September 15, 2011

Character education

A reader writes:
I was thinking, "What character trait/life skill would I make most important to instill, if I ran the educational zoo?" 
My own kids went through school when 'self-esteem' was ridiculously stressed. And we see its effects everywhere. 
But how about this one as a primary guide:  teach them 'How to learn from your mistakes'
Lots of goodness would come from this emphasis, I think. 
It obviates the whole (fragile, they think)  'self-esteem' concern, because it teaches that it is not BAD to make mistakes  
(EVERYONE makes them - don't feel bad about it),   only bad to not learn from them 
It springboards into teaching the Scientific Method, logic, rational thinking, problem solving, Deming Quality Control, etc. 
It teaches humbleness, appreciation for other ways of doing things, etc. 
And, it helps one to make the best of whatever genetic cards one has been dealt. 
It sure seems that it is NOT even on the radar screen these days. BHO the prime example.

Along these lines, I would encourage intellectuals to try to subscribe to a form of vulgar Hegelianism in their personal intellectual behavior that I've found very useful. 

If you hold a thesis for what seem like good reasons, and somebody counters with a well-argued antithesis, you have several options:

- Reject the antithesis (the most common)

- Convert to the antithesis (the most dramatic)

- Look for a synthesis that makes sense of both your thesis and the other guy's antithesis (usually, the hardest but most profitable)

For example:

Thesis: A racial group is a taxonomical subspecies.

Antithesis: A racial group is a biologically nonexistent social construct!

Synthesis: A racial group is a partly inbred extended family.

54 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another option:

- Reserve judgement

Be aware that there are counterarguments to your thesis that you don't find convincing, but can't completely dismiss either, and modulate your thinking accordingly. I reserve judgement on a lot of issues. I often have a sense that some positions are more plausible than others, but I make a point of occasionally reminding myself that I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Are you arguing for the Hegelian dialectic? The one that's marched us relentlessly ever-leftward?

At some point a man has to cry, "Stop!" and stop "synthesizing" (aka compromising).

Anonymous said...

Aristotle thought he found virtue in the golden mean, but as a conflict between (Ayn Rand or Thomas Jefferson) and (Karl Marx or FDR) would show, if acted out in policy, one scoop of dog shit in ice cream does not make a better sundae.

IMHO teachers, being in positions of authority, should not try to convert their students to any point of view. That is indoctunation. So the teacher should do no more than challange the student's beliefs. To say the teacher has to change and soften his own convictions is going to far.

Anonymous said...

Discipline, order, and control in the classroom. The only area where freedom will be allowed, encouraged, and rewarded is in the intelligent use of the mind.
So, in math class, a kid cannot chew gum, cuss, or talk in class. But he's free to master math and ask questions about problems.
So, in art class, a kid may not act crazy, loud, and stupid, but he would be free to learn how to draw better and develop his own unique style.
With discipline, order, and control over the body, attitude, and behavior, all the mental energies are focused on intellectual or creative pursuits. That makes education possible.
As for deeper character, that will have to be taught at home by parents and from dealing with friends and life experiences.

In my experience, the biggest obstacle to learning was laziness. The best cure was the tough teacher, but not all teachers were tough. I was lazy in classes where the teacher was nice and forgiving and quite studious in classes where the teacher hissed at students for being dummies or lazy idiots.
But the real secret to longterm success is to be studious on one's own, and as much I believe in the work ethic as an ideal, I would have preferred if I'd been born rich and could sit around a swimming pool all day.

Aristlato said...

Look for a synthesis that makes sense of both your thesis and the other guy's antithesis (usually, the hardest but most profitable)

Says who? If you split the difference between right and wrong, you get half nonsense, which for the most part is as "good" as a full serving.

There is no such thing as moderation in defense of the truth.

Anonymous said...

The average IQ of iSteve readers isn't quite high enough to embrace this, but I think what you might be groping for is a kind of Bayesian rationalism, in which the opinions of other sincere, intelligent people should be given some weight in your posterior probability distribution.

For example, see: lesswrong.com

Anonymous said...

"My own kids went through school when 'self-esteem' was ridiculously stressed. And we see its effects everywhere.
But how about this one as a primary guide: teach them 'How to learn from your mistakes'"

These are good points. I am curious, Sailer, if you've looked into Montessori education. Now, of course, I'm not advocating Montessori for low income, low IQ children. But for those who are reasonably intelligent, it appears to inculcate self-motivation. In short, children select the task they want (called "work"!!!), they're given instruction, and then they're required to complete it. Just about the opposite of KIPP: but, then again, most of the parents have graduate degrees.

Evidently there are some famous Montessori grads: the Google dudes, adman Alex Bogusky, etc. Plus, my kids are in a majority white classroom, in a city where the public schools are 95% Hispanic, so the NAMs in class come from self-selective, educated families, i.e., they're going to have good classroom manners.

Anonymous said...

"Another option: - Reserve judgement"

Generally, I look for several things.

1. Power and agenda. Who is he and what are his interests? If a Zionist and a Palestinian are arguing about Middle East affairs, it really comes down to 'my people vs your people' no matter how many factoids and reasons they pull out. A lot of arguments really come down to self-interest. Why do Jews support immigration? Cuz it's good for the Jews.

2. Ideology and/or bias. What are his main ideologial assumptions and worldview? Most minds work like flies-and-carrion. If there's rotten meat, tons of flies will materialize out of nowhere and swarm around it.
Similarly, one's ideology, worldview, or biases are like flies. Mention any topic, and even if you know little about the subject, you'll instantly form an opinion, arguments, and explanations. Mention 'socialism', all of a sudden, a conservative has 20 reasons why it's bad and a leftist instantly has 20 reasons why it's good. Mention 'black crime' and instantly alternative rightists will think 'lower IQ, black temperament, black aggressivneness, etc' while liberals will instantly think, 'poverty, oppression, desperation, misguided youths, etc'. All minds work paradigmatically. This is partly due to ideology and worldview but also due to temperament. Some people are, by nature, more egocentric and sure that they are right. Others are naturally more uncertain and/or curious. The flies-and-carrion way of the mind is necessary since if we had to really think about everything, we would never get anything done. Most of the time, we work on assumptions and truisms that bind a community together.

