January 24, 2019

I have become fascinated with the political philosophy that underpinned the beliefs of our founding fathers. Through my journey of learning, I have discovered that we must move beyond the simple Lockean stereotype that we have pigeon-holed most of our founding fathers. The men that influenced our founding fathers ranged from Locke, Hume, Montesquieu, Smith and many others. It seems to me that the founding fathers were charitable in their ability to take divergent political thoughts and use them to create a country. I am certainly not a professional historian (or even an amateur one) but my journey of self discovery has been enlightening for me.

During my “learning journey” I came across a quote by Montesquieu from The Spirit of Laws (Book V). The quote is, “Virtue in a republic is a most simple thing: it is a love of the republic…”. This quote immediately brought forth two questions that I have thought about a lot recently.

  1. Does virtue imply a citizenry that acts for the common good of their community and country?
  2. What does it mean to have “virtuous” leaders in the education realm?

My attempt to answer question #1:

I want to be very clear that I believe that a society cannot thrive when the majority of its citizens do not have some belief in the value of doing “good” for the common good. I know that we are living in a world of hyper individualism and that being a “community organizer” is viewed as a bad thing. Therefore, I believe the real issue facing us in the United States is deeper than just a dichotomy of “individualism versus community”. This is expressed in a tension between a political view of small and local or large and national. It seems to me that this tension between the individual and their community and the larger society in which they live has been hard baked in our society since the American Revolution. The tension was evident in the early days of the Republic and was not resolved at the Constitutional Convention. Currently in my thought process I see it as a question of allegiance. Where should a virtuous person place their allegiance: their local community or the larger society? Our country has fought a civil war over this question trying to determine a local “state’s rights” view versus a nationalistic view.

I think this plays out in my field of interest which is education. People are torn between their allegiance to their local school and community (micro) and what they perceive (and have been told by their federal representatives) as a failure of the larger, national (macro) education system. People intuitively know that local schools are important; that most schools (and school officials) are turning themselves inside out to help kids; and that local change can create a better learning system. Polls have consistently shown that people approve of their local schools while also overwhelmingly claim that education as a whole is not doing well. I believe that we can base high quality educational decision on the very simple framework of the local community. I will expand more on this in later blog posts.

My attempt to answer #2:

        In education, I believe a “virtuous” leader has two main qualities.
  1. They are radically learner centered. This harkens back to what I alluded to in attempting to answer my first question. Let’s keep things as simple as possible and have a laser focus on the learners. By focusing on the individual and the community in which they live we can better attain the needed focus.
  2. Virtuous educational leaders are committed to dismantling the current “factory” model of education that we currently subject our children to. The system was good for what we needed in the 19th century, but we need to create a new system focused on the needs of learners and their communities at the local level. Use the local successes to inform larger policy discussions but we must not continue with the current method of a “top down” education policy system that attempts to fit every school and community into similar policy subscriptions.

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

  • The blog provokes a thoughtful examination of personal values and believes. It seems there is a correlation between a virtuous leader and personal values and beliefs. Becoming a virtuous leader must be an outcome of living our values and beliefs.

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