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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Teaching the old-time virtues

The Duke of Wellington probably never said that “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”

In “Schools Are Still Peddling the Self-Esteem Hoax,” Fordham’s Checker Finn criticizes social and emotional learning as another fad. Marc Tucker jumps into the debate with a post on how high-scoring Singapore and Hong Kong educators combine social, emotional and academic learning at schools for vulnerable children.

(Teachers) know they cannot reach these young people in order to engage them in learning until they first do what they need to do to earn their trust.  The faculty in these schools will go to court if they have to intercede on the student’s behalf with a judge, buy them lunch if they cannot afford one on their own, stay in school until 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. if the student has no safe place to go.

Teachers do not compromise on achievement standards, Tucker writes. “But, at the same time, they will work, sometimes for years, to build the social and emotional foundation on which the student’s cognitive development will then be built.”

Finn is dubious about non-cognitive goals, such as self-confidence and self-efficacy,  embraced by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL),  writes Tucker. Finn wonders at the absence of “ethics, morality, integrity, courage or honesty.”

Teaching character is nothing new, writes Tucker. At the end of the Gilded Age, Groton Academy was built the sons of the wealthy, he writes.

Interestingly, it was these very titans of industry and finance who insisted that the dorms at Groton be cold and tiny and devoid of anything that smacked of privilege and a life of ease.  They did not want their sons to grow up soft and entitled.  They wanted them to be tough and disciplined and self-reliant.  Was that part of the curriculum?  You bet it was.

These days. U.S. schools’ mission statements are full of generalities, he writes. By contrast, here are the goals Singapore has for its students:

The person who is schooled in the Singapore Education system embodies the Desired Outcomes of Education. He has a good sense of self-awareness, a sound moral compass, and the necessary skills and knowledge to take on challenges of the future. He is responsible to his family, community and nation. He appreciates the beauty of the world around him, possesses a healthy mind and body, and has a zest for life. In sum, he is
  1. a confident person who has a strong sense of right and wrong, is adaptable and resilient, knows himself, is discerning in judgment, thinks independently and critically, and communicates effectively;

  2. a self-directed learner who takes responsibility for his own learning, who questions, reflects and perseveres in the pursuit of learning;

  3. an active contributor who is able to work effectively in teams, exercises initiative, takes calculated risks, is innovative and strives for excellence; and,

  4. a concerned citizen who is rooted to Singapore, has a strong civic consciousness, is informed, and takes an active role in bettering the lives of others around him.

Only “communicates effectively” deals with “learning anything in particular or to a particular standard,” writes Tucker. Singapore stress “old-time virtues . . . like perseverance, morality, civic consciousness (and by implication patriotism), taking initiative, excellence and responsibility.” Their students are among the best in the world in academics too.

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