for entering into a vocation or the labor market.  It is 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.  Education is not about the transfer of information and the development of some limited set of skills.

Acquisition of skill, possession of knowledge, attainment of culture are not ends: they are marks of growth and means to its continuing. --John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 1920, Boston: Beacon Press, 1952,p. 185.

Education in the liberal arts and sciences is about examining, developing and changing mindsets (the beliefs and the systems of beliefs) and Habits of Mind. ( the manner in which beliefs and information is obtained, organized and evaluated).  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 and particularly 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.  Teaching 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 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.

The things taught in colleges and schools are not an education, but the means of education. - Ralph Waldo Emerson .

Education is a basic activity of every human society and every human group.  It is that process through which humans develop the modes of experience that most typify the species.  It is the process through which humans develop their abilities to have experiences that are most typically those of humans.  Education occurs in both formal and informal manners.  Parents, siblings and extended family, friends and neighbors provide for informal education as they instruct others in language and behavior.  Human offspring left alone without any contacts with other humans who will interact with and thus, at least minimally, educate that child , will not display the characteristics that most distinguish the human species from others.    Children who are not provided with formal education, private or public, can not enter into those aspects of common life that most typify the level of achievement of a society as is evidenced in the arts and sciences.   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 which extends far beyond the workplace.  Given that humans are homo faber and that technology marks all human societies and that the technological advance is as much a sign of humanness as are the products of technology there is a need for humans to keep pace with technological development.  As to the "newness" of technology and to the rate of change, A.N. Whitehead has observed that the twentieth century would be noted for the dramatic increase in the very rate of change itself.  In the scope of all human history the twentieth century was marked more by the dramatic change in the rate of change than by any single development in technology.  Thus even in technical programs there is the need to have the learner be a learner and thus one who has learned how to learn, as Harry Harlow would express it, as technologies will continue to advance and with that a cycle of creation and expiration.  The world of humans will not remain fixed in any way for very long.  There is a will be a need for its members to learn how to acquire knowledge and skills needed to advance and grow along with the developments that will surround them.  Thus to be capable of and practitioner of the sort of thinking that will best serve any human whether in the job setting or not will be the mind that has acquired the Habits of Mind that can keep abreast of change and make contributions to it.  

Educators have a fiduciary responsibility towards those whom they teach to not only do them no harm but also, and most fundamental to the relationship of teacher to learner, to assist the learner who benefits through the acquisition of information, knowledge and intellectual skills. 

Accredited educational institutions have a fiduciary responsibility to provide to those that attend them to gain benefits through the acquisition of information, knowledge and intellectual skills.  Each educational institution has as part of that basic responsibility to hire and retain and further develop educators who are able to fulfill their responsibilities to educate and thus to most effectively address the task of developing the basic intellectual skills of their students.

Learners and their parents place trust in educational institutions and in individual members of the profession to fulfill these fiduciary responsibilities.  So it is that both educational institutions and their instructional staff  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 learners.  Such judgments are reviewed by others as a check against excess, insufficiencies, prejudices and ineffectiveness.  The performance of instructors is reviewed by their peers and by others in their professions-both the  profession of academician and the profession of educator.  The performance of institutions, as evidenced by their programs, curricula, courses and rates of success, is in turn reviewed by institutions of the state in the form of accreditation agencies.

There is at times a tension between the faculty of educational institutions and the general society with regard to what learners need to know and be able to do.   The faculty have ideas about educating students for their growth in information and skills and for teaching them how to continue that growth, continue to learn and to question and challenge and reflect and reason and create.  Society has an interest in meeting immediate needs and is inclined to emphasize what is thought to be most needed at the present. As such, society represents in its demands of the educational institution what is popular and of the moment, what is fashionable in thought and in behavior.  Society in its demands tends to be conservative as it presses for a conservation of the past order.  Faculty tend to be viewed as being liberal or having a liberal slant as they demand thought from their students that will lead to change within the learners and within society.   The priority for the faculty, particularly in the Arts and Sciences, is for education first and training second while that of society is often the reverse:  wanting training at the expense of the cultivation of that which would transform it.

Accreditation agencies serve to moderate the tension: they insist that certain criteria be met for accreditation and such criteria change over time reflecting the changing values in society.  Faculty assert what they think necessary to continue to educate and to educate in the sense of the liberal arts and sciences for the growth of individuals as well as for the benefit to society.  Accrediting agencies may insist on assessment of all classes to insure their quality for producing graduates with certain well defined skills sets and quantities of information while faculty would prefer that there be no standardization of instruction and curricula allowing for them to develop the intellectual skills needed for the production of new knowledge and arts and for social reforms and changes in the priorities assigned to commonly held values. 

Education is about much more than simply training people to take a place in society as capable employees and contributors to society. It is more about teaching people how to think and how to solve problems and make changes as are needed, even unto changing society itself.    It is about teaching people how to think and how to learn and as such 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 other forms of thinking.  The Habits of Mind that have embraced forms of certainty that are closed to further inquiry and that have proven to be wanting are to be challenged and replaced by that which is more worthy of trust based on actual experience and proven to have actually supported the progress of human society in more effective dealings with the physical and social environments that in turn has produced improvements in human welfare.

Educators can not allow learners who refuse to embrace rationality itself to go unchallenged.  They must have their learners reflect critically on the the effectiveness of the learners’ 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 informed, critical and rational thinkers, i.e. the educated community, and the more general community of rational discourse amongst members of the human species planet-wide, there is no obligation to accept that refusal to learn and the refusal to have an open mind and the refusal to grow and to make or allow changes to one's mind.  There is no duty on the part of the educator to respect the claim of the student that there is no need to reason nor to change fundamental beliefs about how claims of knowledge are to be analyzed, criticized and reviewed.  Instead, there is a duty to disrespect and reject that claim.   Indeed, education is about overcoming obstacles constituted by such student refusals to accomplish the most basic goals of education.

While learners might embrace their familiar beliefs and wish to maintain them if only to spare  themselves the labor of conducting critical reviews of beliefs and/or the work of overcoming the anxiety concerning the unknown when their beliefs are challenged and the need to reform them or surrender them is realized.  Many learners might be quite content to be left with the simple mind as long as it is trained well enough to maintain a successful vocation.  Nonetheless it is the responsibility of educators to persist in challenging learners to continue their own intellectual development and with truth in the face of false beliefs in the interest of all of society and in the long term interests of the human community that sustains itself through continual growth.

Challenging learners to confront their beliefs and their habits of formulating beliefs and organizing them and maintaining them is the exercise of the duty of educators to teach.  Education assists individuals to fulfill their own moral responsibilities in as much as beliefs should not be held without sufficient warrant or justification.  Such justification is a social act as individuals are responsible to their communities to hold beliefs that are based on truth and supported by both evidence and reasoning.  The moral foundation for promoting the use of reason in drawing conclusions is argued in  The Ethics of Belief (1877) ( Originally published in Contemporary Review,1877) 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 know.

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.

