After an email exchange with an acquaintance it appears that I may need to adjust the phrasing of my suggestion that teaching Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) in age appropriate modules in K-12 public schools would be a powerful avenue of approach toward shrinking the political divide and reducing the demonization that flows across it. It seems that my message isn’t getting through completely.
I’m not talking about only teaching MFT as a theory which of course could only realistically be done after, say, age 13, when kids develop capabilities of abstract thought. I’m also talking about talking to the elephant, indirectly as Haidt recommends, about all the foundations, early and often, through the stories our kids hear and read in school as early as kindergarten and write reports about as they get older.
We’re already doing it for the individualizing foundations, and more generally for the liberal narrative and sacred values, but hardly at all for the other foundations, narratives, and values.
If you have young kids in school pay attention to such things as they come up through the school system. Be mindful of their reading lists. You’ll see. I’m sure of it. If your kids are grown then you probably already know what I’m talking about.
But if morality really is about more than just care and fairness, and if diversity of the mind really is the most important kind of diversity, then shouldn’t we be reinforcing all the foundations, narratives, and values, in equal measure, rather than just half of them as we currently are?
If Haidt’s field of academic social science consists of the scientists who develop theories and test them in the lab, then the field of K-12 education consists of the “engineers” who put those theories to practical use as “bridge builders”* in the real world. K-12 teachers are social “engineers” who apply the “science” to our kids. The field, the industry, of K-12 education is an extension of Haidt’s, and almost as much of a tribal moral community.
The Coming Apart starts there. Non-liberal foundations, narratives, values, and thought need affirmative action in K-12 education in this country as much as in the upper echelons of academia, as Haidt has argued,** and arguably much more.
I don’t mean to sound glib or over-dramatic or full of hyperbole with what I’m about to say. And I’m aware that many people might say that I’ve “jumped the shark” or that I’m “extremist,” if they heard it. So be it. As Jonathan Rauch related in Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Expanded Edition, some of the greatest ideas in all of human history started out as statements that offended someone or were considered “crazy.”
But I honestly have to wonder: if we don’t talk to the elephant early and often in our education system about what we now know from social science to be true about what makes cooperative society possible, and if instead we continue to allow liberal bias to dominate as it has for years and years, then isn’t our education system just institutionalized denial of the science of human nature in favor of ideology? And if that’s true, then how serious can we possibly, actually, be about teaching our kids the truth about what it is to be human; and how to get along; and what it really means to be and open minded, tolerant, and inclusive; and for that matter, the importance of science itself?
* “Bridge Builder” is a term Haidt sometime uses to refer to people who work to shrink the political divide and reduce the demonization that flows across is.
** Haidt has been arguing for affirmative action in his own field of academic social science for some time now. He discussed it at some length during the question and answer period after a talk he gave at the American Enterprise Institute. The discussion starts at about the one hour and thirty five minute mark of this video of that talk. Here’s a brief quote from that discussion:
Myself in social psychology, I’m calling for literally affirmative action for conservatives using all the same arguments for diversity that we use for racial diversity, they all apply, almost all of them. As George Will put it, “In higher education they care about diversity in everything except thought. “ And I’d rather we reverse that and care about it only in thought.