The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

I recently read Jonathan Haidt’s the Righteous Mind, at a time that I was considering adding an extra dimension to my blog about my experiences growing up in a super conservative, evangelical family. I was partly inspired to do this by Tara Westover’s fabulous work “educated” about her experiences growing in a fundamentalist mormon family.

The Righteous mind outlines the basics of moral psychology and the differences between those who identify on the political right and those on the political left. It provides an interesting, modern critique of pure reason and society’s obsession with it.

Humans are not rational and rely on intuitions followed by post-hoc rationalisation, Haidt argues. The book goes on to provide a scaffold to potentially reducing misunderstanding and miscommunication across partisan divides. Haidt argues that there are six foundations to morality and liberals and conservatives give emphasis to different ones. This is based on the work that he and other researchers have been carrying out in this areas since the 1990s.

I found it’s defence of intuition and arguments against reason enlightening and thought provoking, and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in morality, religion, politics and the division they cause. I would also strongly recommend it to anyone teaching International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge.

It reminded me of the following resources that I have used in teaching TOK:

The following are quotes from the book that I enjoyed.

Page 6 1. Where does Morality come from?

“In other words the understanding of the conservation of volume wasn’t innate, and it wasn’t learned from adults. Kids figure it out for themselves, but only when their minds are ready and  they are given the right kids of experience.” Comment – Piaget’s reasoning makes sense but his studies were only of small children. If he was right surely mankind would have figured out the laws of the universe much sooner. His model cant apply in all adult learning and is inefficient.”

” If you want kids to learn about the social world…don’t force them to obey God or their teachers or you. That will only freeze them at the conventional level.”

I felt this one above provides some clue into understanding members of my family….that’s another story.

“These subjects were reasoning. They were working quite hard at reasoning. But it was not reasoning in search of truth; it was reasoning to support their emotional reactions.”

This is a good reminder of the difference between exploratory and confirmatory reasoning. I would argue that an important part of education is concerned with trying to help others develop ways to consider arguments from multiple perspectives.

The intuitive dog and its rational tail

“The true believers produce pious fantasies that don’t match reality, and at some point somebody comes along to knock the idol off its pedestal”.

Many christians will claim that something is wrong because God says it is wrong. Evangelicals claim supreme knowledge – they just know. I have been having arguments, with my siblings, about our faith and Brexit, that can be summed up by this quote.

“Yet moral judgements are not subjective statements; they are claims that somebody did something wrong. I can’t call for the community to punish you simply because I don’t like what you are doing. I have to point to something outside of my own preferences, and that pointing is moral reasoning”

All too often, people I regularly engage in discussion with, are making judgements and not offering anything more than their subjective preferences and they think that that is OK. Many Christians I know interpret the bible in whatever way pleases them at the time.

“The main way that we change our minds on moral issues is by interacting with other people. We are terrible at seeking evidence that challenges our own beliefs, but other people do us this favour, just as we are quite good at finding errors in other people’s beliefs.”

“But if there is affection, admiration, or a desire to please the other person, then the elephants leans toward that person and the rider tries to find the truth in the other person’s arguments”.

“The first principle of moral psychology is intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

“If thinking is confirmatory rather than exploratory in these dry and easy cases, then what chance is there that people with think in an open-minded, exploratory way when self-interest, social identity and strong emotions makes them want or even need to reach a pre-ordained conclusion”

“The partisan brain has been reinforced so many times for performing mental contortions that free it from unwanted beliefs. Extreme partisanship may be literally addictive.”

“As an intuitionist, I’d say that the worship of reason is itself an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion”.

“Expertise in moral reasoning does not seem to improve moral behaviour, and it might make it worse….Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason….motivated reasoning (confirmatory reasoning vs exploratory)….depressing research findings make perfect sense once you see reasoning as having evolved not to help us find the truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people”.

“How hard could it be to teach students to look on the other side, to look for evidence against their favoured view? Yet, in fact, its very hard and nobody has found a way to do it.”