3. Intelligence. Is the guy smart, average, or dumb? If he's smart, he'll beat you even if he's wrong. If he's dumb, you'll beat him even if he's right. If his intelligence is same as yours, the person with truth might win.

4. Honesty. What kind of guy is he? Does he like to discuss stuff to learn something or is he more interested in winning the argument? If the latter, he may turn to lying just to win.

Anonymous said...

5. Nature of debate and one's emotional investment. Some issues are powerful and important, some are trivial or esotetic. Some are political or some are non-political. Some involve other people's ideas and some involve your ideas. On some issues, both parties may be willing to admit wrong if proven to be wrong. Suppose Jim and Jane disagree as to who is taller? Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. They look up stats and find out Pitt is taller. Okay, no big deal to admit wrong. But if the topic is controversial or sacred--such about MLK or race--, then the side that is proven wrong may adamantly deny it or look for yet more reasons to prove he's right. Liberals cannot admit to racial realities. It's too controversial and too sacred to their moral and political foundations.
Then, there are some issues where one's ego is involved. Suppose an economist puts forth a bold theory as to why-this-happened. Because he owns it and invested his pride in it, he may be less willing to admit he's wrong. In contrast, two other people may have a more objective or emotionally detached discussion on the matter of whether the economist is right or wrong since they don't have a personal egocentric involvement in it.

6. Is it a disagreement about facts, theories, or opinions? Facts can be solved most easily with access to data. Theories are more difficult since they are constructed from ordering of facts, and facts can be organized in various ways. Liberatarians and socialists can look at the same economic data and arrange in ways that favor their side. Opinions, on the other hand, are based mostly on emotions, hunches, preferences, or biases, and usually not worth arguing about. What is better? French fries or mashed potatoes? Even so, there are good opinions and dumb opinions. If someone were to say PORKYS is a better movie than CITIZEN KANE, you know he's an idiot or just a clownish provocateur.

7. All said and done, NO ONE takes kindly to criticism or being exposed as wrong. Some people like to profess guilt--like white liberals--, but it's a kind of moral exhibtionism, a kind of ego-boosting holier-than-thou act, so it's not the same thing as taking criticism.
If you tell an ugly person he or she's ugly, if you tell a crappy filmmaker that his movie sucks, if you tell an intellectual that his ideas are baloney, if you laugh at someone's poem, if you tell a cook that his dish tastes like crap, and etc, they will hate you. Criticism creates enemies, and so don't do it in social affairs unless it's really necessary--and even then, try to be diplomatic about it. But there are times when you really must be harsh. But 9 times out of ten, even if you're right to blast the moron--and the person realizes he's done wrong--, he will still hate you. I know cuz I lost so many friends(and some jobs) by freely shooting off my mouth.

abby said...

Discipline, order, and control in the classroom

This is unfair to african americans, who have different learning styles.

Steve Sailer said...

- "Reserve judgement"

- "The average IQ of iSteve readers isn't quite high enough to embrace this, but I think what you might be groping for is a kind of Bayesian rationalism,"

Nah. I'm well aware of all that, but I'm after bigger game. I'm fine reserving judgment and being less wrong about lots of things. You'll notice there are all sorts of controversial topics on which I don't weigh in much. But on some number of topics, I don't just want to Less Wrong than the average, I want to be More Right than everybody who come before. I want to come up with breakthroughs that get us past old stalemates.

For example, my formal definition of a racial group -- a partly extended inbred family -- is simply more intellectually useful than the old Thesis (a subspecies) and Antithesis (a biologically nonexistent social construct).

David said...

Steve's third option appears to be the definition of most learning. It isn't compromise - the context of this discussion is learning (made clear by saying one's opposite number presented what one considers to be a well-argued viewpoint). In other words, if it transpires that one isn't in possession of The Truth on some matter, then what one ends up doing (in summary) is synthesizing the best observations and arguments.

Anonymous said...

For example, my formal definition of a racial group -- a partly extended inbred family -- is simply more intellectually useful than the old Thesis (a subspecies) and Antithesis (a biologically nonexistent social construct).

Noting that it's "intellectually useful" hints at the political nature of the definition and how it retains elements of being a social construct.

What about the science?

http://racehist.blogspot.com/2009/07/speciation.html

"When two populations stop exchanging genes-that is, stop mating with each other-then they can be considered distinct species."

"these results suggest that it can take as little as one gene, in the right spot in the genome, to cause a fork in the evolutionary road."

Richard Dawkins (in The Ancestor's Tale):

"As I said, zoologists define a species as a group whose members breed with each other under natural conditions — in the wild. It doesn't count if they breed only in zoos"

"What are natural conditions for humans? Do they even exist any more? If, in ancestral times, as sometimes today, two neighbouring tribes had different religions, different languages, different dietary customs, different cultural traditions and were continually at war with one another; if the members of each tribe were brought up to believe that the other tribe were subhuman 'animals' (as happens even today); if their religions taught that would-be sexual partners from the other tribe were taboo, 'shiksas', or unclean, there could well be no interbreeding between them."

Anonymous said...

"The average IQ of iSteve readers isn't quite high enough to embrace this, but I think what you might be groping for is a kind of Bayesian rationalism, in which the opinions of other sincere, intelligent people should be given some weight in your posterior probability distribution."

And to that we say NEVER GIVE A INCH. And IQ aint so important around here when we got HQ(honesty quotient)and CQ(courage quotient... though being anonymous helps some).

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Too many anonymouses. I don't think you guys get how ambiguous and thus, annoying, it makes discussions. In some threads I find I have to simply ignore all of 'em.

Sidebar - my two oldest sons when to Montessori kindergarten, and we were quite pleased. I don't think it's the life-changing educational experience people hope for, but it has some very good points.

