September 14, 2011

The limits of niceness

Paul Tough writes in the NYT Magazine about visits to a KIPP charter school in the South Bronx and to a $38,000 per year private school, Riverdale, in the North Bronx. Riverdale is exploring changing its character education program from one emphasizing not hurting other people's feelings to being personally resilient:
After a few small adjustments (Levin and Randolph opted to drop love in favor of curiosity), they settled on a final list: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity. ... 
... Levin started working to turn it into a specific, concise assessment that he could hand out to students and parents at KIPP’s New York City schools twice a year: the first-ever character report card. 
Back at Riverdale, though, the idea of a character report card made [Principal] Randolph nervous. “I have a philosophical issue with quantifying character,” he explained to me one afternoon. “With my school’s specific population, at least, as soon as you set up something like a report card, you’re going to have a bunch of people doing test prep for it. I don’t want to come up with a metric around character that could then be gamed. I would hate it if that’s where we ended up.”

Gaming the SAT has taken decades because, generally speaking, if you can outsmart an IQ test, you are probably pretty smart anyway. But gaming a character test if you are smart sounds pretty easy. Think about how Dr. Ahmad Chalabi gamed the neocons into thinking he was the new George Washington. (The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory gets around this through mind-melting repetition of questions.)
As I spent time at Riverdale last year, it became apparent to me that the debate over character at the school wasn’t just about how best to evaluate and improve students’ character. It went deeper, to the question of what “character” really meant. When Randolph arrived at Riverdale, the school already had in place a character-education program, of a sort. Called CARE, for Children Aware of Riverdale Ethics, the program was adopted in 1989 in the lower school, which at Riverdale means prekindergarten through fifth grade. It is a blueprint for niceness, mandating that students “Treat everyone with respect” and “Be aware of other people’s feelings and find ways to help those whose feelings have been hurt.” Posters in the hallway remind students of the virtues related to CARE (“Practice Good Manners . . . Avoid Gossiping . . . Help Others”). In the lower school, many teachers describe it as a proud and essential part of what makes Riverdale the school that it is.  ...
In fact, though, the character-strength approach of Seligman and Peterson isn’t an expansion of programs like CARE; if anything, it is a repudiation of them. In 2008, a national organization called the Character Education Partnership published a paper that divided character education into two categories: programs that develop “moral character,” which embodies ethical values like fairness, generosity and integrity; and those that address “performance character,” which includes values like effort, diligence and perseverance. The CARE program falls firmly on the “moral character” side of the divide, while the seven strengths that Randolph and Levin have chosen for their schools lean much more heavily toward performance character: while they do have a moral component, strengths like zest, optimism, social intelligence and curiosity aren’t particularly heroic; they make you think of Steve Jobs or Bill Clinton more than the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi. 

That Chinese sculptor must not have gotten the memo about Dr. King being the embodiment of niceness, instead sculpting him for the National Mall as a "scowling behemoth," as a commenter noted.
Cohen’s vision of character is much closer to “moral character” than “performance character,” and so far, that vision remains the dominant one at Riverdale. When I spent a day at the school in March, sitting in on a variety of classes and meetings, messages about behavior and values permeated the day, but those messages stayed almost entirely in the moral dimension. It was a hectic day at the middle school — it was pajama day, plus there was a morning assembly, and then on top of that, the kids in French class who were going on the two-week trip to Bordeaux for spring break had to leave early in order to make their overnight flight to Paris. The topic for the assembly was heroes, and a half-dozen students stood up in front of their classmates — about 350 kids, in all — and each made a brief presentation about a particular hero he or she had chosen: Ruby Nell Bridges, the African-American girl who was part of the first group to integrate the schools in New Orleans in 1960; Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor whose self-immolation helped spark the recent revolt in that country; the actor and activist Paul Robeson. 
In the assembly, in classes and in conversations with different students, I heard a lot of talk about values and ethics, and the values that were emphasized tended to be social values: inclusion, tolerance, diversity. (I heard a lot more about black history at Riverdale than I did at the KIPP schools I visited.) One eighth-grade girl I asked about character said that for her and her friends, the biggest issue was inclusion — who was invited to whose bat mitzvah; who was being shunned on Facebook. Character, as far as I could tell, was being defined at Riverdale mostly in terms of helping other people — or at least not hurting their feelings.