“Gut feelings are sometimes better guides than reasoning for making consumer choices and interpersonal judgements, but they are often disastrous as a basis for public policy, science and law. Rather, what I’m saying is that we must be wary of an individuals ability to reason. We should see each individual as being limited, like a neurone. A neurone is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to “decide” whether to fire an impulse along its axon.”

“I concluded by warning that the worship of reason, which is sometimes found in philosophical and scientific circles, is a delusion. It is an example of faith in something that does not exist.”

“The ethic of divinity is sometimes incompatible with compassion, egalitarianism, and basic human rights”.

“The Authority foundation, as I describe it, is borrowed directly from Fiske. It is more complex that the other foundations because its modules must look in two directions – up towards superiors and down towards subordinates”

Her Haidt provides an argument in support for the traditional teacher student relationships but also for leadership.

“Emphasising differences makes many people more racist, not less”

This quote reminds me of my twitter discussion with Alom Shah. I picked up on a statement he made about “all white people” and was promptly ridiculed by several of his followers. I still think that it is unhelpful to draw such lines in discussions of race. At the very least the work of Haidt shows that it is self defeating. If you are trying to reduce racism, you need to reduce division.

Thoughts from Mary Myatt’s Curriculum

At Easter this year I read Mary Myatt’s little book, Curriculum: Gallimaufry to coherence.

This is an excellent book, full of short, sharply written chapters that are bound to get you thinking about the wider narrative of your school curriculum. Now that the International Baccalaureate‘s Standard’s and Practice’s explicitly mention curriculum coherence, this would be recommended reading for any IB coordinator.

These are some of the questions that I asked myself, thoughts I had, or sections I highlighted as I read through the book:

  • Why is a rounded education good?
  • What is the aim of education?
  • Why is important to build links to TOK?
  • Where does my subject fit into the bigger picture of the curriculum?
  • What is the story of the school curriculum?
  • We need to avoid curriculum bittiness by thinking about the big picture – what is the essential ideas of what is being taught in lessons/units? e.g. biblical underpinnings of Macbeth taught in KS3 to inform the learning in KS4 of Macbeth
  • The primary purpose of CPD should be to ensure that teachers can hone their subject knowledge and their pedagogical content knowledge.
  • Schools should prioritise their teachers subject knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge development: school’s that don’t are like restaurant owners that don’t pay attention to their chef’s ingredients quality.
  • Skills are not separate to knowledge. Comprehension of one text does not guarantee comprehension of another.
  • What are the unifying ideas of each curriculum? – these are the ideas that come up again and again within subjects and between subjects.
  • Curriculum is a narrative, we need to get teachers out of their silo so that they can help students see how their subject learning fits in with others.
  • Structuring units via questions might be the right track to do this?
  • What is it that kids need to know in order to access the stuff we are teaching? This needs to be the focus of the vertical curriculum alignment.
  • During INSET time can we set objectives of what we wish depts to achieve in their planning time together?
  • Reducing workload isn’t about reducing work, it is about efficiency and time allocation. Work load is reduced so less is done with higher quality.
  • While I was reading I tweeted the question: “What is source material in the sciences?” and I got this reply:
  • This thinking about source material has made me think again about my approach to teaching IB Biology, but the question I was then struggling with was how to get students to effectively engage with that source material?
  • I got an idea to answer this question during my philosophy for children training. So now I think that while focusing on curriculum is good, and focussing on concepts and ideas is good we need to ensure that teachers are effectively trained to do this.
  • Learning happens when students are made to think about and with the material. This idea is repeated in the work of Daniel Willingham.
  • Observations of teaching – do I know where the best practice is?
  • Feedback is actionable, Grading is summative – both can be marking so long as we understand the point of the marking.
  • Class blog – when we start a topic, students write notes on what they already know about that topic. They can then identify what they are unsure of and finally what questions they have about the topic. The posts can be updated and revisited as students move through the unit/course.
  • There has been a lot of time wasted on differentiation. It labels and limits what students can do and narrows the achievement gap.
  • LOs as ticks on a checklist. Teacher ticks them off as they move through the syllabus. Instead we need to provide time for repetition. I would also add that a way to do this is move from learning objective to learning questions.
  • What is being taught and how to teach it well should be the focus of meetings. SLT to communicate expectations to middle leaders.
  • Learning should be authentic and link to real world issues and problems, and have some real world outcome if possible. Students work should be honoured, for the time and effort that they put into it.