The argument made by Clifford and others is that humans are best served when they do not hold beliefs that are not supported by evidence and reasoning.  Humans must base their beliefs only on what has been observed, tested and proven and for those beliefs about the future that are beyond our knowledge they must be based upon what they have actually observed and have evidence to support, what can reasonably be expected to follow consistently from that evidence.  Humans are justified in reaching conclusions about the future that they do not and can not  know when those conclusions are based on what is known based on experience and confirmed evidence and warranted assumptions such as that similar things under similar circumstances will behave in similar ways.   This ethical directive is based on  the idea that humans must not accept as true what is stated or claimed by others without good reasons to accept those reports as being worthy of trust as established by prior evidence.  Finally, it is wrong for humans to believe anything without sufficient evidence for that belief especially where there are good reasons to doubt and reasons that warrant further investigations be conducted.  Clifford, the first to advocate for the rational habit of mind on moral grounds, insisted that humans had ought to be skeptical and careful until evidence and reasoning establishes sufficient warrant for holding a belief so that they may avoid the consequences to the well being of themselves as individuals and to society born of acting on unwarranted beliefs.

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  enjoyed 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 there will be a resistance or refusal to do such thinking. If learners think that they have  no ready replacement for their familiar beliefs that are 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 from the learner.

In resistance to examining ones own Habits of Mind and belief systems in addition to fear of the unknown 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 that which involves great effort likely wins out over curiosity.  When the changing of a mindset involves some disturbance and emotional upset there is even greater resistance to education.  There is often the need for the educator to persist through the resistance to bring about the greater social or public good through increasing the human capital of the individual learner.  The lack of appreciation of both the educator and the learner of the fundamental social goal of the social institution of education can thwart the teaching and the learning in as much as the relevance and value of the activity is in doubt.

The right to believe

It is altogether another issue as to whether people, and in particular the less well educated, less informed and those of less intellectual capacity, have a "right to believe" at least in those situations that present circumstances where decisions as to what to believe are as described by William James (The Will to Believe) , "living", "forced" and "momentous". 

There is to be no advocacy by the rational mind of any beliefs held without sufficient reason.  Those who have developed a rational mind will accept that there is a duty to attend to the evidence and to hold those positions best defended by reason and supported by evidence, at least by the preponderance of the evidence.  Error is to be avoided by a rational mind and rational persons are to avoid positions not supported by the preponderance of the evidence as they are the most likely to be in error or contain errors.  The "right to believe" is to be restricted to those  circumstances in which there is not such a preponderance of evidence and that present circumstances where decisions as to what to believe are "living", "forced" and "momentous".    In such circumstance a rational minded person is justified in accepting an  "hypothesis which, if true , would offer a way, more or less probably effective, of safeguarding those values , or if not, of anesthetizing him self more or less to their loss."  and further to believe that which would be a "source of comfort, courage, and strength , and an inspiration to beneficence"  (C. J. Ducasse,  A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion (New York: Ronald Press, 1953,p.166) "provided that it is not in conflict with our duty to attend to evidence and it cannot be in conflict with that duty if the there is no preponderance of the evidence.  "Causing, Perceiving and Believing: An Examination of the Philosophy of C. J. Ducasse. With Edward H. Madden. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1975. p150.) 

When there is not preponderance of the evidence , a person may in some cases use powerful techniques of suggestion which virtually preclude recognition of the relevance of any future preponderance of counter evidence.  Although, on the one hand, philosophers are mistaken who suppose that belief without adequate evidence almost invariably impairs our ability to attend to evidence, on the other hand, philosophers are equally mistaken who suppose that it is impossible or highly unlikely that belief induced when evidence inadequate will seriously impair the ability to attend to future evidence.  All such generalizations about the benefits and dangers of suggestion and hypnosis are questionable.              Causing, Perceiving and Believing: An Examination of the Philosophy of C. J. Ducasse. With Edward H. Madden. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1975. p149.) 

Some such as C. J. Ducasse suggest that the "vast masses of mankind" possessed of lesser intelligence might be afforded such a "right to believe" less they suffer the consequences which suspension of judgment may have for them.  (Causing, Perceiving and Believing: An Examination of the Philosophy of C. J. Ducasse. With Edward H. Madden. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1975. p153.) 

For most of those receiving formal education there is not the case of lesser minds nor is there the case that, in most matters that are the subject of study, particularly in elementary and secondary education, there obtains circumstances such as to  present situations where decisions as to what to believe are  "living", "forced" and "momentous" or where there is not a preponderance of the evidence.    It is a professional responsibility of educators to make known the evidence upon which their instruction that portrays the way things are is based as they inculcate the rational Habit of Mind and model its reliance on evidence and reasoning in support of positions.  In formal education, when those circumstances where there is not a preponderance of evidence arise, there can and should be a suspension of belief and of judgment on the part of educators.  Such suspensions can furnish occasions for further education in the very process of inquiry and deliberation that leads to decisions concerning what to believe.  These decisions remain subject to continuing review in light of new evidence and experiences by minds that are open to inquiry and questioning as an essential, even quintessential, element in the life of the mind.

The habit of mind that leads people to believe that for which there is insufficient reason or evidence to support the belief is a habit of mind that presents for both the believers and for others potential harms in as much as such beliefs are more likely to be incorrect and decisions based on such beliefs are more likely t lead to unsuccessful results.  People who claim a right to belief that is an unqualified right and people who practice believing without sufficient reason or evidence to support their beliefs are thus presenting society with a challenge as they threaten both society's need for social cohesion and for progress.   Unwarranted beliefs do not lead people closer to whatever is the actual case, i.e., closer towards truth.  Such beliefs and the habits of mind that lead to their being held are thus socially dangerous. 

There is no right to believe and not have those beliefs questioned or challenged.  There is no right to beliefs immune to criticism and challenges.  Society can ill afford to permit the formation of habits of mind that settle beliefs without sufficient reason and warrant to support those beliefs.  Such habits of mind do not further either social cohesion or progress.  The fixing of beliefs without evidence to support them or in contradiction to other beliefs is the fixing of a habit of thinking that leads away from truth and away from what is needed for the resolution of conflicts through compromise and non-violent measures of accord.  Thus, society should not acknowledge nor promote an unqualified right to belief.  There is no such right to belief that holds that beliefs are not to be subject to review, questioning, examination and criticism.  In education the beliefs held by students are to be so examined and questioned and subject to reformulation as rational thought might produce evidence counter to beliefs and reveal beliefs that are inconsistent, contradictory or incoherent.  Education should develop habits of mind that would arrive at people holding the most well formulated and defended beliefs and even then they are to be understood as subject to continuing review as part of the process of continuing inquiry.  Society can ill afford the encouragement of dogmatism, ideology, and the closing of minds and so it can not afford its members an immunity from challenges to their beliefs nor can it afford any recognition of an unlimited or unqualified right to belief.

III. The Habits of Mind

What are the basic Habits of Mind that confront educators?  There are those habits that create minds that are closed to inquiry and development and growth and the one that does not do so.  It is the rational Habit of Mind that is the goal of education and in particular the liberal arts and sciences as it is the learning objectives or outcomes of such programs of study that aim to produce a mind fully capable of critical thinking and reasoning and self reflection and arguing to the best defended positions amongst well considered and examined alternatives.  Then there are the Habits of Mind that cling tenaciously to ideas and beliefs often with the claim of certainty despite evidence and reasoning to the contrary and those that accept all beliefs as equivalent in worth with only the social setting upon which to settle preferences.

