I genuinely believe that everyone involved in education is well-intentioned. If making money was the prime motivation I’m sure we could find other, more profitable areas to operate in. Like international arms trading. Everyone wants the best for young people, but, of course, there’s little agreement on what this should look like.
Human beings are tribal. We band together with those who share our ideological preferences and make those with whom we disagree the enemy. This makes a certain kind of sense. If someone dissents from our well-considered opinion about how children ought to be educated we’re prone to engaging in a three step process. First we assume they’re ignorant, and explain why they are mistaken. When they continue to disagree we assume the must be stupid and simply haven’t understood our arguments. If they prove themselves rational by coming up with clever counter-arguments then, obviously, they must be evil.
This is easy and, like many easy approaches to life, it’s lazy, unhelpful, and bad for us.
When debating ideas, I try to hold myself to the principle of charity, which exhorts us to assume, until proved otherwise, that anyone who disagrees with us is as intelligent, informed and ethical as we are, and that we should strive to interpret their claims and evidence in the most positive light possible. This seems like the best possible way to avoid misunderstanding, build consensus and arrive at a better understanding of the world.
But it doesn’t always work. Sometimes, despite their, no doubt, good intentions, people act in ways that are inimical to good faith. They deliberately try to smear, obfuscate and destroy, all the while justifying their means because their end is so pure. How then should these people be judged?
If you gossip about people behind their backs, if you misrepresent what your opponents say and believe, if you seek to damage their livelihoods and reputations, and if your persistence results in people feeling worried for their safety, then maybe you’re not as virtuous as you would like to think.
There’s no point judging someone by their intentions. The road to Hell is paved with high hopes and grand plans. Instead, we should all be judged by our actions. And, if what we say and do is spiteful, mean spirited and intellectually dishonest, we should be found wanting.
Of course, it might be possible that someone could be spiteful, mean spirited, intellectually dishonest, and still be right.
Like everyone else, my intentions are good. As I said here,
I want all children, no matter their backgrounds or starting points, to have the best chance of achieving well. I want young people to be creative. I want them to be skilled at collaborating with others to solve problems. I want them to be able to clearly and critically communicate their thoughts. I want them to take on challenges and persist in the face of set backs. I want them to be prepared for an uncertain future. And, of course, I want them to be tolerant, compassionate, open-minded, curious, cooperative and to help leave the world in a better condition than that in which they found it. Who wouldn’t?
If you want to refresh yourself on what I actually believe, as opposed to what some people might claim I believe, I’ve compiled a summary of my arguments. Whether or not you agree with me, I honestly believe that the approaches I advocate are in the best interests of children, and likely to lead to the best outcomes for those who are most disadvantaged. These beliefs are supported by empirical data and logical argument, but that doesn’t make me automatically right.
If you think I’m wrong, then I’m more than happy to debate this. As a species we’re very good at fooling ourselves and so we all need to set out the conditions under which we would accept we are mistaken. If you can provide empirical data or logical arguments disputing any of the claims I’ve made I promise to read them carefully, and reevaluate my opinions in their light. I may be sceptical, I may have doubts and questions, and I may need to ask for help from those I trust and respect, but if I’m wrong, I’ll say so. This is a cast iron guarantee.
But if you’re not prepared to do this, then you’ve rigged the game. You’re acting in bad faith and I have no time for you. Your good intentions are woefully inadequate. To qualify ourselves for respect, our actions should be in line with our intentions, and we should be prepared to admit the possibility that we could be wrong. If you can’t do this, and if you can’t deal fairly and view others with charity, then you are only adding to the sum total of human misery.