I agree with the Hegel-lite approach to a point, but share some of the cautions others have expressed. I reject the idea that identifying an agenda invalidates all further claims, as the Zionist/Palestinian example suggests. Rubbish. All motives are mixed, and one has not debunked because one has identified some small advantage a person may derive from holding one idea.

There is another response, reportedly from pilpul, though I suspect that was more theoretical than observed, that parties should switch sides as resolution approached. That seems a bit much, but it is certainly worth asking "What would I put forth as my strongest argument if I were my opponent?"

Baloo said...

Steve's right, but of course the paradigm doesn't apply to everything. It seems to be the whole basis of light as a particle and light as a wave paradox, where it's completely valid. And even where it doesn't apply, (in cases like ideological bias, as pointed out above) trying it out can enhance your understanding of the first, valid position. And of course there is a difference between synthesizing and compromising. The first method is for arriving at truth, the second for finding workable solutions regardless of the truth. And Anon is right that compromising is often deadly. And synthesizing is often just a description of how things happen, rather than a prescription for how to do things, anyway. OTOH, synthesizing Free-Market Economics and HBD can lead to some interesting insights. Finally, I think some of us are misunderstanding Steve here. He's not arguing for splitting differences, but for incorporating new data, right? Borrowing thinking from elsewhere to improve a concept. Steve's concept of the extended family is superior to the subspecies concept in that it is undisputable, while opponents can mess around with the word "subspecies" to fog the issue.

Anonymous said...

The funny paradox about truth on the internet: the less honest you are about your identity, more honest you are about your deepest held convictions.

So, the result is something almost surreal: we get to intimiately know the thoughts and feelings of people who remain anonymous or pseudnymous strangers. It's like blind people in a room who can't see one another but sharing the most private conversations.

In real life, we know who is who, but most times we don't know what's really on their minds.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of all those debates over "self-esteem", and in my own experience school children, particularly white males, were expected to look out for everyone else's self-esteem at the expense of their own.

Harry Baldwin said...

When I think of a useful life skill that my parents taught me that I have failed to teach my kids, it would be accepting the fact that you have to do a lot of things in life that you don't want to do. When I was a kid I would be sent off to YMCA camp or dropped off with a family friend for two weeks while my parents took a trip, whether I liked it or not. It was good training. My wife and I were too accommodating to the wishes of our kids growing up.

I suppose school generally is something that kids have to do that they don't want to. Maybe the school needs to accept that role more and not try to accommodate so much?

Kylie said...

"The average IQ of iSteve readers isn't quite high enough to embrace this, but..."

Then it's not quite bright of you to continue, is it?

Finnegan said...

There are certainly character traits that lead to success; the question is whether it is remotely feasible for a public education to instill them, and what the consequences of relegating character education to a Prussian-derived institution might be.

Wealth and success are generally passed on by heredity, but not for bitchy leftist reasons like disparities of opportunity, at least, not directly. The fact is that most lower class kids watch their lower class parents drift through life without a plan, alternating between periods of crisis response/rest/crisis response ad infinitum until their vital energies wear out into depression and substance abuse.

The stereotype of the spoiled rich kid has something to it, to be sure, but the children of the upwardly mobile middle class (what shrinking ass end is left of it) are, in practice, often very different. It is not their material inheritance that really continues the wealth disparity, for most of these kids are done with their Master's degrees by the time their parents kick the bucket. Instead, it is the character inheritance learned from watching their parents proceed through life in a more or less planned manner, responding to obstacles in a reasonable way and planning for them before they arrive, not panicking at the first sign of adversity or procastinating out of mere lethargy. The best of the lower class kids (I'm not talking son of a coal miner, but more about welfare kids, etc.) are generally those who recognize, at some point in their development, the shortcomings imposed on them by blood and circumstance and actively rebel, always carrying with them a secret shame and hatred for those prole tendencies they are unable to extinguish or repress. For an excellent essay on this feeling, check out this essay from Dennis Dale's blog, one of his most brilliant and insightful (the August 07 post):

http://dennisdale.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_archive.html

Back to the point at hand, though, it is entirely questionable whether or not it is possible or desirable for public institutions to take over the role of character education. On the other hand, I can say from the experience of bouncing around 34 shitty, violent inner-city prison camps between kindergarten and graduation that it is going to be completely pointless to attempt to instill bourgeois values in kids who go home after school to find their mother passed out on the couch and her latest violent, angry, boozed up "boyfriend" prowling the vicinity.

A workable alternative is to turn those kids into the "good lower class kids" I described above, and get them to despise their rotten roots and rebel against them, but of course actively encouraging children to hate their parents opens another can of worms and is unacceptable unless their parents are respectable, successful white protestants.

Anonymous said...

"Are you arguing for the Hegelian dialectic? The one that's marched us relentlessly ever-leftward?"

Thank you for that awesome example of a fallacy!

Get Off My Lawn! said...

One trait implicit in Steve's and several other points: Training yourself to see the other person's POV. You don't have to agree with it, but you have to try to understand it. Not only will it help you frame your own argument more strongly, but, sometimes, it will make you question your own cherished assumptions, which is always a good thing. You might emerge with even stronger convictions, but you might also realize that some of the things you believed because you were told to believe them are not necessarily true.

Anonymous said...

learning from mistakes is good, but learning from success is better, at least arguably better, or at least equally valuable. An inborn need to ruminate negatively (when the beta follower mental module is active, as it can be for a lifetime, or even through several generations) keeps the focus on the mistakes. Intuitively, though, it seems like focusing on not repeating mistakes may give you smaller gains, where repeating successful behaviors religiously might produce some very large positive results.

slumber_j said...

Do we find ourselves at a sort of epistemopocalyptic crux here? Jesus. Mr. Sailer throws down the gauntlet. I'm applying to Kindergarten for my son in Manhattan. Let's go!

Anonymous said...

"learning from mistakes is good, but learning from success is better"

Success is chiseled from/with mistakes.

It took innumerable mistakes before Edison finally came upon the lightbulb that worked.

The Wright Brothers failed many times before they finally succeeded.

