The following is a guest post by Abdul Razaq from Pakistan. I have worked with Abdul through the website Odesk, and commissioned him to write this. I made some edits to improve readability and will say more about my objectives in the comment section.
The day before yesterday, I attended a marriage
party where I met a friend who works as a science teacher in a government
school. After sharing introductory prayers with each other, I put a question to
her: “Are you honest with your profession?”
I could see a wave of confusion in her eyes.
blame myself for asking such a stupid question because I felt an innocent
student sitting inside who wanted to know the answer. She politely told me
about the honest efforts she makes to bring the growing nation to the light of
Why did this particular question come to mind? Last
week my sister joined a school and told me that her one of her new colleagues
kept a 3-year old student standing in the sun outside the classroom because she
did not complete her homework. The teacher forgot to bring the little student
back to the classroom. You can hardly imagine how hot the sun is here in Pakistan during May (max 45 degrees
C). It’s very sad to share further details. I stopped three times while writing
this because of my quaking fingers.
The young student dutifully obeyed her teacher, but
could not make her body withstand the severity of the heat. She was taken to
the hospital, and today she is no more on the earth. What can we say? Is it teacher’s
negligence, careless school administration, or simply bad luck to die like this?
Teachers are considered to be a model of virtue and
morality. If there is contradiction in their morals and actions, it not only
damages teacher’s role in a society but also brings about psychological crisis
among students. I’m not saying that teachers have forgotten their role, but I
can’t stop myself saying social changes and a climate of ruthless competition
have turned every human being, including a few teachers, to adopt unfair
teaching goals. They have the single objective of achieving financial gains instead
of committing their time to the cause of educating the nation.
An honest teacher should strive to build a generation
with perfect character rather than making it characterless. Unfortunately, we
lag behind the greatest nations because we have stopped linking education and morality.
This is why we fall short of our ideals.
I had a great student life with great teachers who
infused honesty, morality, and dedication. Punctuality, honesty, truth,
etiquette, mutual love, simplicity and patriotism are meaningless for a student
until a teacher proves the worth of these values through his action. Teachers are
accountable for a generation’s fate and when a teacher realizes his sacred
mission, he can set new educational trends.
I hope every teacher reading this blog post will take it as a constructive step to build a nation of
strong and educated people instead of letting them drown into graves of
ignorance. Students deserve teachers’ affection, love and care so that they may
grow up as competent generation. Corruption is all around, but teachers should
not allow it to enter into the divine relationships they have with their
Friday, May 17, 2013
Sunday, May 12, 2013
If you haven't seen it yet, you should probably go watch this youtube video. In it, a high school student gives a passionate speech as he is being kicked out of class. He says that his teacher only works for the paycheck, but that students are our future and they need more individual attention.
The part we see was filmed by a classmate, which is a reminder to teachers that nothing you do is private. Just before the part we see, the student and teacher got into a disagreement over the amount of time that the class was given to take a test.
The appeal of what the student says is obvious. Education is clearly critical for our future and teachers need to take that seriously. A few years ago I would have simply taken it as a condemnation of lazy teachers. Now I have a slightly different point of view.
Basically, teaching is a very difficult job emotionally. Every day you are forced to try and get a few dozen kids to behave and learn something that they don't want to learn. But kids don't just engage in passive resistance They actively try to get under your skin. One of the primary tactics used by students to upset teachers is to make them feel like the are bad at their job. They know teachers really do care about being perceived as incompetent, and they get frustrated with being forced to do everything against their will, so they lash out.
Teachers, on the other hand, soon realize that it is much easier to keep kids in line if they are given busywork. Planning lessons that encourage inquiry and creativity is not only difficult and time consuming, it can blow up in your face because it gives students more opportunities to misbehave, or refuse to participate. Given that they must accept the students they have, even good teachers are under pressure to spend a lot of time doing "freakin' packets."
The fact is that one of the main roles of our education system is to serve as universal day care. Our modern economy depends on it because it frees up adults to work. Our efforts to actually teach students are important, but ultimately secondary. This means that it takes superhuman teachers to recover from the challenges of each day and come back the next cool and composed, ready to love and encourage the students again. There are such people out there, but a system that depends on superheros is no system at all. It can't be scaled up. Regular people, even good people, in the system we have become industrial scale babysitters.
So what can we do about it? We can't just let the children free. The need for daycare is real. We can't just increase the number of tests and hope that the increased stress caused by the prospect of public failure will somehow turn everyday teachers into emotional superheros.
First, we need to accept our education system for what it really is. Teenagers don't need packets, but they do need to be kept busy. The holy grail of education would be to find a way to get students engaged in something they care about. The trend toward increasing standardization of the curriculum is going in the wrong direction.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
The other day I re-examined my views on gay marriage. My thoughts were prompted by this blog post by a Utah state senator.
My views on the subject could be stated roughly as: both sides of the marriage debate are largely interested in pushing a view of morality that I don't think should be resolved by law. However, I am much more sympathetic to gay couples who want to get married than I am to straight people who are worried about the social collapse that will result if we allow them to do it.
But I want to present what I now think is an important argument against gay marriage, and what I think about it.
Proposition 1: The historical basis of marriage is the concept of duty, and it's the primary purpose is protecting women and children from the prospect of being abandoned.