Notes on Trivium 21c

Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21c was an absolute delight to read. Thought provoking and enlightening it presents an eloquently articulated history of the educational ideas and, through this radical history, a persuasive argument for the great synthesis of traditional and progressive teaching methods, united via the ancient arts of the trivium.

The trivium in teaching

The trivium of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric, originally used as the basis of the school curriculum in the middle ages are explored from a variety of different paradigms and meanings for Robinson to final expound his view of how this mantra could be utilised in modern schooling.

Grammar, Robinson argues, is not only the teaching of the rules of the language arts but is equivalent to the transmission of all of the basic facts and building blocks of knowledge that make up a particular discipline or subject. Grammar is also the transmission of the structure and rules of culture, which, of course, encompasses all the academic disciplines as well as other elements. To Robinson, modern grammarians are those of us on the traditionalist side of the great education debate on methods. Grammarians value knowledge and the methods best shown to help students gain this knowledge.

Dialectic, to Robinson, is the art of critiscm, skeptiscim and questioning of grammar. It is an art that needs to be taught in order to enable future adults to be able to think clearly about and with knowledge, in order to not simply be absorbers of knowledge but users and producers of it. Dialectic is important as it allows students to manipulate and use the knowledge acquired through grammar, by questioning it, reflecting on it and potentially rejecting or changing it. If grammar represents tradition, then dialectic represents progression; the dialecticians are those of us in education who aspire to the more progressive methods in the great educational debate.

The third art of the trivium, rhetoric, is the art of communication. Not only should learners be taught to acquire knowledge through grammar, taught to question it through dialectics but they should also be taught to communicate their thoughts through the arts of rhetoric.

Should the purpose of education serve the common good or enable someone to live a good life?

As someone who has moved from being deeply religious to being so no longer, I found myself agreeing with Robinson’s sentiments that curiosity is not best served by prejudice and that teachers must not model the closed mind of someone who thinks there is only one path that leads to meaning or, I guess, truth. In this vein he asks us to attempt to live, as teachers, with the uncertain position of holding the traditional and the progressive together, investigating ideas from across the range of opinion.

Robinson asks if all teachers in any given school understand the narrative of a the curriculum? He argues that only by seeing how their part fits into the wider curriculum can teachers deliver an education to students that allows them to be knowledgable, critical and reflective. He claims that students must learn the unifying concepts, the concepts that come up again and again, of each discipline again and again. This put me in mind of Thomas Khun who claimed that expertise as a scientist only arrives through exposure to many examples. Scientists are experts because they have been able to generalise from the many specific examples and they apply this knowledge in new scenarios.

Robinson also claims that teachers must move away from omniscience, which reminded me of an early career conversation a chemistry teacher who claimed that not knowing in a teacher is a sign of weakness, and that students don’t like it. I agree with Robinson that all teachers need to honest about what society doesn’t know, they need to embrace the uncertainty in their discipline.

A good teacher has mastered the core knowledge and more of their discipline as well as holding an appreciation of what society doesn’t yet know in their field.

We need to understand that teachers should have the authority to teach but recognise that all knowledge is probable and uncertain.

Teachers should use language in such a way that ensures uncertainty has its place.

Robinson’s book draws on many sources and aside from his main argument is highly informative of the history of educational ideas. His arguments are compelling and interesting but the book is worth reading not only for this but also for your education in the history of educational ideas that it draws upon. This book has helped me begin to see the synthesis of the progressive and traditional narratives and has got me wondering about how I can go about making argumentation an important part of my biology classroom in the second stage of the trivium. How can I use debate to really challenge kids to think and learn all sides of an argument? How can I introduce students to the, Dissoi Logoi in science, the art of seeing both sides of an argument as true within their contexts. Instead of dialectic argument as being right vs wrong we can make both as right. Dual thinking explores the possibility that both sides can be right.