The space program fumbled again and again before finally putting someone up in space.

Hemingway wrote and rewrote his draft before he finally arrived at the final product.

Athletes fail again and again before they finally get into the groove and win the gold.

So, fear of mistakes and failure will not lead to success. One must accept mistakes and failure as part of the bargain in striving to improve oneself or create something of worth.

So, even though we need to learn from mistakes, we also learn to deal with and accept mistakes as the integral part of working toward success. Since we are not God, we cannot possibly come up with a perfect idea or plan and produce the perfect idea in the first try. An novice archer doesn't hit the bull's eye the first time. He misses the mark over and over until he finally becomes one with the bow and arrow.

We can only have a general or initial idea and then work on it over and over and over, making mistakes, fixing problems, finding new angles, only to be confronted with new problems and challenges(as well as possibilities)which make us work even harder to understand more and do bigger things.

A perfectionist is not someone who thinks he is perfect but someone who tries to create a perfect product through an arduous process of making mistakes. He knows perfection arises from the carving of imperfection. Perfection is the opposite but also the product of imperfection, just like a diamond gem is carved from a rough cut or a sculpture is carved from a crude block of marble.

And he knows to reach perfection, he has to make mistakes. He has to make mistakes to be rid of them. But more importantly, he understands that making mistakes is the essence of the process of creating the finally perfect product.

map said...

"But how about this one as a primary guide: teach them 'How to learn from your mistakes'
Lots of goodness would come from this emphasis, I think. "

Unfortunately, this does not work. You cannot learn from your mistakes because you will never have the same opportunities.

TomV said...

Yan Shen,

I'd go out on a limb and posit that Hegel was not "groping for" your jargon-laden insight. Evidently, another low-IQ prole.

Mike said...

I'm reminded of your previous post:
http://isteve.blogspot.com/2009/09/intelligence-and-conscientuousness.html

In short, parts of a person's psychological outlook + character may be genetic too. That said, it's probably more malleable (and more permanently so) than IQ.

Fenris said...

Regarding your race example. C does not represents synthesis. Its simple a restatement of A in different terms. A partial inbred lineage is simply a more in depth description of a sub species. Synthesis is represented by acknowledgment that race is both social construct and biological reality. We can easily separate Europeans from Africans genetically, or morphometrically with fairly small number of traits, that is a biological reality, our choice to consider mixed race people as african/black is a social construct. Race has both a biological and cultural reality the two do not negate each other.

As far as advice for children learn form your mistakes is good, learning from others mistakes is even better when possible.

Mike said...

p.s. lesswrong anonymous-- unless you're trolling and purposefully trying to give lesswrong.com a bad reputation on the internet, or trying to drive a wedge between hbd folks and lesswrong folks, it would be wise to refrain from blanket insults as a guest on someone else's website.

NOTA said...

Find intelligent interesting people, news sources, blogs, etc., from a completely different way of looking at the world than you have. If you're not pissed off by some of the ideas you read every day, you're blinding yourself. Then, try to figure out how to put on their worldview--not some caricature that makes you feel superior, but really try to grasp what they believe and see. That gives you three benefits:

a. It exposes you to data you would never see inside a bubble of your own worldview, because people who think like you have the same blind spots you have.

b. It gives you something close to an understanding of people you don't agree with, bit who you still may need to understand, make common cause with in some limited way, avoid, etc. (A caricature of liberals or tea partiers will help you feel superior to them, but it wont help you predict what they'll do in power.)

c. This is the best way I know to find places where your worldview is wrong or incomplete. That let's you do what Steve is talking about--incorporate the useful or insightful parts of someone else's ideas info your own intellectual framework.

The correlary to this is that you should never let moral arguments, shame, embarrassment, etc., keep you from learning from someone. However. If you're not going to waste your time listening to fools or paid shills, you will have to learn to honestly evaluate whether a given person really has anything to say. That's hard when they have such different starting assumptions than you do that they're practically speaking a different language.

Anonymous said...

Less Wrong all sounds very laudible. But read that thread Ive linked to.

It proceeds from the assumption that 'racism' the textbook left/liberal version actually exists as a driver of human behaviour. The whole thread comes across as a bunch of SWPLs trying to out do each other in the po-faced moarality stakes.

So much for the big brained community the less wrong anon was selling.

Anonymous said...

More useful than true character could be a kind of faux character, or characteur.

In many competitive fields, characteur may be more useful and advantageous than character. Why? Because real character requires one to have solid principles and stick by them. This is all very good in a western movie where the script has the 'good guy' winning most times--or dying nobly with us sobbing for them(as in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY). But in real life, a person will miss many opportunities by showing true character. If you're a blue collar worker, is it always wise to blow the whistle on union mismanagement when you need its help in your affairs? If you're a cop, does it pay to act Serpico 24/7? If you're a politician, does it usually pay to be Ron Paul, aka Mr. Principles and Character? No, generally guys like Clinton, Obama, and the Bushes win the big elections(which is why it was funny as hell when Bush accused Clinton of having no character in 1992.)
There may be some areas where you can stick to all the principles you want: poet, scientist, etc. Nobody makes money from poetry anyway, so why not write what you wanna write and be a real artist?
And since hard science is about facts, one's better off by sticking to the principles of science. Even so, it wasn't so safe to oppose Lysenkoism in Stalin's Russia; character in science can lead to persecution or death too. Galileo understood this and was force to play ball. And whatever the truth on global warming may be, it's not good for one's career in science to be opposed to it. I like to see men of real character stick to their guns, but if one's priority is to succeed, it's better to play the game, at least until one reaches a certain level of power. Kevin MacDonald said he used the dipsy-doo method. He entered academia as a liberal and then he showed his true colors once he got tenure(he couldn't be fired). Had he been principled in his
counter-Jewishness early on, he would never have gotten tenure. And leftist Jews in the 50s often waved the American flag and posed as patriotic Americans.. and then showed their true colors in the 60s.