You'll notice how the current educational system tends to indoctrinate innocent young people into a series of equations that are never quite spelled out: moral goodness = niceness = conformity = mindless diversity worship = hatred of heretics.

I am widely considered to be an extremely not nice person because I don't believe that public intellectual discourse should be hamstrung by those virtues appropriate for an eighth grader approaching her bat mitzvah. I'm not in eighth grade anymore. 

Now, in person, as those few of my readers who have met me can attest, I am the perpetual extremely nice eighth grader. But, I don't really meet with people much in person anymore because it seems like a waste of everybody's time. I have a goal -- helping my fellow citizens understand better how the world works -- and I have a talent -- demolishing cant. My personal niceness tends to get in the way of my helping my country.

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

Typical psycho-babble, not to mention a truly shocking and feeble grasp of philosophy, religion, civilization, and the nature of Mankind in general, from NYC Leftist "educators".

These schools are there to teach people to read, write and count, aid hopefully expose them to what is great in our civilization in the process. They would also do well to show people their limitations. Teach "character"? Complete hogwash.

One can uphold values, such has excellence, fair competition and honesty, but this is hardly "teaching character".

One wonders how one teaches "character" at all--by it very nature it is inborn. Perhaps it can be "developed", or warn the student of the implication of their bad character, or weed out the scoundrels, but it is hard to see how it can be directly taught, or. mre importantly, who is qualified to teach it.

Again, what they mean here are values and virtues and not character, pre se.

It is just more of the bizaare modern notions of what education is for.

As a aside, it is comic that Slick Willy comes into the discussion at all as anything other than a cautionary tale, but perhaps when they use him as a example of "curiosity" they are being more honest than they mean to be.

All in all, given the gross immorality and irresponsibly dally demonstrated by liberal elites in NYC, they perhaps need to get their rumps into a pew on their sabbath rather than imagine that they have the wherewithal to instruct the young about "character".

Thursday said...

No, if you were a dick or someone who seemed a little "off," a lot of us wouldn't have given you the time of day

Thrasymachus said...

The problem here is that niceness- at least to minorities- is the highest, final and unappealable law of the land, as determined by Brown v. Board of Education, which makes reducing the self-esteem of minorities unconstitutional.

AMac said...

It's instructive to compare the Virtues as laid out by these educators with the Virtues as lived by the Heroes chosen by their students. Hero selections heartily approved by these educators.

Something doesn't track.

But it would take a real meanie to trudge through the tawdry details and point out specifics.

Dave said...

"(The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory gets around this through mind-melting repetition of questions.)"

That's exactly what Goldman Sachs does. I interviewed there a couple of times, once in the late 90s, and once in the middle of the last decade (different departments). The same interview technique, both times: you get interviewed, one at a time, by a half dozen of the people who would be your peers if you were to be hired, and they all ask you the same sort of questions.

The first time I interviewed there, I botched it with employee interviewer #6. She asked me the same stupid question I'd already been asked 5 times, and instead of cheerfully answering it, without pointing out it was stupid, I let my contempt for it show. Her face and voice changed immediately, and I knew right then I wasn't getting the job.

Anonymous said...

Of course, people who worry about who to invite to their bat mitzvah can well afford to espouse niceness brainwashing at school, becuz they'll also be taught something a leetle different on the side, at home. Diversity is for the goyim, you see. 'Twas ever thus.

The fact that you basically cannot say "expensive private school" in America without also necessarily saying "bat mitzvah" as well, is essentially the death knell of this people, this civilization, and this republic.

btw, "heroic.. (equals).. Gandhi"??

I used to have a lot of fun making my leftist friends' heads explode by logically asserting that Gandhi was a vile racist...

LEFTIST (spluttering): How can you say Gandhi was a racist?!
ME: Well, he kicked the British out of India, simply because of their race.
LEFTIST: But they were Western imperialists!
ME: No, the British were his fellow Indians. They'd been in India for like two hundred years, they were just as Indian as the Mughals. You want to tell me that a Pakistani who showed up in Manchester just last week is a Briton, but you won't admit that an Englishman whose grandparents were born in Delhi isn't an Indian? Gandhi was a racist.
LEFTIST: But... but... but... that's different!!
ME: Why?
LEFTIST: Because it just IS!!

Anonymous said...