Cialfo: Review

In May I published reviews of the guidance platforms Unifrog and BridgeU. I have had experience working with both these platforms as a guidance counsellor for a period of time. Subsequently, I had the opportunity to get a look under the hood of MaiaLearning and published a review of this platform in June.

Since then I have been looking Cialfo and speaking to their team and I share my review of their platform below.

Cialfo intro

Cialfo is a university guidance platform that is headquartered in Singapore and one that I first came across earlier this year in conversation with counsellors based in China. The platform is positioned to cover global university applications and is unique amongst the other platforms I have reviewed as it was founded by professionals formerly working in university guidance and with students directly. The platform grew from a team of counsellors who were initially building it for their own use. The platform was launched in 2016.

Cialfo is a contraction for “Citius, Altius, Fortius” the Olympic motto that means “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. The founders wanted a name that reflected their philosophy that university guidance has to be about more than just university applications but aspiring students to push further with their futures.

The founders also wanted to solve the problem that, according to UNESCO, 100 million students will apply to university every year by 2025, but there are relatively few counsellors, and so they wanted to enable counsellors to have a deeper impact on more students.

The student side

Both students and counsellors are presented with a fully customisable dashboard when they log in. This feature allows users to fully tweak and change their user experience and is a very nice touch – I am a big fan of flexibility and usability – allowing users to have what they consider essential features highlighted immediately on their landing page.

The platform is very clean and uncluttered, with menus laid out both along the top and down the left-hand side of the page. The left-hand menu is the main menu and from it, students can access their profile, a list of running tasks, meetings, their inbox and can complete their university/college research and complete three profiler type assessments.

The dashboard is accessible under the profile menu along with an overview of the student’s applications, contact people, grades and test scores and lists of extracurricular activities.

Students can select plans that their adviser has created in the counsellor section. This allows students to be grouped by plans (if the counsellor is working with very large cohorts) but also allows the relevant information a student needs to be organised for that student appropriately.

The platform handles a range of applications to 25 different countries and allows students to manage the various parts of these different application processes. For the US applications, the platform uses a machine learning algorithm to help students and counsellors to identify, reach, target and likely schools, although the counsellor has the option to amend and change this recommendation – another nice touch.

Students can enter their grades from high school and this data will also be synced from the school’s student information system if this has been set up.

Finally, students can also undertake three different profiling assessments from Human eSources through Cialfo and these aim to help students understand their own learning styles and personalities better.

The counsellor side

The system has a left-hand main menu with each of these menu items having sub-menus that are displayed along the top when you click on the left-hand menu.

When logging in you are taken directly to students left-hand tab and a default view of all your students on the system. From here you can fully customise your view by setting several different filters: “Application Region”, “Application Type” “Current grade”. You can add more than one filter so that the student data can be presented in any way you wish. For example, you can filter by “gender” and “application region” plus others at the same time.

From this view, you are able to click directly into student accounts and can click through to the student’s pages. Here you can see all the information that the student sees and are able to edit student data directly, including setting tasks and adding in student grades and test scores. The counsellor can set meetings, add tasks, add universities along with a range of other options.

On the left hand, main menu counsellors also have the ability to send out communications to students, parents and other counsellors via the broadcast tab. This feature allows counsellors to communicate with students via text without having to give out their own personal number – a nice touch.

From the main menu, counsellors can also edit the account information and the plans that students can select as described above.

Finally, the “schools” tab on the main menu allows you to view information on all the schools in the database. Again, the filtering allows you to select the specific schools you want. Many of these schools have admissions information, presented in scattergram charts that allow you to see the range and types of applications that have been selected. This data can be shared across the entire Cialfo network, anonymously, allowing smaller schools to see what the bigger playing field may look like.

Cialfo can integrate data directly from a variety of student information systems. Once in, the student data can be synced directly between both systems.

