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The Yale Problem Begins in Kindergarten

Jonathan Haidt’s latest blog post over at Heterodox Academy is The Yale Problem Begins in High School. It’s fantastic. Please read it and the comments from readers that follow it.  One of the comments is mine.  Here it is in full:


The world is a better place with Dr. Haidt and Heterodox Academy in it. Speaking truth to power is particularly effective when the truth comes from within the very community that most needs to hear it.

And thanks so much for many of the comments here that help to illustrate and expand upon his points, especially the comments from students at “Centerville High.”

That said, I think Dr. Haidt and Heterodox Academy still have a good distance to go before they walk this argument all the way to it’s logical end. The problem starts long before high school, so waiting until then to address it seems to me to be closing the barn door after the horse is gone. And some of Dr. Haidt’s recommendations seem to me to address symptoms rather than root causes.

I can say with confidence and without hyperbole that Dr. Haidt knows he is a hero of mine. And conversely, I know he knows my thinking well enough and he knows me personally well enough to know that I come to my ideas honestly and with only the best of intentions, and that to the best of my abilities I strive to achieve and maintain a high level of intellectual rigor and integrity.

And so I’ll dispense with the three thousand word essay to Dr. Haidt and the rest of Heterodox Academy in which I attempt to build my case one logical brick at a time. Besides, I don’t think I need to lay out for all of you the argument that’s made by your own research and findings. I’ll cut to the chase:

Middle schools prepare our children for high school in the same way high school prepares them for college. And likewise, elementary schools prepare them for middle schools.

They teach through the prism of a single moral matrix, and in this way they deprive our children of an empirically, scientifically, and historically complete, accurate, rounded, grounded, and fair-minded understanding of the human condition. And in so doing they deny our children the full suite of social and intellectual tools that could help them navigate in the ultra-social societies we humans create for ourselves and to maximize their success and happiness within them. Our schools fail at precisely that which they are supposed to achieve.

The lack of intellectual diversity in the education community harms education itself, and the children who receive that education, in the same way it harms the social sciences. It stifles, rather than encourages, critical thought, and it imparts an understanding of human nature that could generously be called partial at best, but is in reality arguably counter factual both from the social science perspective and from the perspective of history.

In this way the current education system exacerbates rather than ameliorates the Coming Apart, and the demonization and vilification that flows back and forth across the political aisle. It harms, rather than helps, our childrens’ understanding of themselves and of people who see the world differently from the way they do. It harms even their ABILITY to understand. It blinkers rather than widens their social vision. It hinders rather than helps their ability to make sense of the social world we humans create for ourselves, and their ability to navigate successfully within it. It narrows rather than expands their empathy and compassion for others. It is exclusive, rather than inclusive, of the ideas, values, virtues, and people who happen to be predisposed to lean toward other moral matrices.

If there were such a thing as a Hippocratic Oath for educators in which they promise to first do no harm, and to be fair, and honest, and to present ALL the evidence, and to follow that evidence to wherever it leads, then the education system as we currently know it would be in violation of that oath.

If we truly do care about our children and their future, and that of society; if we truly do wish to nurture our children and teach them and help them grow and to prepare them for life in the social world; if we truly do want to be fair, and honest, and reason-based, and evidence-based, and science-based, then for as long as we allow their education to continue through the prism of a single moral matrix as it currently does we fail as parents and as educators. And badly so.

Dr. Haidt’s recommendations are great, as far as they go, but as I said earlier, waiting until our kids are in high school amounts to closing the barn door after the horse is gone. And seeking out non-leftist faculty, and explicitly including viewpoint diversity in all statements about diversity and discrimination are fantastic ideas that I wholeheartedly endorse, but they address visible symptoms rather than root causes. If we really are serious about fixing this problem then we have to address it where it starts rather than wait for it to fully bloom and then merely prune it.

So here’s my challenge to anyone and everyone in the education system from kindergarten through grad school who cares about our kids, and who values empathy, and tolerance, and inclusiveness, and real diversity, and real education:

Learn the lessons of The Righteous Mind, and incorporate them into your lesson plans. Help our kids to understand that intuition leads reasoning in every sense of the word “leads.” Help them to know there’s more to morality than care and fairness, and what that “more” is, and the values and virtues that flow from it. Allow them to see that even as morality helps us to form into cohesive groups through which we can accomplish that which we could not accomplish alone, it can also simultaneously blind us to the insights a matrix other than our own might yield. Let them see that everybody has the best interests of society and the individuals within it at heart; and that people who think differently are in fact not stupid, or manipulated, or evil. Show them that the “absolute miracle,” in Dr. Haidt’s words, that is human society, is achieved through all the tools in the toolbox.

