My kids attend public school, with that comes benefits and draw backs. One of them came through this weekend that made me do a double take and cringe just a bit. My son is being taught about doing things for the common good. He’s in kindergarten and still developing a sense of self. I know, I know, it sounds nice and all fine, but there’s a major difference between the golden rule and the greater good or the common good.
Synopsis of two moral rules
- The golden rule: Do as to others as you’d have them do to you.
- The common good: Do what is best for most of the people.
Oh, I’m not against a greater good and I don’t want my kids to be selfish or entirely self-centered. But individuals need to be able to choose to be part of a greater good, they shouldn’t be forced into it. I’m not sure that there’s any research or even anecdotal information that shows that 5 and 6 year old kids can process this sort of moral information or teaching! I don’t want my young children, whose brains aren’t even developed enough to even have full foresight to have true decision making, to be told they need to do something for the greater good. I want them to do basic ideas of “think of others” and a bit of Kantisms (can everyone do this all the time and it’ll be okay?)
I want my kids to think of others, but I don’t like the dogma surrounding the politicalness of teaching a child common good.
Greater Good and Utilitarianism
Why I’m not for utilitarianism is not as complex as it seems. Utilitarianism believes that the sole standard of morality is determined by its usefulness.
British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806- 1873) developed the theory for what we know it to be today. The basic principle is:
Actions are right to the degree that they tend to promote the greatest good for the greatest number.
There are discussions that this idea of greater good or utilitarianism reduces suffering, but does it really? Utilitarianism is a based on hedonistic philosophy – hedonistic meaning – pleasurable. So we want to increase pleasure. So the greater good should increase pleasure for people, or a decision or action is okay if it increases pleasure for most people.
Do we have a moral obligation to the right’s of others? Duty for our own sake and not just for the consequences (see this on Kant’s moral theory). Where does duty come into play? If you’re truly okay with teaching morals at school, I recommend you look at the various theories of morality and realize it is imperative we see that there are just too many view points and desires for morality to have one set of morals taught at schools.
I’m not a fan of Kant either, but it just shows that there are diverse ideas of morality. When there’s a “common good” – we don’t have a true commonality at all times, so there’s never a true common good. There will always be people who lose out. I don’t believe it should always be the same people (or individuals) who lose out – and we need to limit bias when possible. Because others are hurt! This happens in this “common good” ideal as well. This is a philosophy of morality and I’m not sure that, when it becomes political and the mixing of cultural beliefs, we can ever effectively teach morality to young children.
But, we have to look at Kant’s idea that if everyone can’t do that one thing at all times, it shouldn’t be done. And that’s why I just don’t see why we can teach the idea of common good to children. This is the basic categorical imperative.
What are the motives? What are the consequences?
So under the philosophy they’re teaching at the local schools, they look at that common or greater good – and that means that there are people who lose out.
Here’s an issue we see with something Hillary Clinton said to “bring those up.”
Now, I wouldn’t keep any school open that wasn’t doing a better-than-average job. If a school’s not doing a good job, then, y’know, that may not be good for the kids.
- Hillary Clinton in Keoto, Iowa, 2015
Even if she doesn’t plan to close the bottom 49% of schools, the idea that schools that don’t meet some arbitrary mark should be closed says that we all agree that test scores are what matters and indicates effectiveness of a school. I’m not anti-big data. I love data! I do! But, when we make hard lines to indicate that something is for the greater good, there will always people who are hurt.
We cannot stand by and continually disrupt schools because there’ll always be a bottom 49%. Even if Hillary didn’t entirely mean shut down half the schools, we have to see that we have this major world race that we’ve been put in to with common core. (Please note, this isn’t about how we teach math, it is all the other stuff that comes with common core: data tracking, federal government control, etc) We are being told that “American kids are falling behind” and so we “must” push toward STEM schools, longer school years, fewer breaks, more standardized instruction.
When we do this many kids are missing out.
Those who aren’t strong in math and science are seen as failures.
Those who aren’t interested in math or science are not seen as productive (again utilitarianism at play here).
Who said that those countries whose kids are “succeeding” (are they testing all kids? what is their suicide rate?), are actually BETTER than US?
Why do we even care?
There is a lot at play when it comes to the politics of what our children are being taught. I’m okay with common core math. I think there are some really bad curricula out there – I think that not all kids learn the same (remember, I do have a masters in curriculum and instruction, as well as a masters in psychology), and I truly believe we’re heading in the wrong direction with implementation of common core, data collection, and a push to a perfect work force.
We cannot continue to try to optimize our children. They are children. Not bots.
The smallest minority is the individual.
Is it okay to say that “its okay to bomb a city if the leadership says it is for the greater good?” What about those people? What about the innocent people? What about the family of those who parish? Is it okay to experiment on people if it helps the common good? What about those who gave all?
When there’s no choice in involvement in this greater good, there are casualties.
I don’t want my children to believe that they aren’t important. They are. They aren’t the most important, but they matter too.
If we are teaching our kids utilitarianism and not just the golden rule, are we teaching them self sacrifice? Is self sacrifice okay if we don’t believe in the cause? Are we okay without this sort of indoctrination, when we know that text books are being written by for-profit companies, and teachers are being discouraged or even banned from teaching from the heart?
They aren’t Jesus Christ. They aren’t the sacrificial lamb. My husband, after all, isn’t even Christian. And we don’t need religion to be moral or to have ethics. Religion does effect us, but it doesn’t make someone better or worse; moral or immoral. Kids do not need to be taught that to be good citizens they need to sacrifice for the common good.
We know that the government has maximized the common good with unjust acts (Tuskegee experiments, is just one example), so I’m not okay with this sweeping generalization is okay to be taught. From Time linked above on Tuskegee:
As unethical as the methods were, the basic research questions behind both studies were highly relevant at the time, said Peter Brown, medical anthropologist at Emory University. Research in Guatemala focused on the powers of penicillin; in Tuskegee, researchers wanted to know the natural history of syphilis.
“In a racist context, they thought [syphilis] might be different in African-Americans; the real unethical part in my mind had to do with denial of treatment and, most importantly, the denial of information about the study to the men involved,” he said.
Are these set of moral teachings enough to pull my kids from public school? I guess I’ll be asking for a copy of the social studies books to see what’s coming down the road.
As Mark Twain said, It is easier to fool people, than to convince them they’ve been fooled.