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 just who 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.

Heterogeneous Groups 

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 can be. 

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 that the learners have different knowledge backgrounds and different levels of basic skills attainment. 

Habits of Mind or Mindsets

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 one that based positions on a set of given truths or a priori truths that were usually simply 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 defended positions.  This rational Habit of Mind is one that holds all positions as hypotheses subject to continuing review in light of new evidence, reviews of reasoning and the development of or acceptance of  new perspectives.

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 failure. 

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.

The 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 cultural groups.

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 denials of  absolutes, trans-cultural universals, objective knowledge, and objective truth. 

The Rational Habit of Mind 

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 pragmatic function of Reason provides the agency procuring the upward trend of animal evolution.--Alfred North Whitehead , The Function of Reason,, Boston: Beacon Press, 1929, p. 27

But when mentality is working at a high level, it brings novelty into the appetitions of mental experience. In this function, there is a sheer element of anarchy. But mentality now becomes self-regulative. It canalizes its own operations by its own judgments. It introduces a higher appetition which discriminates among its own anarchic productions. Reason appears. It is Reason, thus conceived, which is the subject-matter of this discussion. We have to consider the introduction of anarchy, the revolt from anarchy, the use of anarchy, and the regulation of anarchy. Reason civilizes the brute force of anarchic appetition. Apart from anarchic appetition, nature is doomed to slow descent towards nothingness. Mere repetitive experience gradually eliminates element after element and fades towards vacuity. Mere anarchic appetition accomplishes quickly the same end, reached slowly by repetition. Reason is the special embodiment in us of the disciplined counter-agency which saves the world.--Alfred North Whitehead , The Function of Reason,, Boston: Beacon Press, 1929, p.34.

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 rational mind accepts Whitehead's pronouncement that:

The rejection of any source of evidence is always treason to that ultimate rationalism which urges forward science and philosophy alike.---Alfred North Whitehead , The Function of Reason,, Boston: Beacon Press, 1929, p. 61.

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.

The rational mind accepts the role of fact in its relation to the efforts of speculation and imagination. 

The basis of all authority is the supremacy of fact over thought. Yet this contrast of fact and thought can be conceived fallaciously. For thought is a factor in the fact of experience. Thus the immediate fact is what it is, partly by reason of the thought involved in it. The quality of an act of experience is largely determined by the factor of the thinking which it contains. But the thought involved in any one such act involves an analytic survey of experience beyond itself. The supremacy of fact over thought means that even the utmost flight of speculative thought should have its measure of truth. It may be the truth of art. But thought irrelevant to the wide world of experience, is unproductive.

The proper satisfaction to be derived from speculative thought is elucidation. It is for this reason that fact is supreme over thought. This supremacy is the basis of authority. We scan the world to find evidence for this elucidatory power.

Thus the supreme verification of the speculative flight is that it issues in the establishment of a practical technique for well-attested ends, and that the speculative system maintains itself as the elucidation of that technique. In this way there is the progress from thought to practice, and regress from practice to the same thought. This interplay of thought and practice is the supreme authority. It is the test by which the charlatanism of speculation is restrained.--Alfred North Whitehead , The Function of Reason,, Boston: Beacon Press, 1929, p. 80-81.

Beliefs are subjected to a critical examination by the use of reason .  The logic to be employed is as described by Whitehead a derivation of what starts with the Greeks in the West:

The Greek logic as finally perfected by the experience of centuries provides a set of criteria to which the content of a belief should be subjected. These are:

(i) Conformity to intuitive experience:

(ii) Clarity of the propositional content:

(iii) Internal Logical consistency:

(iv) External Logical consistency:

(v) Status of a Logical scheme with,

(a) widespread conformity to experience,

 (b) no discordance with experience,

(c) coherence among its categoreal notions,

(d) methodological consequences.

The misconception which has haunted the ages of thought down to the present time is that these criteria are easy to apply.--Alfred North Whitehead , The Function of Reason,, Boston: Beacon Press, 1929, p. 67-68.

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. 

The Relativistic 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 accept.

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 the planet or the origins of illness and disease or the process through which life forms. 

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 earth.

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. 

Education 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 formal or intentional acts of 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.

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 do so.

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.

Among those challenges is the confrontation with the risks inherent in the enterprise of education involving the changing of minds, basic Habits of Mind and mindsets.

IV. Risks Involved in changing minds 

A risk can be taken to mean the possibility of outcomes of some negative characterization.  In the relationship of the educator to the learner there are such risks of outcomes that are in opposition to the aim or purpose of the basic endeavor.  There are definite and unavoidable risks involved in the process of changing minds.  There are risks to the learner and to the educator.  These risks include the most serious of all and that is the failure to teach and to learn. 

The risks to the educator involve charges of being abusive or exceeding the bounds of what is proper for an educator.   There are risks of not being appreciated or even being criticized for performing the basic task of an educator to challenge beliefs and confront false ideas and educe the growth of the mind. The educator might then retreat from being provocative and evocative and from be enticing and exciting and from attempting to change minds.  This would amount to a failure to teach. 

In upsetting learners and causing them to fear change the instructor may receive some harsh comments and critiques from the learners and their parents who would not understand the aims of education and prefer to be left with the apparent comfort of holding to beliefs unchallenged, a comfort enjoyed by the ignorant and poorly informed. 

The risks to the learner include developing a strong resistance to the challenge to confront one’s own ideas and beliefs and Habits of Mind. This would be a refusal to open up the mind to the possibility of change.  This would amount to a failure to learn. 

Beyond the risks of fundamental failure are the risks of poor performance.  Instruction that aims at developing minds and changing mindsets and Habits of Mind can be done poorly enough that while there is some teaching and learning that occurs it is done so poorly that the outcome may be a changed mind but not a well developed mind capable of further learning.  Poor education will not develop the rational Habit of Mind.  Teachers who are authoritarian will not develop critical Habits of Mind.   Instructors who are excessively critical and provide little that is positive in place of the belief sets that are challenged and the Habit of Mind that is subject to reformation might produce a Habit of Mind that is excessively skeptical and one that rejects the possibility of achieving any form of knowledge and of developing any manner of making effective judgments. 

V. Ethical Implications: Problems

As with most human behavior in which humans interact, there are some ethical concerns.  What are the moral responsibilities of professional educators?  How is it that educators are to go about changing minds? How far do they go?  Are there any moral prohibitions? 

A.  Do no harm  - no unnecessary and avoidable harms

A basic moral prohibition for any and all humans and found in all human societies is

Do no harm !

In the context of education that injunction needs to be modified a bit to what is more accurate to the case.

Do no unnecessary and avoidable harms!

First and foremost and most basic and foundational for any set of obligations for a professional educator is the ethical obligation to avoid deliberate harm to another human being.  This is taken to be a fundamental and universal ethical obligation found in all human societies.  It appears as if it is a necessary feature for social life.  It is a basic principle found supported by all religious traditions.  It is also a principle that finds support being provided for it from nearly every philosophical tradition of thought in ethics.  So with this as the" given"  what sort of harms are to be avoided?