In most human affairs, it's good to have character but not always best to act on it all the time(though it's good to act on it whenever possible). To succeed, one has to make deals, shake many hands, be dependent on many people, win favors and owe favors. It means even an idealist who enters politics and business must play the game. This is why 'truth-seeking' intellectuals often despise politicians and businessmen, but the world of intellectuals has its own 'power politics' which determines who gets ahead too. I mean not everyone gets tenure and certainly not always on merit.

Now, the appearance of having character is important, even among sharks. It's like in THE GODFATHER. They are criminals and do bad stuff, but it's important to maintain the surfeit of RESPECT, HONOR, LOYALTY, TRIBAL VIRTUE--even though everyone will just about betray anyone when they get the chance.
If everyone were brazen about their self-interest, there would be social chaos and violence. Rappers are brazen and say, "I'm the baddest blah blah blah", but look at the state of black communities. What prevails in the black community is caricature, not charcter. Caricature of inflated infantile thug egos.

In civilized human affairs, the facade of character is important. Even among business competitors, there are handshakes and surface agreement to act according to principles and rule of law(but behind the scenes, each side will try to bend the rules as much as possible to gain the advantage.) Same in politics.

Anonymous said...

In the movie KING RAT, the Tom Courtney character initially seems upright and principled. He leads a crusade against corruption in the POW camp. But he doesn't make any friends or allies. He's too pumped with his self-righteousness, a kind of puritanism. Also, he seems blind to the reality of where he is. It's a freaking POW camp where people have to scramble and scrape by to survive. Hardly a place where you expect people to be saints.

So, even though teaching character to kids is important, the ones that will really succeed are those who gain the Machiavellian sense of characteur, or the politics of character. Not character as an anchor that keeps one grounded(and often immobile)but as a rudder and sail that makes one to harness the dominant energies.

The master of characteur in politics was Zhou En-Lai. Many leaders and diplomats respected him as a man of intelligence, grace, decency, and principles(relatively speaking for a communist). Yet, he was the devious smoke-and-mirror master of political survival. On the surface, he was very much like the traditional mandarin: good manners, right gestures, sound character. But he survived only because his principles weren't anchored to any one thing. He knew he sometimes had to go where to winds too him.

Of course, schools don't really teach this cuz it's too 'cynical'. So, kids learn about this from peer-interaction(kids are very political in who-gets-invited-to-which-party, who-got-the-girl-or-who-got-the-boy, who-made-cheerleader, who-is-teacher's-pet, etc). Kids also get it from movies like the GODFATHER and WALL STREET. Economics classes teaches principles of sound business. But those who really succeed in business know something more than principles and act on something more than character. They have prince-ples(the machiavellian kind) and characteur.

Kylie said...

"Find intelligent interesting people, news sources, blogs, etc., from a completely different way of looking at the world than you have."

That's been my habit--my exercise in self-discipline, if you will--for years now. Unfortunately, since the Western media are so relentlessly, drearily left-wing, it's very easy to find such POVs, reading and actually stomaching them is not.

If you're not pissed off by some of the ideas you read every day, you're blinding yourself."

Which is why I read The Grauniad online every single day. (I used to read the NYT online daily, too, till they started charging money for reading more than 20 pieces of their tripe monthly. There are limits to my self-discipline. I consider I was already paying a high price.)

It was not conservatives but liberals who convinced me to abandon liberalism finally and forever. (I was so blinded by left-wing ideology until a few years ago that I believed the liberal cant that there are no intelligent conservatives.)

By the way, you can't always discount a woman's feeings. I'd still be a liberal in good standing if I had not started feeling literally nauseated when I read left-wing writings. I couldn't figure out how and why I felt so physically and psychologically uncomfortable reading what I "knew" to be true. My examination of my own discomfort started it all.

Kylie said...

As to character-building, I don't believe in a lot of prescriptive notions.

Duty, industry and courtesy all wrapped up in integrity will carry a person far, I think. That package makes a life worth living and makes the person living it fit to live with.

Bill said...

Finnegan,

The link does not seem to lead to what you are talking about. It leads to a post called "Dennis Does Democracy."

In looking for "the August 07 post" I looked at all August 2007 posts and also for any post on August 07, 2008. Still nothing on topic.

Baloo said...

Come to think of it, "learning from mistakes" is one way to describe evolution through natural selection, or vice-versa.

Jacob Roberson said...

Steve Sailer said:
Synthesis: A racial group is a partly inbred extended family.


I tried arguing with someone who thinks white/oriental/black are the three branches of one taxonomic family, not even subspecies. I kid you not. (Another "Steve" as it turns out, a Steve with no Evol Bio education, but I digress.)

I got nowhere because the (above cited) wisdom of Smart Science Steve was useless against the brain of Stupid Racist Steve. The brain of Stupid Racist Steve was too full of the certainty that comes from knowing things, from knowing secret things, from knowing secret things the dumb liberals don't know. Magical revelations do that to you.

Just like the official view of race comes from knowing the magic secret dumb conservatives don't know, from knowing that black people are people too. Yes, black people are people too. Now does that make us all genetically homogenous? No? Ok then.

So all the anti-compromise nuts posting above me, think about it: Are all humans genetically homogenous, or was Hitler 100% right? Neither? Ok then.

Anonymous said...
Montessori blah blah blah


Montessori worked for me. Both parents had master's like you said.


John M Auston said...

Baloo said...
Come to think of it, "learning from mistakes" is one way to describe evolution through natural selection, or vice-versa.


Exactly. That very idea was the genesis (ha) of my email, that Steve has quoted in this thread.

My answer to the question "What is Man?" is (h/t to The Selfish Gene) "Well, in one respect, we are just 'avatars' our genes 'built' around themselves ( a blind process, of course), to better their chances of replicating.

And the type of avatar we are is, a very good problem-solving one. And one of our features is 'learning from mistakes' - our own and those of others.

So if that is our essence, then it might be a path of least resistance , and maximum effect, to build society ( a macro survival feature of us all, collectively) based on that very principle - learning from mistakes.

All sorts of attributes, generally recognized as desirable , seem to flow naturally from this simple approach.

