Piaget on Cheating in School

I really have just a quotation and a few comments for today; I’ll have another brief entry, tomorrow, on a related matter.

From Jean Piaget, The Moral Judgment of the Child, trans. Marjorie Gabain (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1997), pp.286-7:

Cheating is a defensive reaction which our educational system  seems to have wantonly called forth in the pupil. Instead of taking into account the child’s deeper psychological tendencies which urge him to work with others – emulation being in no way opposed to cooperation – our schools condemn the pupil to work in isolation and only make use of emulation to set one individual against another. This purely individualistic system of work, excellent no doubt if the aim of education be to give good marks and prepare the young for examinations, is nothing but a handicap to the formation of reasonable beings and good citizens. Taking the moral point of view only, one of two things is bound to happen. Either competition proves strongest, and each boy will try and curry favour with the master, regardless of his toiling neighbour who then, if he is defeated, resorts to cheating. Or else comradeship will win the day and the pupils will combine in organized cheating so as to offer a common resistance to scholastic constraint.

Let me highlight one passage, which could very well be written of the system of public education in the U.S. in the current decade: Continue reading “Piaget on Cheating in School”

Consideration Without Judgment

The unifying idea behind my courses is that students should be able at need to offer considered judgments on the ethical aspects of decisions and actions in response to complex situations. This is a fairly conventional notion lifted from the philosophical tradition, whereby a judgment based on nuanced awareness and careful thought is preferable to mere opinion.

Judgment is easy; consideration is more difficult, and the means of focusing on and improving consideration can be elusive if judgment keeps getting in the way.

One of the frustrations I have had with the conventional argumentative essay is that it keeps the focus on judgment which, for many students, simply defaults to prior established opinion. What I have encountered in student essays in the past suggests that, for many, to write an argument is simply to build fortifications for the opinions they already hold, using whatever material is at hand, a process that need involve very little in the way of genuine consideration. Continue reading “Consideration Without Judgment”

From the Archive: Confessions of a Former Objectivist, part four

This is the last of my old posts on Objectivism, from February 19, 2007.


Confessions of a Former Objectivist, part four

I think that I am more or less done writing about my misspent youth, for now. I may have more to add at some point in the future.

I did want to add that I occasionally come across a student whom I suspect of being an Objectivist, or at least an Objectivist sympathizer. The signs are not hard to spot. Continue reading “From the Archive: Confessions of a Former Objectivist, part four”

From the Archive: Confessions of a Former Objectivist, part three

This one was first posted to A Skeptic’s Creed on February 16, 2007.


Confessions of a Former Objectivist, part three

On second thought, it may be that the paper I wrote about Objectivism during my last semester in college is best left in obscurity.

Part of the problem is that I just can’t help reading the paper as the work of a student. I keep wanting to grade it, to comment on it, to correct it, to steer it in a better direction by sheer force of will. I am haunted by what the paper might have become in more capable hands than those of my twenty-one-year-old self.

(I experience this sort of thing a lot when reading students’ work. They have no idea what an agony it can be, always wanting their work to be the best it can be, but always seeing how it could have been better.) Continue reading “From the Archive: Confessions of a Former Objectivist, part three”

Hydraulic Fracturing: Toward Better Deliberation

When the conversation opened up on the second day of our November workshop, after my presentation on acceptable risk, the project team and the invited participants spent much of the remainder of the morning developing and jotting down ideas for fostering better, more informed and more constructive public deliberation about hydraulic fracturing.

Our initial ways of phrasing the questions were rough, and many of them were likely to be perceived as biased against one group or another, playing on stereotypes, say, of engineers or of some of the more strident individuals who might show up for a public hearing.

In the weeks that followed, the project team at Georgia Tech revised the list, and reconsidered it, and revised it again.

The end result is a set of questions that will frame the work of our second workshop, now scheduled for early April: Continue reading “Hydraulic Fracturing: Toward Better Deliberation”


In the political philosophy course I taught, last semester, one of the books I had the students work through was Iris Marion Young’s Inclusion and Democracy.