There will always be liberals and conservatives – the compulsion toward change and the compulsion toward the preservation of social capital – and the natural tension that exist between them.

But there’s no reason in the world, none, that that tension cannot start from a true, accurate and complete understanding of human nature rather than on the partial, one-eyed perspective the education community currently inculcates into our children. There’s no reason a mutual understanding of what really makes humans human cannot be the common ground upon which our political debates ensue.


15 thoughts on “The Yale Problem Begins in Kindergarten

  1. I’m studying early childhood education in Australia and the academics who have written this course are pushing postmodern and social constructivist approaches to this education. In one overview of a postgrad course I was thinking of applying for teachers were called activists, and the context made it clear to me that these teacher activists would be social change or social justice activists.

    Indoctrination in kindergartens is real


    Posted by Greg Taylor | July 27, 2018, 1:11 am
  2. I think you are vastly over estimating the power of the school system to indoctrinate children. Our entire concept of education as something that teachers do to children is wrong. Children are born with a miraculous capacity to learn what they need to learn to function as adults. More often than not K-12 schooling gets in the way of that natural capacity to learn. It would be foolish to assume that liberal teachers and their moral matrices are automatically imposed on their students. Children are much more influenced by their peers and the broader society than by their teachers. I think it is far more plausible that the seemingly immature youth of today are the result of coddling and not being given the freedom to learn (by parents, schools, and the broader society) rather than by the left-leaning morality of teachers themselves.


    Posted by Taylor | November 26, 2015, 2:16 pm
    • You’re right that indoctrination is only one of the many ingredients baked into the cake of the morality and style of thought we end up with as adults. The other ingredients you mention also matter. I don’t mean to oversimplify.

      Yet another ingredient is genes. Haidt has shown that ideology is heritable, much like all the other traits our parents pass along to us. We’re born predisposed to lean left or right or some other way.

      Evolution, too, plays a role. It is from natural selection that we all get the “evolved psychological mechanisms” that are Haidt’s moral foundations.

      If indoctrination were the only ingredient then our education system would produce zero conservatives. And yet, there are lots of conservatives. This speaks to the power that hundreds of millions of years of evolution has over the psyche, and its ability to resist indoctrination to some degree so that the non-liberal moral foundations persevere.

      But with all that said, the indoctrination our children receive in school still does play a role.

      And that indoctrination is almost pure liberal.

      With the result that the overall impression and understanding of human nature that our children receive is incomplete, and skewed strongly left. It’s actually counter-factual and anti-science.

      Our kids emerge from the education system with very little actual knowledge about why we humans think and act the way we do, and why people who think differently from the way we do seem crazy, and why they’re actually not crazy, and why it can be difficult to “just get along” as Rodney King pleaded.

      And that lack of knowledge exacerbates the already-built-in tendency for us to form into tribes that then do battle with other tribes. That’s bad enough as it is. Why make it worse when we don’t have to, and when we know how to avoid it?


      Posted by The Independent Whig | November 26, 2015, 5:04 pm
  3. Well state schooling is almost left-wing by definition (didn’t the idea come from Marx?) and tends to lean towards more collectivist practices than individualist, usually because of limited staff and resources (e.g they only had different classes based on ability level starting at high school for us. Until then you were being forced to operate under some implicit assertion that everyone was roughly equal in intelligence)

    Something that was massively lacking in my own childhood education was any emphasis whatsoever on personal responsibility. I remember reading a great story about how Japanese school students clean their own school rather than hiring cleaners. The idea being to create an attitude where you consider everything you personally affect to be part of your responsibility to take care of. I can think of no disadvantages in implementing that idea in the west. That’s precisely the kind of attitude that would undercut trigger warnings.


    Posted by Gary | November 26, 2015, 11:11 am
    • Great suggestion. Imagine if we “crowd sourced” ideas like this. For example, what if I – or better yet Haidt, since he gets WAY more internet traffic than I do – asked the Twitterverse for simple suggestions like yours that could be implemented relatively easily in schools. The entire education system might end up more like Strengthen U. than Coddle U. The Yale problem and the Coddling problem would disappear, and the education system would produce way more well-rounded, straight-thinking, mature adults than it does now.


      Posted by The Independent Whig | November 26, 2015, 11:27 am


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A politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

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