Is Honesty desirable? Well, you have to be 'honest', in order to learn from your mistakes. Honestly recognizing and admitting the mistake, for example.

Is Empathy desirable? Well, the realization that we are all mistake-makers just trying to get along, is a good start.

How about courage, responsibility,
optimism (things will get better!)?.

All of those can be related to the technique of effective learning from mistakes.

Anyway, I am thinking there is some considerable merit in making this principle the driving force behind a curricula to raise up worthy next generations, and make a better place for all.

Anonymous said...

I think the brooding, "learn from your mistakes" mentality also results from expression of the "SJ" Myers Briggs personality type, with people pre-programmed to place a strong judgmental emphasis on whatever went wrong in experience. It appears to me, by and large, that the thoughts and beliefs even smart people hold are largely fit to and contstrained by their physiological brain and behavioral instincts, rather than being strictly logical and productive of the best outcomes. But scold your child anyway, and admonish them to learn from their mistakes...because it feels right.

One thing is certain and that is that people are strongly preprogrammed to make their own decisions and follow their own mental predilections. While you could sit around and bemoan the ineptitudes of people, they also present great opportunity, both to profit in the zero sum games out there, and to improve the lot of the species by technologically distributing good judgment across the entire population.

Anonymous said...

On mistakes...

1. If you know what to do, try not to make mistakes.

2. If you are learning how to do something, expect to make a lot of mistakes and don't be afraid of them.

It's like...

if you know how to juggle, try not to drop the objects.

but if you're learning how to juggle, dropping objects is the part of the process of learning how to juggle.

I think the fear of failure, embarrassment, and humiliation hold a lot of talented people back. I think self-esteem is useful in this regard, though there's a difference between self-esteem-through-adversity and self-esteem-through-complacency. One takes courage, the other is cowardice. One is about achievement
and the other is about entitlement.

When I was young, we all used to laugh at a kid who was learning how to dive at the local pool. He fell flat forward and backward, and his body turned all red from the splattering and pain. We thought it was a laugh riot. But he didn't mind and seemed to laugh with us and continued to practice. But eventually, he learned to do tumbles and became a pretty good diver while the rest of us who avoided the diving board--out of fear of pain and embarrassment--didn't learn how to dive. So... who got the last laugh? Last I heard from friends, he attended Annapolis and later got a business degree from Yale. He had the right stuff. The guts to take on adversity, to fall on his face, to be laughed at, to laugh along, but all the while, getting better and better.

Anonymous said...

The world we live in is rife with lies and compromises. But adults don't wanna tell kids, 'world is corrupt, and you gotta be corrupt to get ahead.'

So, adults sell kids a package where certain lies turned into truths and certain compromises are said to be principles.

So, 'race is just a social construct'. And FDR and MLK were highminded miracle workers who changed society with truth, not with lies, myths, and backdealing.
And ours is a democracy where rule of law keeps the game fair for everyone.

Come to think of it, democracy may have as corrosive as constructive effect on character. It's constructive(and positive)in the sense that it tells us that we are free individuals and each of us must find our own moral bearings and compass and act on them.
But democracy also means no one or no side gets everything its way EVEN IF IT'S 100% IN THE RIGHT. That means we all must tolerate and compromise with even people and powers that we feel have no right to exist. Evolutionists depise the morons called Creationists, but the latter still have the power of vote and control of their local communities

The nature of democracy is compromise, yet it is sold as the highest principle in America.
So, compromise had become the principle. Opposites became partners(in crime?)

Anonymous said...

Character in another sense--stylistic--may also be essential to success, especially socially.

To stand out and be noticed, one needs to have a special character that marks him or her from others. There were other good guys and good actors, but why did they pale next to Paul Newman? His looks and style had a certain unique character. He wasn't just another good-looking guy or cool guy. He was the one and only Paul Newman. George Peppard had the looks but not much style or character.

Same goes for women. Angelina Jolie is not the purtiest woman, but she got something special, which makes her stand out among other women. Same with Joan Crawford and Lauren Bacall. Maybe not the best looking women that ever lived, but had a unique character about them.

Ross Perot was a short funny looking guy, but he was a quite a character alright, which is why so many people liked him.
I think one reason why most people weren't too interested in Colin Powell was he was a nice guy but wasn't much of a character. Obama, otoh, must have practiced many hours in front of the mirror in perfecting his blend of JFK, MLK, Oprah, Will Smith, Malcolm X, Harvey Milk, and Urkel. He's a fabricated made-up character, but when people see him, they seen an Obama than just another clean-cut black guy.

In ERIN BROKOVICH, the heroine had a certain distinct character while a pale-faced female lawyer--her foil--wasn't much of a character.
Jews and blacks dominate much of pop culture cuz they seem to be real characters: Woody Allen, Redd Fox, Chris Rock, Albert Brooks, etc. Asians and Mexicans, otoh, seem to be more bland or flat in character traits. And wasps don't get much respect too, which is why we'd rather see a movie about colorful Eye-talians than bland Swedes in Minnesota. Otoh, it seems bland Asians and northern Euro whites are doing rather well, so what's the problem? Who needs to be a character to thrive(outside pop culture)? Indeed, being a character isn't enough. Ross Perot and Bill Clinton may be real characters, but it's not like they got ahead only on style. Clinton went to elite colleges, and Perot was good at business.

On the other hand, having a character helps in getting noticed in social affairs. To be special, one has to differentiate oneself from all the others, and that means being a kind of character. Of course, everyone--even the biggest characters--belong to a certain larger character type. Perot, for instance, was a loud-mouthed and scrappy Texan. But he was one helluva standout loud-mouthed Texan. He stood out.

Also, being a character, like wearing certain clothes, has an impact on one's thoughts and actions. If one dressed and talks like a cowboy, one begins to think and act like a cowboy. If one dresses and talks like a priest, one begins to think like a priest. If one dresses and talks like a samurai, one begins to feel and act like a samurai.
Action flows from inside to outside but also vice versa. It's like when actors take on certain roles, they begin to think and act differently even in real life cuz the character they're playing has become a part of their lives.