Harm can be produced through omission as well as commission of acts.  When harm occurs and it has been produced by the educator and it was foreseeable, avoidable and unnecessary then there is a failure to have fulfilled an obligation that is both a professional and a moral obligation.  It would also be construed as malpractice.  It is malpractice to perform at a level below the standard set.  The standard is set to avoid whatever harm is foreseeable, avoidable and unnecessary.   

Professionals with a fiduciary responsibility are not responsible for harms that are not foreseeable.  Such harms may not be avoidable at all.    

Professionals with a fiduciary responsibility are not responsible for harms that are not capable of being avoided by that very reason. 

Professionals with a fiduciary responsibility are not responsible for harms that are a necessary part of what they are doing for those who entrust themselves into the care of the professional. 

It is not necessary to avoid all possible harm.  There may be and often is some harm that will be caused in order to achieve the basic aim of the endeavor.  Even so if that goal, aim or purpose can be achieved without the harm then the harm should be avoided.    The harms that are avoidable and unnecessary can be distinguished form those that are necessary and unavoidable as will be seen below.  At this point the concern is on the reasoning for causing such harms as may be necessary.  What benefit justifies harming a person?

Whose benefit is to be achieved?  Most learners would look to their own benefit and that would be to realize some instrumental value for the achievement of some personal end.  Professional educators have a responsibility to not only benefit their learners but to do so in service to the greater society for which the aim is to increase human intellectual capital for social cohesion and progress.  In serving the greater society individual learners may not appreciate or accept that the professional educator will be causing some harms that are avoidable in the view of the individual learner with individual self interested goals but not avoidable if either the enrichment and empowerment (education)  of the learner or the more general social goals of improving human intellectual capital are to be realized.

In changing minds there is quite often harm caused to learners.  The task it to minimize those harms to what is absolutely necessary to produce the change and the growth of the learner.  How are these harms to be envisioned and dealt with, particularly when the aims of education are not simply to provide for benefit to the individual learners but to benefit society, serve the public interest and increase the public good through educating to increase the human intellectual capital.  

As an instructive analogy a consideration of the role of medical provider to the person in need of such services as compared to the professional educator to the persons who receive instruction may be useful.   This analogy is not to be taken as being an exact analogy nor is it to be pursued into every possible mode of comparison.  The medical model or analogy is useful up to a point as would be the psychotherapeutic model.  Either of those is more apt than the parental model as the responsibilities involved are different in kind and degree.  In common is the responsibility for the one served by the more knowledgeable other.  The difference is in exactly what the one is responsible for and to what extent.

In the relation of an educator to a learner there is oft times something akin to the relationship of a physician to a patient.  The physician has a relationship with those treated wherein the physician's responsibility is to provide cure or alleviation of the pathology and the maintenance of health wherever possible.  There is the therapeutic relationship in which it is the obligation of the physician to restore a person to wellness and to maintain wellness.  Does this exist or can this relationship exist between the educator and the learner?

For wellness the human needs to grow in a number of ways: physical, social, intellectual and emotional. Parents assist the child in that development.  Parents can contract directly or indirectly with professional educators to assist them in the intellectual development of the child.   If the child encounters a pathology the parents seek to ameliorate, remediate or alleviate it.  Parents are responsible to provide for such as best they can. Many times parents seek professional assistance in addressing these needs and through which they fulfill their duties to their children.   Something similar exists when focusing on the intellectual development of the child.   In performing this duty toward children most parents look for assistance from professional educators to accompany their own efforts to develop  intellectual capacities and to address intellectual pathologies as best they can do so.   

What would be an intellectual pathology to be addressed through formal education?  Given what we know from cognitive and developmental psychology there is a range for normal development of cognitive skills and acquisition of information.  In order for some part of formal education to be seen as a form of mediation or "medical" therapy there would need to be some condition that the professional educator would need to relieve or at least address so as to lessen its severity in impairing the human.  What might that be?  It might be cognitive development that was running behind the range of the normal or it might involve the actual contents of the intellect: its beliefs, information and habits of organization.   If so what would be the pathology to be remedied or cured?  As humans are born without the products of formal education so that  normal development of a human can not be viewed as a pathology.   Learning about what one does not know is not treating a pathology.  It is not ignorance so much as false beliefs and mistaken thinking that is the pathology.   So where would be the need for a cure?

Consider these comparisons as this analogy is further developed here.




incorrect belief


incorrect information


debilitating Habit of Mind

A belief held that is not supported by evidence and has counter evidence in abundance available to the believer is as a bacteria.  An educator can identify such beliefs and then attempt to remedy them if there is an available counter agency or “anti-biotic” in the form of counter evidence or the presentation of other beliefs held by the learner that are inconsistent with the belief identified as incorrect in some way.

A virus once acquired nearly always remains in the human body for its remaining life.  The virus has been fought off through a period of resistance to it as the immune system brings about a new state of equilibrium with the virus.  The educator approaches incorrect information so as to place it in proper context and provides the needed correctives and more accurate information.   The learner continues to remember the incorrect information but know recognizes it -post correction- as being inaccurate or incorrect in some way.

A method for organizing information and acquiring knowledge and fixing beliefs is a Habit of Mind that might not always be the most effective at enabling the human to make the best judgments, decisions, and evaluations.  When the predominant Habit of Mind is not well functioning for the entire organism it is as if an injury had occurred and a debilitating condition set in.  Such Habits of Mind can be identified by the educator and then repaired or improved upon through a program of studies and experiences intended to develop in the learner an alternative Habit of Mind that would better serve the entire organism in the midst of the human community.

The recipients of surgical interventions submit to the surgeons and their staff  and give consent either directly or indirectly through their guardians to be subject to the surgeon and subject to the procedures trusting that the surgeon will exercise the fiduciary responsibility to benefit and not to harm the person who is ill and in need of surgery.   

Surgeons cause harm to those upon whom they operate in an effort to produce benefit.  They make incisions and expose people to infections in the process of attempting to improve their health and bodily functioning.   In an effort to produce good there are times that harm results.  It is termed as “iatrogenic” harm or consequence as it was the result of an attempt not to harm but to benefit someone. 

The surgeon should make every attempt to avoid harm, either physical or psychological, and to minimize it wherever there must be some harm.  The patient is prepared for the surgery with explanations of the procedures and likely post operative events and experiences explained.  The environment is prepared and made as aseptic as possible.  Antiseptics, anesthetics and antibiotics are employed to deal with the threat of infections.  The surgery is as minimally intrusive and disruptive as possible to the body and the functioning of the organ systems.  

There are times when the person possessed of pathology may resist efforts to ameliorate the situation, even deny consent.  If the threat of the pathology to the public health and safety is great and well substantiated then treatment may be ordered by the legitimate authorities even over the objections of the individual.  These cases are rare enough and include situations where the threat is a physical disease that is highly infectious.  A similar case where the threat would be posed by a belief set or Habit of Mind would be nearly impossible to substantiate at the present time.  Actions taken based on such beliefs and Habits of Mind and deemed criminal would be dealt with after the fact and the likelihood of repeat acts would lead to separation from society. 

