What Would You Do With 1 Million Dollars to Reform Education?

Intractable problems like fixing a troubled educational system benefit from the long conversation: thinkers from various fields bringing their knowledge to a disciplined, guided discussion about the problems and possible solutions. And philosophy is ideally suited to both guide and inform a discussion like this.

It’s popular in the United States these days to call for education reform. It seems most everyone wants it but few seem to know how best to bring it about. The conversation over education reform carries a lot of political weight and parents and teachers deeply understand the practical implications of doing—and not doing—something to improve the way kids are taught. In fact, the situation appears to be so desperate that ‘something’ is turning into ‘anything’ with politicians and educators attempting various experiments ranging from small tweaks to broad-brushed reform. Yet here in the middle of 2012, little has changed and the situation appears to continue to slide backwards.

As important as action is, intractable problems like fixing a troubled educational system benefit from the long conversation: thinkers from various fields bringing their knowledge to a disciplined, guided discussion about the problems and possible solutions. And philosophy is ideally suited to both guide and inform a discussion like this. Recently, Dr. Jason Baehr launched The Intellectual Virtues and Education Project which is a three-year project sponsored by a generous grant ($1 million) from the John Templeton Foundation and housed at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  It is devoted to developing and applying the first systematic formulation of an “intellectual virtues educational model,” which is a model that focuses on fostering intellectual character virtues like curiosity, wonder, intellectual carefulness, intellectual thoroughness, open-mindedness, intellectual humility, and intellectual rigor.

An intellectual virtues framework provides a way of fleshing out and making concrete the idea that education should be about creating "lifelong learners" or promoting a "love of learning." A person with intellectual virtues is characterized by a love of knowledge and learning and has the personal qualities and abilities required for being a lifelong learner. Additionally, an intellectual virtues approach to education begins and ends with a focus on those distinctive personal qualities have epistemic ends. As such, it avoids certain pitfalls or objections to more familiar versions of "character education."

baehr_headBaehr, who’s work is primarily focused on virtue epistemology and virtue ethics, will apply the learnings from those disciplines to problems in education. Baehr recently published a book with Oxford University Press titled, The Inquiring Mind: On Intellectual Virtues and Virtue Epistemology which serves both as a primer on virtue epistemology and a summary of the basis for the Templeton project (Philosophy News recently interviewed Baehr about his new book and you can listen to that podcast here). Baehr’s Intellectual Virtues Education Project will be conducted in two phases. The first phase will bring together, for the first time, leading scholars from across the nation in the philosophy of education, educational theory and psychology and virtue epistemology, for a series of workshops and seminars to develop the first intellectual virtues-based educational model. This phase will focus on developing and applying an intellectual virtues educational model (IVEM) and has six parts (described in detail here): An academic workshop, an academic conference, an edited volume of essays, an implementation guide for using the outcomes of the project in actual schools, a series of pedagogy seminars, and an online repository of information and guidance called the Intellectual Virtues and Education Resource Page.

After a curriculum is developed, 15 local junior high and high school teachers and administrators will be trained in the model.  In the second phase of the project, the remaining grant money will be used to implement the intellectual virtues curriculum in a new charter school for students in grades 6 through 8. A proposal for the Intellectual Virtues Academy of Long Beach is currently under consideration by the Long Beach Unified School District.

Resources

Project website

Press release on the project

Jason’s book at Amazon.com

You can contact Jason here

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