I’ve recently learned a new phrase, "moral narcissism", from Arnold Kling, who seems to have gotten it from Roger Simon. It’s explained as such,
If your intentions are good, if they conform to the general received values of your friends, family, and co-workers, what a person of your class and social milieu is supposed to think, everything is fine. You are that “good” person. You are ratified. You can do anything you wish. It doesn’t matter in the slightest what the results of those ideas and beliefs are, or how society, the country, and in some cases, the world suffers from them. It doesn’t matter that they misfire completely, cause terror attacks, illness, death, riots in the inner city, or national bankruptcy. You will be applauded and approved of.
After reading the above, I happened to notice several memes on Facebook within a couple days. They are the three featured in this post, one above and the two below.
I have no issue with any of these memes or the teachers that liked or shared them on Facebook. One of them was from my wife!
I know the "intentions were good" and that "they conform to the general received values of friends, family, and co-workers, and what a person of their class and social milieu is supposed to think". To be totally clear, I agree with all three. However, the same article referenced above went on to point out that,
Moral narcissism is the ultimate “Get out of jail free” card in a real-life Monopoly game. No matter what you do, if you have the right opinions, if you say the right things to the right people, you’re exempt from punishment. People will remember your pronouncements, not your actions.
And that is the problem. These memes allow us teachers to "get out of jail free". We (mostly) all buy into the idea that school does "produce people who are unable to distinguish what is worth reading", that we should "never limit questions", and that there is a major difference between the "learner and learning".
However, by simply pronouncing those beliefs and getting a pat on the back from fellow teachers and educators, we don't have to do the hard work of taking action and suffering the possible consequences.
We aren't punished or held accountable by each other when we don't produce critical thinkers able to distinguish what is valuable and important.
We aren't punished or held accountable by each other when we do limit questions and curiosity because we need to stay on track with the mandated curriculum or we won't finish in time.
We aren't punished or held accountable by each other when we do focus on the "learning" and not the fact that the student isn't interested, is stressed, or really does want to walk down a different path entirely besides the societally approved high school, college, job, marriage, house route of success.
Teachers are great people. They work hard. They care. They want the best for their students. None of that necessarily implies they do what is needed for the students to lead rich, fulfilled lives both today and in the future. Teachers must change. Perhaps we can start by recognizing our own collective moral narcissism.