If an individual were possessed of an infection treatable by antibiotics most effectively rendered intravenously but such person wanted to refuse an injection for fear of the pain of the needle the medical staff would reason with the person, cajole and perhaps mollify by administering a local anesthetic upon the epidermis at the injection site for the desired delivery of the antibiotic.  The medical staff having a professional responsibility to render effective care while avoiding whatever harm is foreseeable, avoidable and unnecessary would attempt to avoid abandoning the person in need as well as avoiding proceeding to invade their person without consent. 

If an individual were possessed of a false beliefs, incorrect information and debilitating Habits of Mind that were remediable but that  person wanted to refuse what effective instruction was available for fear of the emotional upset of the unknown or of change or of threats to self esteem or of feelings of disloyalty to certain groups sharing in those beliefs, then the instructional staff should reason with the person, cajole and perhaps mollify by administering local and temporary appeasements to secure not only consent but a sincere participation in the program of instruction. The educational staff having a professional responsibility to render effective care while avoiding whatever harm is foreseeable, avoidable and unnecessary would attempt to avoid abandoning the person in need as well as avoiding proceeding to invade their person without consent in a manner likely to be counterproductive to the aims of education. 

There is not a concern for the unforeseen and unintended harms as they are not within the realm of moral responsibility.   It is the harms that are foreseeable and foreseen and even intended where attention needs to be paid to discern when such harms may be acceptable and when they are not. 

Learners submit to educators and give consent either directly or indirectly through their guardians to be subject to the educator and subject to instruction trusting that the educator will exercise the fiduciary responsibility to benefit and not to harm the learner.   

What are the variety of harms to which learners are subject?  There are the possible harms, the necessary harms and the unnecessary and the avoidable and unavoidable harms.

Possible Harms

For some types of learning and for growth there will be the perception and even the experience of harm.  In the changing of minds there can be distress that results as the learners may experience a variety of emotional states of discomfort:

  • Fear of the new

  • Fear of the unknown

  • Fear of loss of hope

  • Feeling threatened by the unknown and the new

  • Fear of the loss of the comfort of familiar beliefs

Necessary Harms 

For some types of learning and for growth there will be the need to produce situations for learning in which there is a definite possibility for some results that would be perceived by the learner as harm but they are necessary experiences for the growth in knowledge, self reflection, critical thinking and growth. These “harms” would include: 

  • Loss of certainty- the creation of doubts

  • Loss of comfort- anxiety over the consequences of change and of the unknown

  • Loss of confidence-feelings of inadequacy

  • Loss of self esteem-feeling ignorant

  • Sense of disloyalty to groups

The single most important necessary harm is the arresting and divesting of the sense of certainty from the learner. Knowledge of uncertainty and of one's own ignorance is healthy and a sign of growth.  Knowledge of that not all is known and that one does not know is needed.  It is propaedeutic to and necessary for learning.  Knowledge of ignorance is not the end but the staring point for learning. 

Education is the progressive discovery of how little we know"- Will Durant

Educators must facilitate the entry of the learner into a discourse that will acknowledge and dispel ignorance.  Education aims to counter the Dogmatism of Ignorance. 

There will be these necessary harms as there is the pain associated with growth.

No pain, No Gain.

The pains and harms associated with education may be thought of as a most important part of what are commonly referred to as "growing pains".

Unnecessary Harms 

For some types of learning and for growth there will be the need to produce situations for learning in which there is a definite possibility for some results that would be perceived by the learner as harm but they are not necessary experiences for the growth in knowledge, self reflection, critical thinking and growth. These “harms” would be gratuitous.  They include: 

  • Feeling hopeless

  • Feeling helpless

  • Feeling ashamed

Professional educators should make every effort to avoid these outcomes.  They are harmful to the learning process itself.  Interactions of educators with learners that are insulting or demeaning are to be avoided as they are both directly harmful to the person of the learner and stultifying to the learning process and poison the relationship of learner to educator. 

The feeling of being hopeless or helpless due to accepting that one is in error or held a false belief is not based on fact and can be both avoided and remedied if it emerges out of instruction.   Fear is natural in the face of the unknown and so if there is to be a displacement from what has been held as known and true but falsely so there should be the notion that there is an alternative to complete ignorance.  There is that which is better established and closer to the truth than that which is to be or has been challenged and proven false or inconsistent or contradictory.  Learners can learn that we all learn from our mistakes and that science learns more from that which does not prove to be so than from that which was suspected and proven to be the case.  They can learn the process or Habit of Mind that continually examines what is thought to be known and to be true and learn that it is self correcting and makes progress over time.  Learners must come to understand that because not everything is known does not mean that nothing is known.  That mistakes are made does not mean that all is mistaken.  That to have made a mistake is not to be ignorant and bereft of the ability to learn.

"I know this is a stupid question but..."

"I am so dumb for thinking that..."

"I can't believe that I thought that was true! What a .. I must be."

The learner must be educated to understand and accept that to admit ignorance or a mistake is not grounds for shame but it opens the possibility for learning.

B. Paternalism

When is it that the professional educator can cause a harm to benefit the learner and society and do so over the objection of or without informing the learner?   With what learners and to what extent is paternalism an ethically acceptable attitude and basis for action?  When is it that an educator can make decisions as to what is best for the learner without informing or involving the learner or the guardians of the learner in that decision making process?

Some educators consider themselves to have responsibility for the well being of those who come to them for assistance. They think of themselves as a parent would think in relation to their children. The term “paternalism,” derived from the Latin pater (father) literally means treating someone in a “fatherly” way.  Traditionally, this entails providing for a person’s basic needs without giving them autonomous, decision-making authority. The professional practitioner of education assuming the role of a parent will make decisions for the child (student), determine what information will be provided, and provide only as much information as the parent thinks best for the student.  The educator might even act in ways to influence or coerce the decisions or actions of those considered to be that educator's “child.”  At bottom, pedagogical paternalism is the tendency of educators to act in what they perceive as the best interest of the student, regardless of what the student actually perceives as his her own best interests.  This attitude often results in a teacher acting in a most authoritarian manner, even though the educator believes he or she is acting in the best interests of the student.

Important in the understanding of paternalistic models of education is that the profession of education, as rooted in the fiduciary (from the Latin fiducia – trust) commitments of beneficience (charity, benefit, kindness), and it has an intrinsically paternalistic dimension.  All teachers make decisions regarding course content and pedagogical methodology.  This means that we are deciding what our students should know, what sorts of criteria we use for assessing that knowledge, the format for inquiry and discussion, and the normative claim that this knowledge will benefit them.

Educational paternalism occurs on many different levels.  First and foremost, education is paternalistic in the sense that students (or their parents) have implicit trust that we, as educators, will teach them things that will benefit them in the future.  However, the paternalistic implications of pedagogy are not consistent over time.  As Ronald Dworkin argues, children are not autonomous, and we are justified in making decision for them in their own best interest based on the fact that they “…lack some of the emotional and cognitive capacities in order to make fully rational decisions.”  It is a mistake to assume first-graders will make informed decisions regarding their education, and so we, as adults, structure their education in ways that we think will benefit them in the long-run, and to best provide for the development of autonomous decision-making in the future.  As children age, their choices become more informed, and we rightly allow them to make more and more significant choices regarding their education.

