Ch.23 How do we measure success of New Colleges?

From later interviews with members of the original War Room, historians know starting New Colleges was no picnic. “It took every ounce of courage I had to get up each morning, knowing we had as yet no way to measure the success of new Colleges; nor, did we have as yet, any solid consensus on the values underpinning our efforts. We were starting from scratch, winging it, on faith. We, the original seven persons, were very conscious of, “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

Consensus coalesced more and more around this image:

Individual freedom vs. social responsibility

It came directly from Women In Congress to the War Room in the sense of, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It was made into a large poster and tacked up several places in War Room offices. This image expressed women’s passion to graduate seniors who cooperated with social responsibility, did NOT took their slice of the collective pie, out of the middle.

Learning from successes and failures of earlier reforms

Two War Room interns were assigned to survey prior secondary (college) reform ideas. “For the last time let’s learn from these earlier efforts; or, rule them out. Let’s see if prior college reformers have anything to offer us — or not.”

Keven and Karen recant in the War Room

In 1998, authors Keven Ryan and Karen Bohlin, published Building Character in Schools. It was one of few education reform books, with values and a heartfelt look and feel, the War Room could relate with. They were were invited to come speak in person. Here are excerpts from the published transcript of their interview:

begin Quote

The War Room was very much surprised when Keven and Karen said, “We’re so glad you invited us. We wanted to come meet you! We have a message. Almost everything we recommended in our 1998 book, we now renounce. We were wrong. We now believe only a much more radical approach makes sense. …

… We agree with you, a direct, cause and effect connection exists between a society’s education system and its social progress or decline …

After the 1990s, in academic reform circles, values-education and character-education, hit a dead end. Now we see even our 1998 efforts were rear-guard, partial efforts. What we recommended was nowhere near where younger generations were, not what the young were asking for, nor what the young were needing …

They highlighted examples of how naive and short-sighted their 1998 rhetoric sounded to them by 2025:

1) our vision now is person-centered. We are interested in helping educators engage the heads, hearts and minds of students, so students may come to know the good, love and good and do the good.

2) Coming to grips with who our students are now, how they are behaving now; and, who we want them to become — persons of good character and integrity — is the foundation to everything else. Whatever a school does should rest on the bedrock of a strong understanding of the core goal — Preface pg. xvi

Keven and Karen went on to say,

We apologize for believing vague abstractions about how education reform works. Years later, too many of our chapters sound to us now, as if good character is as simple as “virtue.” We apologize for putting so much faith into abstractions.

“Virtue” without interactive classroom curriculum — remains abstract. “Virtue,” no matter how defined, is only a value, only intangible.

“Freedom,” individual, personal freedom, without healthy social obligation; and, healthy responsibility, is only “half a loaf.”

We were naive. Balancing the needs of individuals against the needs of the 99% is much harder than we conceived it to be. While we admire China’s success with raising quality fo life for the 99%, China’s record on balancing the needs of the individual is weak. What you are attempting to do, get these two opposite needs addressed more equally, is hard. We want to support you.

What young minds needs are workable exercises to clarify their values; then, workable methods of interpersonal competency to practice again and again — in class.

What we now believe is when classroom habits and behaviors are aligned with truly human values, over time, what occurs is students gradually come awake and aware to an Inner Game of Life inside them. This Game is invisible, yet not abstract. It is full of subjective thoughts and feelings young people deal with, struggle with. If classroom practice acknowledges students’ Inner Game of Life, supports them feeling safe to explore it; in time, students choose the truly human values they wish to keep closest to their own heart.

We apologize for being too fascinated with metaphors, “Without a keystone firmly in place, even the grandest building can quickly become a pile of rocks and rubble.”

We apologize for splitting hairs over whether character education is more like “sowing seeds for a later crop” or, more like “engraving a metal plate from which art and text will be printed and duplicated.” Preface pg. xvii

We apologize for defining a school’s curriculum apart from interactive, classroom exercises by which students internalize healthy character traits. We should have focussed less on knowledge to be learned, more on dyads, triads, and small group conversation and interaction.

Some things we did get correctly

We correctly called out the fallacy of “happy talk” and “positive psychology,” school-wide word-for-the-week lessons. A weekly positive quality to focus on is ‘character education made easy for administrators’ — not for students. Some of our school reform colleagues promoted character-education in this clumsy, one-sided, ignorant, color-blind way. We see now this was lazy and hopeless. The Waldorf people had the right idea: even an inspired education done badly is better than a bad education done well.

We now believe, even more strongly, effective character education is a great deal more demanding; based on the failure of Wm. Glasser’s Quality Schools put into practice, probably 75 years ahead of its time for public school teachers and admin. It can’t be abstract; it can’t be only intellectual; its can’t be superficial in any way.

When character ed is abstract, it plays into, “Do what I say, not how I behave.” Teens especially hate adult hypocrisy when they see it.

By far the better framing for character education is — after puberty — asking students questions, getting them to respond to each other; and, to the class as a whole. ‘What do we stand for?’ This is how healthy self-concept develops and emerges, each student using their own language for the values they respond most to.

Why? Because the endgame of character education is: Who I am? What sort of person do I choose to be? Which values inspire me? Which role models do I follow and take to heart? This becomes what I stand for.

All on campus behaviors children observe, in students and adults, is what becomes social norms, what becomes ‘normal’ and ‘good.’ This includes behavior on the sports field, in the cafeteria, on the school bus, etc. All these either contribute or detract from healthy character education.