Anonymous said...

My own kids went through school when 'self-esteem' was ridiculously stressed. And we see its effects everywhere.

But how about this one as a primary guide: teach them 'How to learn from your mistakes'
Lots of goodness would come from this emphasis, I think.

It obviates the whole (fragile, they think) 'self-esteem' concern, because it teaches that it is not BAD to make mistakes

(EVERYONE makes them - don't feel bad about it), only bad to not learn from them


None of what you suggest here is incompatible with "the self-esteem movement" as proposed by some of its leading lights, such as Nathaniel Branden.

Self-esteem isn't about "not feeling bad." It's about believing one is "appropriate to life" (or not feeling one is inappropriate to life) as a basic fact one's existence). It's about a conviction that your own needs matter and that your desire to satisfy them is valid and that your attempts to satisfy those needs (morally, without transgressing against the rights of others to do the same) is appropriate behavior. It's about the attainment and maintenance of basic sense of self-worth and self-respect. It's not feeling guilty or apologetic about your existence. (I challenge you to read Branden, or at least listen to an audio program -- he gets to the gist faster -- and see whether your opinion of what self-esteem is "all about" doesn't undergo significant reevaluation.)

If none of this resonates with you it's probably you already enjoy a sufficient degree of self-esteem, so much so that you think everyone else does too. But it's not true. Some people suffer from incapacitating levels of low self-esteem. The range of actions these people believe is appropriate for them to undertake is severely restricted, which, it should be obvious, negatively impacts on the quality of life they are able to create for themselves.

Self-esteem may not be the key to scholastic achievement (or even very important at all) and I'm only too prepared to believe that in the hands of hippy-dippy schoolteachers it becomes some silly feel-good fad that fails completely to impart what its progenitors intended. But it's a terrible mistake to assume this means self-esteem is a matter of no consequence in life.

Silver

Anonymous said...

Or chameleature?

Anonymous said...

Another option:

- Reserve judgement

Be aware that there are counterarguments to your thesis that you don't find convincing, but can't completely dismiss either, and modulate your thinking accordingly. I reserve judgement on a lot of issues. I often have a sense that some positions are more plausible than others, but I make a point of occasionally reminding myself that I could be wrong.



You can even occasionally admit that you don't know. You just say, "I don't know." You don't have to form an opinion about everything.

Of course, you can't just go around saying "I don't know all the time" (even if, technically, you should) because people will assume you're an idiot, who doesn't know anything (even though they'd be incorrect, because admitting you don't know is mark of wisdom).

But you can modify it to lessen the impact (on yourself and others). Instead of saying, "I don't know." You can say, "I don't really about that." Or "I'm not really sure about that." Or "I'm not really sure I know." The modifier is the key.

Remember the Seinfeld episode where George is confused why a girl agreed to go on a date when she had a boyfriend? Jerry asks him whether he was sure she knew it was a date and George replies that he asked her, "You wanna go for a walk in the park or something?" Jerry mulls it over and agrees that the inclusion of "or something" means it was a date.

Similar thing here. With the modifiers, you still admit you don't know but it's not as if you don't know in any serious sort of a way, like you're an idiot or intellectually incurious.

You can try this out right here. You can say, "I don't know really know about this theory of yours, Silver."

- Silver

Anonymous said...

"If someone were to say PORKYS is a better movie than CITIZEN KANE, you know he's an idiot or just a clownish provocateur."

ROSEBUD!

Hey, it works for both movies! Synthesis!

John M Auston said...

None of what you suggest here is incompatible with "the self-esteem movement" as proposed by some of its leading lights, such as Nathaniel Branden.

Never suggested it was. I am asserting that, imo, a primary focus on teaching people to learn to 'learn from mistakes', is superior, in terms of its likelihood to produce citizens we wouldn't mind as neighbors, to a focus on 'self-esteem'. In my view, self-esteem would just come along for the ride. It would rarely be an issue. As it is, it is too much navel gazing for my taste. And is basically un-necessary as a focus - even as defined by you below.

Self-esteem isn't about "not feeling bad." It's about believing one is "appropriate to life" (or not feeling one is inappropriate to life) as a basic fact one's existence). It's about a conviction that your own needs matter and that your desire to satisfy them is valid and that your attempts to satisfy those needs (morally, without transgressing against the rights of others to do the same) is appropriate behavior.

Everything you said (except the very last phrase, which isn't 'self-esteem related anyway), is already how we are hard-wired, it seems to me. We are little more than Will manifested, and the appropriateness of its satisfaction is baked in too.


It's about the attainment and maintenance of basic sense of self-worth and self-respect. It's not feeling guilty or apologetic about your existence. (I challenge you to read Branden, or at least listen to an audio program -- he gets to the gist faster -- and see whether your opinion of what self-esteem is "all about" doesn't undergo significant reevaluation.)

You've not convinced me it would be worth my time. Looks to me like a great effort is being undertaken to expand/re-define/hi-jack the plain meaning of the word 'self-esteem'.

If none of this resonates with you it's probably you already enjoy a sufficient degree of self-esteem, so much so that you think everyone else does too.

It strikes me that the reverse of that is true, too. And once that parade gets going, they might be a bit insistent that their needs be addressed.

But it's not true. Some people suffer from incapacitating levels of low self-esteem. The range of actions these people believe is appropriate for them to undertake is severely restricted, which, it should be obvious, negatively impacts on the quality of life they are able to create for themselves.

'Some people . . '. Precisely. I think you and I differ on how many we think there are. And whether theirs is a worthy squeaky wheel. Worthy enough to be the primary focus for everything.

Self-esteem may not be the key to scholastic achievement (or even very important at all) and I'm only too prepared to believe that in the hands of hippy-dippy schoolteachers it becomes some silly feel-good fad that fails completely to impart what its progenitors intended. But it's a terrible mistake to assume this means self-esteem is a matter of no consequence in life.