Adult learners, while in possession of the emotional and cognitive capacities which signal informed consent and autonomy, are still lacking the intellectual capacity to decide the content of their studies .  A student might make autonomous decisions regarding their career path and major field of study, but most students are ill-equipped to make decisions concerning course content. (Note: Of course students in upper-level and graduate courses often do make these sorts of content decisions-independent studies, senior projects, and thesis projects - yet these are simply another result of growing academic autonomy of advanced learners.).  In making the informed choice to attend college, students are implicitly giving institutions the right to determine curricular programs and standards, and giving individual faculty members the right to set content and methodology in the classroom.  This tacit “approval” of paternalistic treatment given to colleges by students carries with it a set of reciprocal obligations on the part of administration and faculty.  All individuals involved in post secondary education must constantly evaluate, and where necessary, modify, their curricula and courses to meet these fiduciary obligations.  The right of faculty and institutions to make decisions on behalf of those they serve is not one that remains sacrosanct.  The decisions made by both faculty acting individually and collectively are subject to review.  Individual faculty members have their decisions reviewed by peers and the collective is reviewed by agencies that conduct periodic reviews of programs, courses, and curricula.

At its most basic level the relationship of the educator to the learner is paternalistic.  The basic responsibilities individuals have to respect the autonomy of others is radically transformed in the context of the teacher/student relationship.  Educators, in their professional roles as teachers, encounter a new set of responsibilities akin to that of parents.  The professional responsibilities of the educator are also dictated by the educator's social role.  The educator is in a covenential role with society and with the individual learners.  The educator is, in John Dewey's view, not simply the transmitter of some well defined set of skills or body of knowledge.  For Dewey, education prepares people for fulfilling lives by not simply providing them with the information and the skills they need for professional success but in providing the instrumentalities, the skills and the Habits of Mind for continual learning and growth.  Education is, in this later sense, as is human life itself.  Education is preparation for continual growth, learning and development.  And so one of the crucial functions of education is preparing people for a lifetime of learning.  This is all the more evident and made necessary in cultures that have so much change taking place and have increased the rate of change to the point where it marks itself off as one of the characteristics of an age and the culture. 

Like it or not, the educator plays a central role in shaping the decisions of students, both academic and personal.  In giving bad grades or performance ratings, for instance, an educator can close off entire avenues of professional development.  And on these grounds, an educator is not only responsible for student learning , but in one sense functions as society's "last line of defense" with regard to the maintenance of accepted standards for personal achievement and professional development. 

The educator must determine for each student::

  • what potential for academic, professional, and personal growth the learner has

  • what is known and still unknown and yet to be known

  • what there is to be accomplished by the learner

  • how knowledge and skills can be used 

Educators are in a paternalistic relationship because they serve as educators due to the decision of the parent(s) to entrust the child's development, at least in part, to others who are trained and professional educators.  The educator serves in loco parentis in the development or growth of the child.  The partnership is between the parents and educators in the development of the child. Educators enter into either a implicit or explicit relationship with the parents or those serving in the stead of parents, guardians or the state in the form of public institutions for education.  At times there is an explicit contract between parent and educator at other times it is through some mediating body such as a school system.

Parents must produce changes in their children.  Without the physical changes that are the products of nourishment and known as growth  they die.  Children left unfed will not prosper or long survive.  Parents attend to the needs of their offspring before such are known or appreciated by their progeny.  Parents, at least those who attempt to be responsible parents,  make their best judgments as to how to best serve the needs of their children for physical and intellectual development or growth. So parents are to produce changes in their children.  Parents enter into this relationship and its incumbent duties of their own accord.  There is no contract that explicates either the relation or the duties.

Educators must produce changes in their students, else they suffer the death of intellect for lack of intellectual change known as intellectual growth.  Students left untaught will not prosper in the social setting or even long survive as involved in social life in any positive sense.  The ignorant and uneducated suffer us all to bear their physical survival on the outskirts of society and often times outside of the accepted norms of behavior. Their survival is a product of a liberal welfare state born of a well educated populace.  Educators attend to the needs of their learners before such are known or appreciated by their students.  Educators, at least those who attempt to be responsible educators,  make their best judgments as to how to best serve the needs of their students for physical and intellectual development or growth. So educators are to produce changes in their students.  Educators enter into this relationship and its incumbent duties of their own accord.   Sometimes there is an actual contract that explicates the duties of the educator.  At all times there is the covenant between the educator and the community of learners.

Throughout the life span there is a growth in the capacity for autonomy or a "generative autonomy " on the part of children as children in their role as students and thus there is a tendency for paternalism to decrease.  The least evidence of paternalistic behavior would be and is exhibited in graduate and post graduate education. 

In latter life there are oft times conditions that lead to a "degenerative autonomy" whereby children often need to exercise a paternalism in their relationship to their aging and ailing parent.  At such times there occurs a "reverse paternalism".   The development of programs for the aged have led to children "enrolling" their parents in education programs aimed at assisting them with adapting to circumstances of their aging. 

There are problems with paternalism and none more interesting than that most mature adults do not want to be treated as if they were children. Most human beings want to maintain their autonomy and right of self-determination. The law supports the rights of individuals to make their own decisions and their right to the information needed to make good decisions.  This paternalistic model may work well with small children and those lacking full intellectual capacity as autonomous moral agents capable of responsible decision making.  Paternalism does not work well as children mature into adults and certainly becomes most problematic, if not downright insulting, when used with adults.  This being said it is nonetheless the case that in education the relationship involving the educator and the learner is always one where the parties have not accumulated equal or equivalent knowledge or skills and so there is often need for the learner to surrender decision making authority to the educator who assumes the fiduciary responsibility for the learner wherein when making decisions on behalf of the learner the educator must aim to both benefit the learners and protect the learner from harm.

The educator and learner are not equal.  There is a gap that distinguishes the one form the other.  The relationship is of course relative to what is known and who has yet to learn it.  The roles of learner and educator can be reversed easily relative to some information, knowledge or skill.  The gap can not be overcome by some equalizing.  The gap is preserved and revivified by emphasizing what makes the one not the other.  There are the differences in the midst of the similarities.  There is a process of interaction through which the learner should acquire the methodology though which the educator acquired what the educator knows and can do.  Both learner and educator submit to the process of emphasizing and transferring through interacting with the educator enticing and inspiring and doing what is needed to lead out of the learner that which the learner is capable of acquiring from the educator: what is possessed by the educator and yet to be possessed by the learner.

C. Whose Benefit?

Necessary Harm for the Benefit of Society 

A harm to a learner may be regarded as a necessary harm over the complaint of the learner if the professional educator is to achieve the fulfillment of the responsibility all professional educators have to the more general public they serve in producing an increase in human intellectual capital needed for social cohesion and progress. But in this case the harm is one that is warranted out of a sense of  paternalism.

"Dworkin does not draw a sharp distinction between weak and strong paternalism - and perhaps there is no sharp distinction to be drawn - he does argue that Mill was mistaken to reject paternalism. According to Dworkin, Gerald Dworkin, Paternalism, The Monist, La Salle, IL., Vol. 56, No. 1. the wager view by which Mill justifies paternalism with respect to children can be extended to adults.