… a school’s curriculum is more than knowledge to be learned. It is also the means by which students internalize healthy character traits” — Preface pg. xvii

We also got this correctly:

Sow a thought and you reap an act;

Sow an act repeatedly and you reap a habit;

Sow a habit and you reap a character trait;

Sow character traits and you reap a destiny ~ Thackeray (paraphrased)

Socrates long ago stated the mission of education is to help people become both smart and good. Since the 1980s or earlier, “Greed is good” became the national religion of corporate-consumerism. In recent decades, the “good” part of this definition has faded until only “greed” was left.

To redeem this, to repair this, an explicit value system, aligned with truly human values has to be stated, published and reinforced thru public speaking from multiple worthy adults, each in their own words, not in some fascist, cookie-cutter, 1984 corporate-speak, public relations campaign.

This is Karen speaking. If I may be permitted, I wish to share my cry of anguish. How can students be led to appreciate differences between a morally good decision and a morally weak one? This is where current generations of parents, and leaders are failing our children.

When a moral choice is up for grabs, individuals ought to have an internal moral compass, their own internalized views and values to guide them. Lacking this internal compass, situational ethics, what’s currently popular and rending, becomes a primary way of addressing moral issues. This is the measure of character education.

Keven and I also correctly called out, tho not strongly enuf, the destructive nature of excessive competition and competition-based grading systems. Grade-competition, grade-inflation, is competition run amok. It’s teaching cutthroat competition — on the sports field, in spelling bees, or in the AP calculus classroom. This undermines connection, equality, mutual aid, and tends to split people into haves and have-nots.

We also apologize for affirming the centuries-old, male-oriented, “brute force” method of character education. It is expressed here in the Hyde School manifesto:

All students are expected to develop these traits:

The courage to accept challenges

The integrity to be truly themselves

Concern for others

The curiosity to explore life and learning

Leadership in making the school and community work. — pg. 78

Why is the above fruitless and pointless? It attempts to “helicopter” in human values from the top down. Again, the Waldorf people have it correctly here. Grade 12 seniors graduate hold truly human values closest to their hearts, only after years of repeating healthy habits, healthy feelings, healthy acts of service; and, writing about all of this from time to time. They need to get in the habit of updating their thinking on the invisible, intangible realities they hold closest to their heart.

Then Keven and Karen summarized how they had come to a much more radical view. “For this meeting, we looked again at what we promoted in 1998. What we heard is old men advising other old men, old men with little experience with, nor much understanding of, either children or the healthy idealism of young adults.

We have come to understand the value of the Waldorf approach, how essential it is to forming character. Why? Because more than any other method so far — it focuses on forming healthy habits in students in both self-empathy and empathy towards others. How else are we going to get graduates exercising empathy towards themselves and towards the world?

end Q

Takeaways from Keven and Karen recanting

Keven and Karen’s “recanting” of their 1998 views had a big impact on the War Room. Many had their eyes opened more. For the purposes of liberal arts education, merely accumulating knowledge is “dead.” Only conversation-dialog-writing offer the needed repetition and social permission for students to self-create their values-view of the world.

The content-centric questions, conventional colleges asked students, take young minds further away from practical life; and, further away from healthy social interaction, make them compete for intellectual prowess.

Keven and Karen’s impulse set the War Room on a quest to identify the right kind of questions to be used in classroom dyads and triads. Who had succeeded with this before?

This helpfully narrowed the scope of the draft mandate phase for the Writers Room. In many instances, the starting place could and should be how the little known, yet highly relevant, Waldorf, Insight Seminars; and, University of Santa Monica approached topics. They provided many — not all — the answers the War Room was looking for.

In this way, the War Room arranged for four groups of writers, five for each core course to be transformed. Eventually a group of 20 the War Room liked, felt like-minded with and could trust were assembled.

Women took strength from their natural greater internal balance

One-sided, Outer-Game-only male values and culture was a flop; it had failed over and over.

Women’s culture was naturally more two-sided, more balanced between Thinking~Feeling, male~female intelligences, yin~YANG, gut-brain~head-brain, and so on.

Women took strength from their natural greater internal balance. They connected, cooperated, and collaborated to manifest this more outwardly. Re-making colleges was the task of the moment. Many new paid positions were created. These were almost 100% filled by women, many of these younger women.

This inspiration and gender solidarity inspired women to rise to the challenge of re-inventing multiple cultural norms and variables. Women encouraged each other to keep meeting, processing and attempting group consensus, attempting a workable Clerk function for consensus. Share your results with other women.

Historians in 2120 often say women in the 2030s were the first generation within recorded history — to rise to a challenge of imagining, cognizing and building a new culture. The new culture had to honor both humankind and Nature equally, honor both the Inner and Outer Games of Life equally.

This was not your grandparents’ 1948–1988 liberal-humanist-holistic rhetoric, to make a few iNtuitive Thinking corners of academia more progressive. This was a 360 degree vision to graduate people ready, willing, able and wanting to make the world more wonderful with their own unique contribution.

New Colleges was about replacing the way young minds, in young bodies, were being acculturated to “take the money and run,” the old male strategy. This was about acculturating young minds and bodies towards a more robust, more whole, less intellectual, big-hearted world view. This would require:

- rectifying the values underlying colleges,

- rectifying core curriculum, re-writing textbooks,

- rectifying teaching methods with known Best Practices,

- rectifying faculty meetings with known Best Practices in group process, and

- rectifying administrative group process to align with known Best Practices.

Only by attempting ALL of these projects could new culture be assured a fighting chance to succeed.

These were the larger frames of mind and heart, New Colleges War Room tried to hold steady for the Writers Room and interns following behind them.

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Bruce Dickson

Bruce Dickson

Health Intuitive, author in Los Angeles, CA