Sunday, November 10, 2013

Knowledge is not Power

A few years ago when KIPP (the Knowledge is Power Program) started schools in our area I was excited.  I actually know the leadership at a few of the local schools and did a special project with them years ago.  However, I was convicted by the title of their program - knowledge is not power. In fact, that realization is what started me on my journey into other approaches to education.  Since that time, God has gently led me to understand what true education is about.

Actually, touting that knowledge is power might be the core of what is wrong with our approach to education.  If How Children Succeed is accurate - it seems that KIPP is finding that out as well (I saw their rubrics for character at the training that I did this past week).   I actually had to stop reading How Children Succeed because I wanted the throw the book across the room at the arrogance of modern educators.  It seems they are now "discovering", after many experiments, that things like self control and empathy are really important too.  This isn't new information.  In my Mars' Hill group*, once upon a time, had a running joke about Emotional Intelligence - which was a forerunner to these "insightful" studies.  But, it isn't new.  The problem is that they have to base their focus on emotions and values on newfangled sociological and psychological studies instead of something like, say, the word of God.   Why would we create standards of behavior based on revealed truth that has stood the test of time when we can create studies involving radishes and cookies to teach us about the importance of self control and tone of voice?

This is why I love the classical tradition - here education is about wisdom and virtue.  But, when you deny the foundation of wisdom and virtue all you are left with is power.  This is not a new point but it is one that needs to be revisited frequently.  When there is no "higher power" dictating your morality then it seems like the school principal or maybe the superintendent is deciding which values are most important.  Why should a 13 year old care about that?  When your child is taught that a loving God who created them and desires what is best for them provides some thoughts about how we best live and move and have our being -somehow that carries much more weight.

I used to be a big proponent of character education in the schools.  But, without a higher moral authority it lacks any depth and in the end becomes relativistic.  It is probably still worth doing but we shouldn't be surprised when it fails.

So although I admire the mission and support my friends who work there, in the end we all know that teaching kids that knowledge is power on its own is insufficient.  Haven't we all learned that "with great power comes great responsibility".  In effect, power needs character.  I know that KIPP addresses this practically in a myriad of ways but ultimately, without anything higher than the superintendent, it is hard to see how character can move beyond the concept of someone else "imposing" their values.

Basically, I am trying to help myself undo years of flawed thinking that included lots of majoring on the minors.  I have read a lot of the research, but in the end the Bible speaks the truth and others are just trying to find a way to justify it through other means or negate it at their own peril.   I am glad that things like self control and empathy are making a comeback in the classroom - too bad we had to remove the source, play around with values clarification and other such nonsense to return to what centuries of educators have known.  I am doubtful that they will return to the classical techniques of teaching character, but we shall see.  Maybe studies will reveal that stories help develop this type of intelligence.

*   I was a part of a VERY nerdy group for a few years that consisted of listening to the Mars' Hill Audio tapes and then debating/ discussing them.

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