The Wager View: It is morally permissible to restrict the autonomy of children for their benefit since they are not fully rational and we bet (wager) that if they were, they would concur with our decisions.

But extending the wager view to adults requires that we assume that, if the adult were fully rational, the adult would concur with our restrictions on his or her autonomy. What this implies is that

  1. Those who would restrict an individual's autonomy bear the burden of proof-i.e., they must demonstrate that paternalism is justified. It is not required that the individual justify that paternalism is wrong, since paternalism is presumptively wrong.

  2. In cases were paternalism can be adequately justified, the alternative which least restricts autonomy should be adopted over any other alternative.

Given these restrictions on paternalism, it is astonishing to realize the extent of unjustified paternalism on the part of the Federal and State Governments. For example, the so-called 'War on Drugs' and the prohibition of drugs for recreational use is morally illicit, since the government has clearly failed to adopt the alternatives which least restrict autonomy, even assuming it borne the burden of proof to justify the prohibition, which, to be sure, it has not." - - Don Berkich of University of Massachusetts-

As an example of such a harm requiring an act of strong paternalism on the part of the social institution of education consider the case of those who hold ideas and beliefs supportive of bigotry, prejudices, stereotypes, and racial hatred.  The belief systems of racial supremacists are to be challenged despite the potential harm to the self esteem and self image of those who think of themselves as supremacists.  It matters not how hard such people might protest the attempts to change their minds on this matter or the harms they claim are being done unto them by those attempts.  What does matter is that the debilitating Habits of Mind be effectively addressed and that these people become better educated and relieved of those mindsets that impair their intellectual growth and threaten social cohesiveness.  A person with an infection that was highly communicable and dangerous to the well being of humans would be required to undergo treatment for the benefit of themselves and for that of society or be isolated from others who are without the infection and made to remain possibly with others so infected.  Treatments need be rendered against the protests of the infected.  Such people might need to observed undergoing the treatment to insure that they received it and even physically confined as long as they were a threat to the general well being of society.  So too would be that case with rendering educational efforts to those in need for the benefit of themselves and the greater whole.

It must be noted that there are important ways in which the institution of education can not be compared to that of medicine in so far as treatment of the abnormal or pathological is concerned.   In education there are many people who are in the sense above infected in some way with a remediable pathology who may feel good about their condition as they do not perceive any pain or harm caused by their ignorance or lack of skill.  They remain a danger to society nonetheless and had ought to be treated while in formal educational institutions for the benefit of both the individuals and the general society.  In education the "patient" must be an active participant in the process of intellectual development if educational efforts or instruction is to succeed.   There is labor, effort or work to be done and this is often perceived as disruptive, painful, costly and unnecessary by learners.   In medicine it can be the case that a remedy can be delivered effectively while the recipient remains in a passive role.

There are times when dealing with learners that questions arise as to the appropriateness or acceptability of a program of instruction or a lesson or a mode of instruction and those questions result from there not being a clear indication of what benefit there is to the learner. Whose benefit is being produced?  Is it that of the individual learner, that of society itself, or both at once? How is it that the educator handles the conflict between serving the interests of society in having education support the increase in human intellectual capital to be shared by all in society and serving the interests of the individual learner in increasing the individual's abilities to grow and to occupy a certain desirable position in the social order, principally through some vocation?

It would be a professional responsibility of an educator to make it clear to the learner the reasons why the educational program and experiences and exercises are what they are.  This mitigates against unnecessary harm. 

D. Tolerance

People have a right to believe what they wish but that is not an absolute right and, in particular and most acutely, that is not a right to be recognized in educational institutions. Whatever is its status in popular culture, tolerance as an absolute value is not a value within the institution of education.  Tolerance and education are at odds with one another when tolerance is taken as acceptance of beliefs no matter their content or implications.

To tolerate some person or behavior or rule or regulation is not to accept it and embrace it a support it.  In tolerating something there is the idea that there some aspect of it that is undesirable or troubling else it would not be tolerated but some other relationship would obtain such as endorsement, acceptance or celebration.  When the undesirable aspect of what is being tolerated reaches a point that it is harmful to the person or institution that is tolerating it, then what had been tolerated would be tolerated no longer.  Parents can tolerate certain behaviors of their children up to a point.  When that point is reached there is an end to the toleration. 

"Alright buster now you have done it.  Now you have gone too far."

Inside of the social institution of education beliefs about the physical universe including the human species and its history and varied cultures are not beliefs that are to be given any protection from being challenged and being made the object of careful examination.  Behaviors and beliefs that interfere with instruction or thwart education are not to be tolerated in an educational institution.

The following behaviors (mental) and espousals would not and should not be tolerated:

"Where I come from we believe that :" or "My personal belief is that:"

Blacks are grossly inferior to other peoples and should be treated as property and made into beasts of burden.

Women are not the equal of men and ought not to be allowed into commerce or into the same rooms as men in schools.

The belief that the earth is flat is to be challenged and changed by education.  The belief that women are inferior to men is to be challenged and changed by education.  The belief that the cure for aids is to have sex with a virgin is to be challenged and changed by education.  The belief that one group of people by virtue of skin color is superior or inferior to another is to be challenged and changed by education.  Claiming that these beliefs are part of one’s religion or culture or are personal to one's self and thus not to be subject to examination or challenge or the effort to have them removed from the mind of the believer is a claim that should not be respected in any educational institution and not in civilized societies.   This has grave implications for the practice of allowing religious organizations to teach basic subject matter.    “Separate but equal” is as near impossible with religious schools being separate from public schools as it was for schools that were for what were thought to be different races.  The religious Habit of Mind is not that which is developed in public education through a study of math and science and other forms of rational thought.  A curriculum in the liberal arts and sciences is a curriculum to develop critical thinking and the appraisal of empirical claims by the careful review of the physical evidence in support of this claims. Such a curriculum is not the same as and in some ways antithetical to a program of religious instruction that would foster a Habit of Mind that is authoritarian or tenacious.

The Habit of Mind that accepts what authorities have claimed as true without asking for support for those claims is to be challenged by education.  Every effort should be made within the educational institution to change minds from being formed and informed by Habits of Mind that are closed to inquiry and testing and evaluation into minds that are open to inquiry: from the willing believer into the skeptical inquirer seeking the best possible positions supported by reasoning and evidence..  Minds should be challenged to grow and realize their potential.  Such growth would be supported by insistence upon respect for individual expression and participation within every form of social association.  The education of such minds has been and will be a civilizing force. 

Humans progress when they do not believe that the earth is flat but learn through experience and minds open to experience that the earth is an oblate spheroid. Humans progress when they do not believe that disease is an unavoidable condition resulting form some supernatural cause but learn that disease results from bacteria and viruses.  Humans progress when they do not believe that people are superior or inferior to one another in virtue of their sex or skin color but learn of the fundamental similarities and the valuable differences amongst humans. Humans progress when their simple minded and false beliefs are displaced by learning that develops minds open to inquiry and knowledge and truth that tempers the impulse to jump to conclusions and for prejudgment and for violence.