"Ruby Nell Bridges, the African-American girl who... helped integrate the schools..."

Great propaganda choice. Funny how Raheem Rapist is never part of the first photo-op cohort to "help" integrate the schools.

PA said...

"You'll notice how the current educational system tends to indoctrinate innocent young people into a series of equations that are never quite spelled out: moral goodness = niceness = conformity = mindless diversity worship = hatred of heretics."

This is an important statement, on par with Dalrymple's writing about how the purpose of political correctness is to humiliate.

dearieme said...

The classical way to teach "character" is to get 'em playing rugby and cricket.

Anonymous said...

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teach.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Thursday. Steve, your greatest strength is that you sound completely reasonable, detached, dispassionate, analytical; if you came across as an angry guy with an axe to grind, as the ungrammatical astroturfer here unsuccessfully tries to paint you, I wouldn't have bothered reading your work.

-bb

The Dude said...

I worked in the City for several years and lived/socialized in Riverdale.

Believe me, if you had ever dated a Riverdale/Horace Mann JAP you would realize that a healthy dose of niceness is exactly what they need..

Lack of perseverance (i.e. not aggressive, pushy, demanding, entitled enough) is not their problem.

I have never met a bigger bunch of henpecked men than the Jewish boyfriends and husbands in Riverdale. Outmarriage is their only escape.

Geoff said...

It sounds like these resolutely irreligious schools are struggling with ways to ...teach religious values.

Olof Aschberg said...

These schools are there to teach people to read, write and count, aid hopefully expose them to what is great in our civilization in the process.

Define "our".


.

Bill said...

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory gets around this through mind-melting repetition of questions.

Are you saying the MMPI is hard to game? Is there evidence? I'm pretty sure I could game it if I spent, say, 50 hours practicing. And 50 hours would be a really good investment if results from the MMPI determined anything important in my life, right?

Anonymous said...

I think it was Aldous Huxley who wrote that to be satanic on a grand scale it is necessary to practice all the cardinal virtues save only wisdom and charity.

Seamus said...

Is there really such a thing as a "nice eighth grader." From my experience, eighth graders (especially eighth grade boys) are about the lowest form of human life. (And I say this as a former eighth grade boy. I got better.)

Freddy Rumson said...

To quote the editors at TAKI MAG regarding "niceness" vis-a vis progessives:

"Modern American liberals might be the most confused ideological group in world history. They feign compassion while every word out of their mouths burns with hostility. They falsely conflate being anti-government with being pro-corporate. They confuse being pro-worker with being pro-government. They never see illegal-alien workers as “scabs” and never stopped to consider that their endlessly splintering and insatiably litigious identity politics and unfettered globalist sympathies have been the primary destroyers of the American middle and working classes they pretend to represent.

If any sense is to be made of leftism at all, it is best understood as a perpetual-motion machine of guilt-projection.

We can’t even figure out what progressivism even thinks it is anymore…the ne plus ultra of tolerance, but they’ll blow your head off if you beg to disagree? Good luck winning that war, you paper tigers."

ELVISNIXON.com said...

@Thrasymachus

For illegals "niceness" = Weakness.

Observation of the habits, attitudes and customs of the illegal alien population of Southern California gives rise to the conclusion that they can be easily identified by one characteristic: the inability to say "Thank You."

Ingratitude is their defining characteristic.

They are deeply ungrateful to their host country.

Illegal aliens exploit and destroy all the resources intended for those who sacrificed so much over the years. The children and grandchildren of those who fought in Vietnam, Korea and World War II are forced to learn the language of those who did nothing or actively supported the Nazi regime (Mexico.)

Schools, parks, hospitals...all public (free or cheap) accommodation provided by US citizens and taxpayers are overtaken by those who share a callous indifference to the benefits they destroy.

The words "thank you" never pass their lips as you hold the door for them. They never occur to the illegal alien in the first place.

The reason they see no reason to learn English or honor US history is their active dislike of English-speaking culture and history.

They flee a third world hellhole and seek to recreate it because they are ungrateful.

Svigor said...

Compartmentalization, hierarchy of values, something. I'm a very agreeable guy when it comes to simple stuff. Sure, we'll buy the brand of beer you like. Hey, yeah, let's watch the move you want to watch. No problem, let's eat where you want.

Politics? Culture? Fuck you - you're full of it I'm gonna tell you.