Proposition 2: A different conception of marriage focuses on expressing and strengthening the relationship between two people who love each other.
Proposition 3: While these two conceptions of marriage are not incompatible (a person can love their family and feel a duty toward them), they have different implications that result in tension between them. For example, imagine that a man falls out of love with his wife (or vice versa). If the marriage is about duty, the justification for maintaining it is not diminished. If marriage is about love, it may not make sense anymore.
Proposition 4: Because of the tension between marriage based on duty and marriage based on love, if the social conception of marriage moves far enough in one direction the other concept will eventually be undermined.
Proposition 5: Acceptance of gay marriage is based on a social conception of marriage based on love rather than on social duty. If the view becomes commonplace it will undermine the concept of marriage as duty.
Proposition 6: Further erosion of the sense of duty associated with marriage will harm society.
There are a number of arguments in favor of gay marriage, but two prominent ones are:
1) The concept of marriage as duty to protect women and children is outdated and doesn't really reflect the institution of marriage as it functions today. People can get divorced, people who have no intention of having children can get married. Basically, there was a war about the purpose of marriage and the conservatives lost. Go home.
2) Allowing gay marriage won't undermine the concept of marriage as duty. Both perspectives on marriage are valid, and both apply to gay couples. Gay couples have children, and those children need stable households just as much as children of heterosexual couples.
The first argument doesn't really contradict any of the propositions 1-6, but I think it ultimately depends on rejecting proposition 6. If we accept that there is a conflict between the two conceptions of marriage and that accepting gay marriage promotes marriage based on love, then we had better reject prop 6 or the conservatives are right, even if their cause is lost. Who can blame them for maintaining a slim hope of saving society?
The second argument directly contradicts prop 5.
For a long time I did not like the idea of trying to win a culture war by passing laws. I still don't. But I am beginning to accept that culture is important. It has tangible effects on society. Culture is one of the main things separating rich and poor countries.
Unfortunately, we don't really know how to calculate the effects of specific cultural changes like shifting further on the marriage spectrum. Conservatives, as explained in this Deseret News op-ed, tend to think that without specific knowledge of the effects we should oppose change. I am not so sure. I think that government imposed opposition to social change is very dangerous. My default position is that if we aren't sure about something, we should not mobilize government to impose one view by force.
So what do I think of the 6 propositions? I think it is clearly true that there are (at least) two main concepts of marriage and that they coexist in our society. It seems clear that we are moving away from the marriage as duty concept. The greatest evidence of this is the growth in the acceptability of divorce. I think that our acceptance of divorce has a much bigger impact than whether or not we accept gay marriage because ultimately I think gay marriage is compatible with the duty concept of marriage. So in the end, although I think all 6 propositions are compelling to a certain extent, I think prop 5 is the weakest. I also think that the growing acceptance of divorce hasn't been all bad. Imposing excessive social duties can have severely negative consequences.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
A few days ago I was having dinner with some friends, and one who works at a bankruptcy court mentioned that she believes that people do not have a moral obligation to repay their debts. We have a legal system for that, and the lenders take the possibility of default into account when determining the interest rate.
I would bet this result seems counter intuitive to most people. Isn't taking money and then refusing to pay it back akin to stealing?
After thinking about the issue for a while, my conclusion is that sometimes people have a moral responsibility to repay debt and sometimes they don't.
First, what is my theory of morality. Morality (in my view) stems from the fact that sometimes our actions negatively impact other people. We develop moral codes so we know when to socially punish other people to prevent such anti-social behavior.
My friend's point that banks tank into account the possibility of default is an interesting one. Usually when we take money and don't pay it back, it is pretty obvious that the person we took money from suffers. Let's assume this is not the case when we don't repay a bank. Our individual loan is a loss, but banks operate on averages. If the average default rate goes up, banks just charge more interest and they still make a profit. So let's assume that banks aren't even really hurt when people default. Does this mean its okay?
If there weren't any other victims, I would say yes, defaulting would be morally neutral. But I think there are other victims. Namely, everyone who pays a higher interest rate because of all the defaulters. Banks aren't the victims, other borrowers are, as well as those who can't even get a loans because they match a profile the bank thinks is risky.
If a society has a strong moral prohibition against borrowing and defaulting, they will probably have lower interest rates, more investment, and easier lending standards. I would argue this is a plus, so I think it is reasonable to argue that defaulting is immoral.
So why did I answer sometimes, instead of just saying we always have a moral obligation to repay debts? Because we want people to take risks. Sometimes people engage in entrepreneurial projects that might work and might not. If someone borrows a bunch of money and their project fails, should they have to pay it back? If we imposed a strong moral obligation on people to pay back all debts, it could discourage people from taking these risks. We might be better off living in a society where people are willing to take risks without worrying about the moral element.
So how do I reconcile these two opposite conclusions? A sophisticated moral system might distinguish between people who borrow money for some personal benefit and those who borrow to take some entrepreneurial risk. I think most people have some intuition along these lines.
I would like to end by pointing out that not all risk should be considered morally clean. For example, if I borrow $10,000 and put all the money on red at the roulette table I am not really doing anything entrepreneurial that could benefit society. But doing so creates a high possibility of default, and this makes it harder for others in society to innovate. There is a fine line between legitimate business and pure gambling (or profligacy), so the moral distinction cannot be perfectly drawn.