Counsellors can use the platform to help manage student university applications; they can add and then submit documents these processes are provided by Parchment and Common Application (CommonApp) – both of these platforms are or will be integrated with Cialfo. The CommonApp clarified to the community at IACAC this year that there will be a simple integration in 2018 but the document submissions through all companies (Cialfo, Maia, BridgeU, Unifrog) will only happen for the 2019 cycle. Parchment though is seamlessly integrated into Cialfo for the 2018 cycle.

At the time of writing Cialfo have released the course information and richer college profiles for Germany, Netherlands and Canada, alongside the many other countries that they already support applications to. 

Finally, Cialfo is currently the only platform that I know of that has a regional HQ in Delhi, New Jersey and in Shanghai, and therefore has access to Chinese servers. This means that users in China do not need a VPN to access the platform and users can switch the language of the platform into Chinese. The platform also works on WeChat! Of course.

Conclusion

I really like Cialfo. Although I have not used it myself professionally, it would be a strong contender if I were choosing which platform to go with. It is clean, intuitive and really does put the counsellor in control (from what I can see). Update September 2019: I have now used Cialfo professionally for the last year.

The fact that the team who have built the platform have extensive experience working as guidance counsellors is implicit in the way the platform looks, feels and operates. This platform is really focussed with the counsellor in mind and enabling the counsellor to impact their students positively.

The platform has a peer-2-peer aspect to is aswell; data from different schools in the Cialfo network is anonymised and visible (if the school allows it to be) which means counsellors are no longer isolated in small silos but can get a handle on what the “market” is doing. The team also have a public roadmap, allowing their users to add ideas for development, comment and discuss what features need to be prioritised. In this way they are really modelling what counsellors do – collaborate. I have been surprised in my work at how collegial and helpful colleagues from different schools are and it is lovely to see this spirit of collaboration being used in this way.

Cialfo have also developed a Chrome extension for essay prompts, used by hundreds of students, parents, and counselor is a completely free Google Chrome extension that allows anyone to look up—and search—supplements from over 300 schools in the U.S and courses for colleges in US, UK, Germany, Canada, Netherlands.

Cialfo really appears to be made by guidance counsellors for guidance counsellors!

MaiaLearning: review

Last month I published reviews of the guidance platforms Unifrog and BridgeU. I have had experience working with both these platforms as a guidance counsellor for a period of time. Subsequently, I have had the opportunity to get a look under the hood of MaiaLearning. I haven’t used the platform with students myself, but have spent some time playing around with the platform and being guided around it by the MaiaLearning team.

Update: 25th June 2018: MaiaLearning’s CEO informed me that a major European school system has already asked for the ability to collect various teacher comments to serve as the basis for a counselor’s recommendation (see my conclusion where I write about this). He has spec’d it out and the engineers are building it. MaiaLearning should have it as part of their production software within a month.

MaiaLearning intro

Maia is the Roman Goddess of growth and this explains MaiaLearning’s name. As they told me, the companies vision is to engage and empower students so that they become excited by their opportunities and drive the process of career and college discovery themselves.

The company is based in California has been founded and funded by private individuals with a lot of experience in the technology industry and startups. They have also been very involved in education as volunteers for a number of years. The idea for MaiaLearning grew out of dissatisfaction with other products on the market.

Founded originally in 2008, their first product, CollegeonTrack was launched in 2012. The product was subsequently completely rewritten and remarketed in 2015 as MaiaLearning, the program went under a major update in 2017 and recently won the state of California contract.

The student side

On the student landing page, users can access a variety of menus along the top and I will explain some of their functions here. Students can also access a list of tasks and activities by type – these tasks are set by the counsellor. In terms of menus, students can access an explore, search and plan menus. The explore menu gives assess to the following activity types:

  • Interest Profiler: based on John Holland’s Occupational Themes (RIASEC)
  • Personality Profiler: based on a Myers-Briggs type of assessment
  • Intelligence Profiler: based on Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences
  • Learning & Productivity Profiler: a learning style assessment.