Anonymous said...

"Cohen’s vision of character is much closer to “moral character” than “performance character,”

Nietzsche called these slave morality and aristocratic morality, respectively. It's also related to Steve's "heroes of suffering" vs. "heroes of achievement" dichotomy. As per Nietzsche, originally the doers and winners only viewed things like health and winning as good and illness and losing as bad. A martial aristocracy viewed itself as good and the cowering, defeated peasantry as bad, for example. To the peasants and slaves, however, the winners were evil (not the same thing as bad), and by extension winning itself was evil, and suffering was good. As per Nietzsche, slave morality is motivated by the envy of one's betters. Since nobody wants to admit to envy, they hide behind supposed humanitarianism instead.

This may not be the whole truth - life is complicated - but I think that there's an element of truth in it.

C. Van Carter said...

The Earl of Longford reminisces:

Later that day or the next day I asked [Sir William Beveridge] to come to lunch. I was meeting with Evelyn Waugh, an old friend and famous writer. They did not get on at all well. Evelyn Waugh said to him at the end, "How do you get your main pleasure in life, Sir William?" He paused and said, "I get mine trying to leave the world a better place than I found it". Evelyn Waugh said, "I get mine spreading alarm and despondency"--this was in the height of the war--"and I get more satisfaction than you do". So he did not meet with universal acclamation, but nearly everyone admired Beveridge at that time. He was a wonderful man.

helene edwards said...

I could always tell you're nice. And yes, being a cant demolisher will get you HATED HATED HATED, as Whiskey would say. It's the old, "you think you're better than me" thing.

Anonymous said...

Steve always praises the NAMs who score 5 on the AP Physics test, or the NAMs who go to KIPP because they are better than the knuckleheads. He writes the truth objectively, but I have absolutely no doubt that he is an incredibly nice man filled with absolutely zero hate.

Anonymous said...

Nice people tend to spit out less passive-aggressive self-pity than you, Sailer.

Freddy Rumson said...

@ Anon 1:15 PM ~Is Steve Sailer an illegal alien demanding that you pay for all of his anchor babies? Is he demanding that you learn HIS third world language? That you print everything in his language and set aside a month to teach YOUR kids why HIS third world "culture" is better than America?

I guess you think he would be "nice" if his last name were Sanchez or Garcia

Glaivester said...

Isn't a bat mitzvah held at 12 or 13 (I think Orthodox Jews hold the bat mitzvah a year earlier than a bar mitzvah, as girls generally hit puberty a year or so earlier than boys, although some JEws decide to hold it at the same time for both)? That would be 6th or 7th grade for most people, not 8th.

Anonymous said...

"Nietzsche called these slave morality and aristocratic morality, respectively."

Nietzsche should have called it meritocratic morality. The problem with aristocracy is the kids and grandkids and great grandkids of the original 'great man' inherited the power and privilege, and so later aristocrats may actually be lacking in superior qualities, not least because powerful/rich men tend to marry pretty women, and pretty women tend to be not too smart. Of course, many marriages among aristocrats were arranged, so sometimes, idiot was matched with idiot.

Professor Robert Weissberg once gave a lecture on the 'bimbo factor'. He said rich guys tend to marry good-looking women. But here's the problem. Suppose 1 out 10 people are smart and 1 out of 10 people are good looking. That means someone who is both good looking AND smart is 1 out of a 100, or rare.
So, most intelligent successful guys are not good looking but they marry good looking women who aren't so smart. So, their kids gain in looks but lose in smarts. Thus, the bimbo factor.

David said...

"Gaming the SAT has taken decades because, generally speaking, if you can outsmart an IQ test, you are probably pretty smart anyway."

Kaplan took years to game it because his method was to get each of his students to memorize one question they saw on the test (hot-dog-and-ice-cream parties were the reward). This method does take time rather than intelligence.

David said...

"zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity"

Who is to judge your "grit," "gratitude," and "social intelligence," and by what standard?

These traits are subjective. Knowing the answer to 2+2 is not.

Subjective standards of judgment are not only a prey to corruption; their GOAL is corruption. Under a reign of subjective standards, anyone the elite doesn't like can be pronounced as lacking, for political or personal reasons. What is criminal behavior in John will be grit in Sidney.

Such initiatives represent the setting-up of a totalitarian state.