Tolerance has as its root meaning "to endure".  Recent events are making it increasingly clear that the celebration of tolerance as a high value is something that needs to be rethought.  Endurance of behaviors that are threatening to civilization itself its core values and driving forces) is no longer desirable.  In the assault upon innocent lives and the values that mark civilization itself, the idea of unqualified tolerance and the practice of permitting people to maintain their beliefs and Habits of Mind unchallenged by education are no longer to be tolerated.

It was never a very good idea to make tolerance so important or to identify it as a cardinal virtue for a liberal or democratic society.  Unlimited tolerance could never serve as part of some universal bedrock for society or culture let alone for civilization.  Tolerance as an absolute  could not be promoted if it would mean to tolerate the intolerant.  That is a self defeating notion. Those who hold beliefs that are intolerant of those not sharing those beliefs are a danger to those desiring to be tolerant.  The fanatic believers often want all others to join with them in their beliefs or to remove the non-believers altogether: convert or die.  Tolerating killers is not a good idea.  Tolerating that which produces, supports and encourages killers is also not a good idea.

Tolerance has always implied a temporary state of affairs.  It has always indicated that what was to be tolerated was not altogether to be accepted and certainly not promoted or valued highly: it was to be, well, tolerated or simply put up with, but up to a point.  The toleration of belief systems that support the destruction of the social fabric through deliberate acts of homicide and homicidal acts targeting the innocent and children and the needy has now reached that point where tolerance can be tolerated no longer.

What exactly is no longer to be tolerated?  The acts of violence have never been tolerated.  So, now it is the ideas, the beliefs, and the belief systems that lead to and support and celebrate those acts of violence that are not to be tolerated.  The belief systems that threaten human life and civilization itself cannot be tolerated.  They need to be challenged and they need to be changed.  The minds that possess the ideas, beliefs, sets of beliefs and Habits of Mind that are set against civilization need to be changed.  Education is the institution that serves societies in changing the minds of its members in a fashion that promotes the development of individuals and provides for the social cohesion and progress needed for the social life.  Educational institutions that offer what becomes mere training and permits simple minded holding of beliefs fail to educate that mind that is itself a product of civilization: the mind that is open to ideas and insists on the critical examination, review and evaluation of ideas before holding them to be true and acting upon them.  Such minds are the target of attack by those possessed of the opposite: minds that are programmed to refuse careful examination of beliefs. 

It is not so much a clash of culture or a culture war.  It is an assault on civilization itself.  Those who commit the violent acts attack not so much people as the way of life and the values supporting that way of life and that way of life is one identified with being civilized.   They do not simply act out against freedom and materialism they act against the values placed on human life: the idea that innocent people are not to be harmed.

Civilization is represented in those who are compassionate to those in need.  Civilization is represented in the idea that children are not to be killed or offered up in sacrifice in the service of some ideal, and particularly not in service of some political cause.

Those who commit these acts are barbarians in the sense of being outside of the culture of civilization as they hold different values from those who cherish civilization and value its continued progression.

What is it that moves human forward in the process of civilization?  It is the process of educating people that develops human potential through the development of minds capable of critical thought and evaluation.  It is a process of intellectual growth that moves beyond basing human action on beliefs alone.  Civilization advances not on belief but on knowledge.  It is knowledge of the cause of disease that leads to their curtailment or elimination.  It is knowledge of the plight of the other that can develop effective feelings of empathy and sympathy. 

Belief can serve for a time as a basis for social unity and identification.  Belief can serve to help humans to form groups and deal with one another and the environment.  But beliefs can and do lead to some most horrible atrocities as humans come to hold the continuation of their beliefs as more important than life itself.  This occurs when beliefs are challenged by experiences to the contrary of those beliefs.  Then some fearing loss of all identity and value might react with actions to remove the perceived threats to those beliefs.  If those who feel threatened believe that they have no other method for determining truth or knowledge they may and do so value the beliefs that they have that they will and do commit violent acts against persons.  In the defense of such beliefs, particularly those supporting intolerance, humans are killed.  Innocent humans are killed, children are killed, and the injured and needy and incapable of defense are killed.  

Before the killing of humans there must be the killing of knowledge and truth and value for human life.  This occurs when education becomes indoctrination and training.  When math and science are forbidden or reduced to simple belief systems there is surrender to simple beliefs and a flight from beliefs that are to be tested by reason and evidence.  The Taliban presented us with what education becomes in the service of ideology and what education becomes when there is a need for the production of suicide bombers.  Education becomes indoctrination.  There is only one truth and it is to be memorized and the authority conveyed upon the transmitters of that truth is to be considered as absolute and thus all questions of truth and knowledge are referred to that authority.

Against this is the teaching that develops minds capable of making judgments about beliefs using reasoning and evidence.  Such minds must be deliberately developed as such minds develop beyond the earliest Habits of Mind that emerge in the young who must accept what authorities provide and quickly if they are to survive. The educated mind is a mind that is distrustful of ideology and indoctrination.  The educated mind is a mind that is open to inquiry and wants evidence to support or falsify claims and theories.

E.  Focus: learner or content

It happens at times that physicians focus more on the disease entity or organ system than on the person who is ill and in need of assistance.  This has been commented on often in the fields of medicine and medical ethics as this situation brought attention to itself through the resultant set of problems generated in the realm of interpersonal relationships and respect of basic human rights and sensibilities that becomes lessened when the focus is not on the person. There are ongoing attempts to address this through medical school curricula incorporating more humanities instruction and legislative measures setting out basic rights for recipients of medical care.   Likewise in education a professional educator can become more focused on the curriculum or the discipline and its cognitive contents than on the persons being educated.  When this occurs educators can lessen the emphasis on the growth process of individuals as they attend to the development and delivery of course content.  Some attempts to address this are now in evidence as there is a rapid rise in centers for excellence in teaching and learning and the move towards learner centered education.  The literature or SOTL is replete with materials urging or supporting a focusing on the learner.

The contrast between focusing on the content of the curriculum rather than on the development and growth of the learner evidences itself in discussions on the relative importance of depth as compared to the breadth of the instructional program or class.  It is also in evidence in the nearly perennial debate amongst those in higher education that pits instruction in the liberal arts and sciences against vocational and professional training.  For the professional educator the obligation to benefit the individual learner can not be supplanted by the obligation to serve the public good or the advancement of the academic discipline.

VI. Conclusion: Responsibility with Sensitivity

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 do so.

Changing the contents and the Habits of Mind of learners is the object of education.  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.  Such an objective must be approached by professional educators with ethical awareness as sensitive to the needs and rights of the learners as human beings who entrust themselves to the educators for presumed benefit as it is sensitive to the obligations that professional educators have to their disciplines and to society who entrust educators with their professional responsibilities.  Educators seek to increase the human intellectual capital of their learners; their knowledge, skills and Habits of Mind.  Educators should seek to avoid causing their learners whatever harm is foreseeable, avoidable and unnecessary.   Professional educators must think about those harms.   Professional programs that prepare educators should address the ethical obligations of professional educators to their disciplines, their society and their learners along with their rights as educators.

@copyright 2005 by S. Kincaid and P. Pecorino

last revised 4-17-06

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