The first three of these activities will give students a report that feeds into the careers advice that the platform provides. The Learning & Productivity profiler aims to help students understand the way that they work and develop strategies to help them succeed. When completed students various profiles will be matched against particular career types. In this way, students are exposed to career options they may not have heard of or considered before.

Careers data on the platform comes from US Department of Labor’s O*NET. From the career information, students can click through to information on majors that lead to those careers and universities that cater to those majors.

The interest profiler can be taken an unlimited time by students with access to the platform while the other profilers are limited to being taken three times. Some of these can also be used with middle schoolers – the platform offers a complete careers program solution for secondary schools.

In addition, to explore, students have access to a search function for careers, colleges and scholarships. MaiaLearning have just added information on around 18,000 institutions from around the world using data from World Higher Education Database. College data is also supplied by Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), produced by the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics; and Wintergreen Orchard House, which surveys U.S. college admissions offices annually. Scholarship data is supplied by SuperCollege.

Based on the all the information given to and selected by the student, the plan menu allows students to begin to put the reflection into place. In this section, students can work out their roadmap for applying to college and getting into the careers they are interested in. This section houses the application support area.

The student side also allows kids to sign up to visits from colleges set up through MaiaVisits. This service also allows the counsellor to see an attendance list. In addition, students can also save documents to Document Lockers, where they can also see documents shared with them by the counsellor, and they can request recommendations.

Finally, the student side contains a portfolio. In the logbook here they can record experiences; everything that they have done and a resume builder which allows kids to input information into a resume and export it pre-formatted. Students can also add journals, goals and galleries of finished work to their portfolios.

The counsellor side

The counsellor’s side allows the counsellor access to all of the students’ accounts. Here counsellors can keep notes of meetings and set the level of visibility of these as necessary. There is a document locker where information and guides that students need can be stored so that students can view them. The counsellor side also has administrative functions for setting up student accounts, managing passwords and messaging including via text. Counsellors are also able to build lesson plans on the dashboard, which function as custom built pages where students can be given tasks to complete.

In terms of managing students, counsellors are able to assign tasks for students to complete (e.g. complete your interest profile) as well as manage the application process. MaiaLearning has document sending functionality, organised via Parchment. The team also claim that soon the platform will be able to integrate seamlessly with the CommonApp.

Currently, the platform does not allow the collection of predicted grades and actual scores but I was told that this functionality will be arriving soon. There also isn’t a way for a counsellor to acquire confidential comments in the building of a reference.

Conclusion

I was really impressed with how far the platform has come in such a short time. When compared to other products on the market who have been around for a similar length of time this platform really does pack a punch; the sheer volume of profiling possibilities and career data is really quite staggering. This, I guess, is a testament to the founding teams experience in tech. The team behind it have Silicon Valley experience in computer science and product design. It is evident that the developers can really get things done and this makes me confident that when they say they are adding features, the will be adding those features.

In some ways it has features that mark it out from other products – the note keeper and document lockers would be some examples of this but also the MaiaVisits feature which could useful serve to take much administrative work out of the counsellor’s hands in terms of liaising and communicating with universities to arrange visits, as well as keeping data on attendance by students of those visits.

That said, it is clear that this product has been developed for the American market and for schools that service American universities. While the platform has added international universities to its database there are currently no features that allow a more UK (for example) model of application administration. For example, there is no space for the student to write their personal statements or even see scaffolded examples of what makes a good or a bad personal statement. There is also no way to build a UCAS reference – in my context, I rely on teachers to supply comments so that we can write a reference that covers all of the student’s academic strengths. This cannot be done through the platform.

That being said, I think MaiaLearning is going to be a platform to watch over the coming years, particularly if serving non-US focussed international schools becomes a priority for them. As it was put to me via email:

As technologists, we can make the software do just about anything. We need counselors to tell us what those things should be. We love our customers, listen to them, and heed their advice. Since we’re committed to Europe and Asia, we will add capabilities as needed to meet the special needs of those users.