It’s fair to say that most of my students are male, and most of those are white, English-speaking, native-born Americans.

Many of the white guys had some difficulty grasping what Young was saying about social structure, the ways in which people may be situated differently within that structure, and the difference situation makes in life prospects and in opportunities to participate in political processes.

At one point, I said to some of them, partly out of exasperation:

The basic problem is that white guys like us are so well situated that we don’t even know we’re situated.

Some of them may have begun to understand, but I’m not sure any of them were fully convinced of it.

In saying it, I began to understand it better myself: one of the most basic and insidious privileges of the well situated is that we can be oblivious to our own privilege, oblivious to the very idea that one can be situated or that the ease with which we move through the world is the product of anything other than our own freedom and our own effort.

(As an odd side note, at least a handful of my students referred to Young as “he” in their distillation exercises. Hmm.)

Reading Old Books with Engineers

In yesterday’s post I described an approach I developed for encouraging and helping students to read old books and, more to the point, to derive understanding from them.

In a political theory course, last semester, I tried something different. In the first half of the course, I set students to work together on understanding three texts in democratic theory: Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Rousseau’s The Social Contract, and Young’s Inclusion and Democracy.

I provided relatively little guidance, other than ideas on how to use books to develop understanding. After they had worked through each of the books, I set them an in-class, individual exercise I dubbed a distillation, in which they could use only the book and a pen or pencil in filling out a worksheet on which they were to set down an interpretation of the core ideas of the book.

I was impressed and encouraged by the way students took up the task. They would spend whole class sessions flipping back and forth, reading passages and debating their interpretation.

In the syllabus for that course, I described the distillation exercise as follows: Continue reading “Reading Old Books with Engineers”

Reading Aristotle with Engineers

Since I switched to problem-based learning in my ethics classes, I’ve been experimenting with different ways of introducing my students to ethical theory as such and helping them to develop a working knowledge of a small handful of particular theories.

Part of my struggle in the past has been with trying to have them start using three different theories at once, at least so far as to be able to make distinctions among the good, the right, and virtue. For this, I used Anthony Weston’s 21st Century Ethical Toolbox (Oxford), especially the chapters on families of moral values and subsequent chapters on theories.

Since the courses were arranged as a kind of spiral, and because ours was to be a practical engagement with theory, all they needed at first was a broad approximation, with further refinements coming along later as we dug more deeply into more complex problem situations. Continue reading “Reading Aristotle with Engineers”

On Helping My Daughter Learn to Drive

I’ve noted already that things I learn in private life sometimes converge with what I’m thinking about in my professional life, and this morning brought an especially complex tangle of such convergences.

(I am a practical ethicist, though, so I suppose some spill-over is inevitable. In fact, I used to observe that it’s very hard for me not to talk shop in social situations, since the whole world of human experience is shop.)

My older daughter is 15 and has her instructional permit for driving. I took her out this morning to the parking lot of a nearby mall so should could continue getting used to being behind the wheel and developing basic skills.

We’ve been to the parking lot several times in recent months, but at irregular intervals, so her progress toward competence is slow. She is improving, though.

I was talking to her, as I drove home, about what it’s like to be an experienced driver.

It’s a matter of paying attention, I told her. More than that, it’s a matter of having ingrained habits of paying attention. So, if I’m at an intersection or driveway trying to turn right, I have to be sure to glance to the right before I hit the accelerator, in case a pedestrian is crossing in front of the car. Continue reading “On Helping My Daughter Learn to Drive”

Noticing, Responding, Thinking

In the first days of classes, this week, I provided students something of a gloss on the learning objectives of my courses in practical ethics, which are stated formally in the syllabus of each.

I told them the aim of the course is for each of them to cultivate a richer moral imagination, which comes down to a particular set of cognitive skills or capacities: Continue reading “Noticing, Responding, Thinking”