I'm failing to see how having great self-esteem is a predictor of whether someone is a good citizen, playing their fair-share part in the social contract.

Anyway, I'm only proposing a candidate for primary focus. Sometimes things aren't "or's", they're "and's". It's a matter of priority.

Maya said...

How about schools build character and teach life lessons by actually focusing on their intended purpose?
I think that attending an institution where one is seen neither as a villain nor as a victim because the purpose of the institution is not to mold souls, but to present information and demonstrate skills, and then test the retention of information and mastery of skills can be very empowering to a young person. If students saw that they get a zero for a homework assignment when they don't turn it in, a mediocre grade when they half-ass it and a high grade when they put forth effort, they would feel that their actions matter and learn personal responsibility. Similarly, if all students were told that they can always reach out to the teacher in case they need extra help, it would empower them to see the system work exactly as promised with the ball in their court.

It would also both humble and empower the children to learn that they have strengths and limitations. Jimmy might understand the new math concept on the first day, whereas Katie might need 4 hours of extra help after a week of being taught the concept in class. After years of similar experiences, both Jimmy and Katie will have an accurate picture concerning their abilities and relative personal costs of achieving various goals, empowering them to create realistic plans for a successful future.

Life lessons are learned through real life, not seminars, posters and assemblies. For values to be meaningful to a person, they also need to be acquired through relevant experiences.

I seem to spend most of my work day talking to the kids about bullying and why it's wrong, discussing personal empowerment, integrity and responsibility, and whatever else I'm ordered to do. As cynical as I am about this bullshit, I handle it very passionately once the class gets started because I really do wish my students weren't bullied, felt empowered and had a sense of responsibility and integrity. They never carry these concepts further than the next bell because we aren't allowed to punish bullies, there are literally no consequences for not doing homework, not preparing for tests and not paying attention (also not bringing school materials to class, sleeping in class and the list goes on), and we don't build the real kind of self-esteem that comes from completing challenging tasks.

Anonymous said...

It strikes me that the reverse of that is true, too. And once that parade gets going, they might be a bit insistent that their needs be addressed.

Right. The temptation is to assume that everyone's root problem is a lack of self-esteem, and it's not necessarily true at all.

That said, I'm still of the belief that self-esteem-related issues play a more prominent role in our lives than we're often aware. Again, I refer you to Nathaniel Branden.

I came to Nathaniel Branden's work through "Objectivism." Branden was Ayn Rand's closest associate for many years (although he eventually distanced himself). Whatever you may think of Objectivism, in many ways it can fairly be seen as a barren, unforgiving philosophy, with very little provision for coddling weaklings. I was somewhat surprised, therefore, to learn that Branden devoted so much of his life's work to "self-esteem." But I started reading anyway.

I found Branden's insights to be of tremendous value. There's no coddling here, no excuse-making, no whiny demands that society be transformed so that you feel better. His work is all about self-reliance. His methods entail removing the mental blocks (many of them quite subtle) that can prevent people from being self-reliant (or at least more self-reliant). Branden stresses that we're not really self-reliant until we accept that "No one is coming" [to help us, to save us, to solve all our problems]. In reply to a suggestion that "you came," Branden states, "Yes, but I came to tell you that 'no one is coming.'" Whatever you think of this, my guess would be that it's not what you had in mind critiquing the liberal school/student self-esteem focus (and fad).

I'm failing to see how having great self-esteem is a predictor of whether someone is a good citizen, playing their fair-share part in the social contract.

This isn't really relevant to the point I made about an individual's self-esteem impacting the sort of life he creates for himself.

"Good citizen" and a "fair share of the social contract" are value judgments. The use of these terms does more to obscure than to clarify. (What's anyone's "fair share"? What's yours?)

Anyway, I'm only proposing a candidate for primary focus. Sometimes things aren't "or's", they're "and's". It's a matter of priority.

I don't disagree. It's just that rubbishing the concept of self-esteem, especially when it's unclear that you appreciate what it's about at heart, doesn't seem to have all that much "and" in it.

Silver

John M Auston said...

Whatever you think of this, my guess would be that it's not what you had in mind critiquing the liberal school/student self-esteem focus (and fad).

Here is how I think we are talking past each other.

To me, it seems you are saying: "Self-esteem first (almost intellectually understood as a concept), then accomplishments will more likely come."

While I am saying: "Never mind the focus on self-esteem. Teach everyone how to accomplish things (e.g. techniques for learning from mistakes), and self-esteem will naturally result."

"Good citizen" and a "fair share of the social contract" are value judgments. The use of these terms does more to obscure than to clarify. (What's anyone's "fair share"? What's yours?)

How about, 'Don't be a leech'. 'Support yourself.' Ask yourself "If everyone did what I am doing, would society collapse?" If so, you are not being a good citizen. Example: The perpetually 'offended', and those who file legal suits all the time. I have a brother-in-law who feels that everything bad that happens to him is someone else's fault, and that somewhat else must pay. He does not, however, have a self-esteem problem. In fact, just the opposite.

I don't disagree. It's just that rubbishing the concept of self-esteem, especially when it's unclear that you appreciate what it's about at heart, doesn't seem to have all that much "and" in it.

Here's a definition from the web:

"(Self-esteem): A sense of competence, achievement, and self-respect. Maslow felt that the most stable source of self-esteem is genuine accomplishment rather than public acclaim or praise."

And that is precisely what I have been saying. I have first-hand knowledge that the middle-school systems focused almost exclusively on the "public acclaim or praise" part, and it did NOT need to be preceded by accomplishment. You are aware of the movement to not keep scores in sporting events, yes? And the pressures to get rid of the A-F grading system? And the "we're all special in our own ways' movements.
In origin, self-esteem obsessed, all.

I am saying, teach people how to achieve 'genuine accomplishment', and you won't have to worry about self-esteem.

I'm only reacting to how self-esteem is presently generally defined and used as a linchpin for character education. For that, I think it is misplaced.

I'm done now. You can have the last word if you want it.

Anonymous said...

"Or chameleature?"

What?