Imagine Beethoven's score - and future - were he put at the mercy of "character judges" at KIPP.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"LEFTIST (spluttering): How can you say Gandhi was a racist?!
ME: Well, he kicked the British out of India, simply because of their race.
LEFTIST: But they were Western imperialists!
ME: No, the British were his fellow Indians. They'd been in India for like two hundred years, they were just as Indian as the Mughals. You want to tell me that a Pakistani who showed up in Manchester just last week is a Briton, but you won't admit that an Englishman whose grandparents were born in Delhi isn't an Indian? Gandhi was a racist.
LEFTIST: But... but... but... that's different!!
ME: Why?
LEFTIST: Because it just IS!!"

Bad analogy there. How many of these "British Indians" actually wanted to stay in India and become an Indian citizen, and thus give up their special status as a member of the British ruling elite? It is probably safe to say none. And do you have any reliable sources stating that Gandhi would have expelled them even if they wanted to stick around and serve the new state?

Whereas how many Pakistani immigrants want to live in Britain forever and become a British citizen? Pretty much everyone who even bothered to immigrate into that place.

Kylie said...

"Nice people tend to spit out less passive-aggressive self-pity than you, Sailer."

The mere fact that he posts such hostile tripe--submitted by an anonymous commenter, no less--proves that he's nicer, and more forthright and courageous, than you can ever hope to be.

ATBOTL said...

"The first time I interviewed there, I botched it with employee interviewer #6. She asked me the same stupid question I'd already been asked 5 times, and instead of cheerfully answering it, without pointing out it was stupid, I let my contempt for it show. Her face and voice changed immediately, and I knew right then I wasn't getting the job."

You gotta wonder if these kinds of interviews are really selecting the best people for the job.

Anonymous said...

"The first time I interviewed there, I botched it with employee interviewer #6. She asked me the same stupid question I'd already been asked 5 times, and instead of cheerfully answering it, without pointing out it was stupid, I let my contempt for it show. Her face and voice changed immediately, and I knew right then I wasn't getting the job."

Well why WOULDN'T Goldman Sachs want to hire someone with a bad attitude who is eager to tell everyone how stupid he thinks they are? So many guys here think they are held down by hatred of masculinity, whiteness, intellect etc. but the truth is there are many masculine and intelligent white men who are wildly successful because they combine those traits with good interpersonal skills.

Maya said...

First Anonymous: "One can uphold values, such has excellence, fair competition and honesty, but this is hardly "teaching character"."

No, this is EXACTLY how character is supposed to be taught. It is so simple, yet it's so significant. Sadly, inner city schools don't uphold these values. They just hang posters.

Anonymous said...

I gamed the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test. My IQ is an unexceptional 135 and I didn't really prepare besides working out a basic idea of the personality I wanted as a result.

hailtoyou said...

"the biggest issue was inclusion — who was invited to whose bat mitzvah"

Haha, That really reads like a parody, doesn't it?

stayed said...

And do you have any reliable sources stating that Gandhi would have expelled them even if they wanted to stick around and serve the new state?

Quite a few Brits "stayed on." It was cheaper to live in India, and after all, they were used to it. Plenty of them around right up until about the 1980s.

test tube bubbles said...

"and pretty women tend to be not too smart"

Really?
Sometimes I wonder about the people who comment here. I tend to assume they have some understanding of HBD work and stats.
If there is ANY correlation between "good looks" (subjective anyway, to some extent) and intelligence, the correlation tends towards favoring the good lookers, probably because intelligence TENDS to be statistically higher among healthier, more well formed people.
Personally, just looking at the people I've known in school and beyond, there were good lookers who were highly intelligent, and some who were not. The prettiest girl in my high school class was Mensa eligibile.
The "bimbo" effect has more to with a certain type of personality.
Very attractive women are no less intelligent on the average; probably they are more intelligent than average according to stats. However, they get used (some) to just being sought after for their appearance. And that dehumanizes anybody, including men. Jocks have a similar problem.
but this is a blog where IQs of 135 are referred to as "unexceptional." Not unless you only keep company with MIT Ph.D.s.
Please, HBD is all about stats. 135 is in the upper 1%, and in almost any milieu (even any university), it is indeed exceptional.
I think there's a lot of IQ inflation among people which may make it seem "unexceptional."