(2023-11-22) Strong The Missing Institution

Michael Strong: The Missing Institution. What if many of the ills of our society are due to the fact that we are missing a key institution for the improvement of the human condition? What if young people need to be raised in healthy moral ecologies that are becoming increasingly rare?

Many people will acknowledge the existence of extraordinary teachers, such as Jaime Escalante.

Because none of these educators have succeeded in scaling their successes, the conventional wisdom is that they are idiosyncratic pedagogical geniuses and that their work cannot be replicated.

An alternative interpretation for the failure to replicate pedagogical genius might focus on the fact that there are no institutions in our society that support the replication of pedagogical success.

There are no institutions in our society that provide for an environment in which master practitioners of this performance art systematically transfer their expertise.

Instead, academic departments of education have an effective monopoly on teacher training.

The analogy that I find compelling is musicianship – while there is nothing wrong with the academic study of music, one would never imagine that academic courses taught by music scholars provide the optimal path to becoming a performing artist.

Imagine, instead, if Escalante had been a great martial arts teacher. He might have established his own school. Students from around the world would have flocked to learn directly from him.

I describe the fact that there is no Escalante School of Mathematics Teaching as “The Missing Institution.” In the absence of government and academic domination of education for the past century, we would have seen the creation of many such training centers founded by brilliant educators, each designed to transmit their artistry.

“The Missing Institution” is not missing in the case of Montessori school and Waldorf (though in each case the training institutions are imperfect and financially precarious).

KIPP Academies succeed in part because of a year-long internal administrator’s training program.

Hi Tech High is a celebrated charter school focusing on project-based learning. It is unique in that it has been allowed to license teachers through an internal training system. It too has been spontaneously driven to create “The Missing Institution.”

The absence of “The Missing Institution” has been especially harmful for children whose parents are least likely to model intellectual engagement and other species of cultural capital at home.

We are missing an institution critical to human flourishing.

Despite benefits for a few, on balance schooling has been a costly mistake for the many. It has been a costly mistake because it has prevented the emergence of new micro-cultures of virtue appropriate to the rapid social, moral, and spiritual transformations that have rocked cultures around the world.

In the interpretation of the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, until the 20th century all children around the world were raised in a rich virtue culture.

Unbeknownst to most of us, by the late 20th century we embarked on the most frightening educational experiment imaginable -- one in which no particular cultural norms served as the dominant educational foundation for young people.

In the absence of a coherent moral universe, in the absence of socially enforced and universally respected moral norms, many schools have left young people without meaning, purpose, and direction.

At the same time, there is no one “correct path.”

Teens need to be raised within communities that support an interpersonal reality based on shared norms of excellence.

Day to day immersion in real, living cultural norms is completely unlike verbal descriptions of “grit” or “honesty.” Exhortations of whatever sort, in the context of a morally relativistic social environment, are a charade. The primary moral influence on most teens at present is pop culture, social media, and gaming, not their school environment.

Angela Duckworth’s “Character Lab,” funded by Bezos, Zuckerberg, etc. recommends exhortations

Obviously we won’t and shouldn’t return to the voluntary tortures of the Mandan. At the same time, if we are serious about character education, a focus on experiential learning that goes beyond Duckworth’s “Character Lab” seems like a worthy aspiration.

Martial arts academies often have dedicated virtue cultures based on the moral and disciplinary traditions of founders based in a cultivated practice

Scouting is a more traditional pathway with a hundred years tradition.

But one way or another getting kids out of desks in a classroom to exert themselves beyond what they believe is possible is likely to be more effective than “lessons” on grit with the cheesy video curricula.

Education became a state-managed institution during roughly the same time period the world became secularized.

Teens now spend about 8 hours per day on digital media. (vs what they used to spend on TV?)

A virtue culture that empowers young people to restrain impulses on behalf of longer term goals is a sine qua non of human happiness and well-being.

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