Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Moral Purpose of Academic Schooling

In response to arguments that public schools should teach "civic virtue" or "public morality," whatever those are, James Murphy asserts that academic education has its own moral purpose:
the acquisition of traits that lead us to be conscientious in the pursuit of truth.
Teaching people to be "good citizens," thinks Murphy, always leads to distortions of the truth:
The aim of teaching students to love (or, more recently, to criticize) their nation has all too often prompted textbook authors and teachers to falsify, distort and sanitize history and social studies. . . . Some advocates claim that civic instruction poses no threat to truth, setting aside all historical experience and common sense. Others frankly admit that civic uplift must sometimes take priority over truth. Whether implicitly or explicitly, both groups express contempt for the moral lessons inherent in real learning.
In the short term, lying can be an effective strategy in many projects. In the long run -- and what nation doesn't want to be around for the long run? -- the truth will out. It is far better to base our politics on a real knowledge of the world, rather than on fantasies that will inevitably be exposed. What are we afraid of?

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