Why Tough Teachers Often Have a Tough Time – part 1

Private schools can be the hardest places for tough teachers. I know of a teacher, lets call him Mr. White, who taught science and math at a religious private school (that will go unnamed to protect the reputation of the school – this is a true story). He came to the school worn down by some of the typical trials of a public school (unmotivated students, regular behavior disruptions, etc.), expecting things to be different. And they were. With involved parents (most of them) in mostly stable family situations, the students were much more respectful and studious than those in the public school from which he came.

He also expected that these students would achieve more academically, be more diligent and embrace a higher level of rigor. A private school, after all, was free from the shackles of AYP (annual yearly progress), which measures a high school’s success by such metrics as graduation rate, which at his public school had led to persistent pressure not to fail students in classes required for graduation. There would be a freedom to evaluate students more honestly by the criteria set by the school, and fewer failures because the parents were directly paying for the education.

Some of these expectations turned out to be wrong. While the private school students did, on average, work harder, and while fewer failed, there was even more scrutiny of the grades, but by parents more than administrators, and more complaining by the students. The scrutiny was not focused on failures but whether the children were making As and Bs. Cs, and sometimes even Bs, were regarded as unacceptable grades by many, and teachers often had to defend these marks to parents in the presence of administrators. The complaining was not only about the grades, but also about methods of instruction. “She’s not teaching us!” was the common refrain. They said this because the teacher was employing novel, pedagogically sound methods when the students were used to being spoonfed facts which they would then regurgitate on tests. By the middle of the year, the exhausted teacher was spending hours each week in parent-teacher conferences and in consultations with administration.

Mr.White drew inspiration, though, from the many students that were flourishing because they were responding to the challenges set before them with a persevering attitude. These students quietly brought Cs up to Bs and Bs up to As, and were building confidence in their ability to master difficult subjects. Meanwhile, he was struggling with her 2nd year advanced chemistry students who could not master higher level chemistry because their foundation was so weak. These were among the top students and had earned As in first year chemistry under the previous teacher. He was confident that the students earning As in her first year course were acquiring a much stronger foundation.

This proved to be the case the following year. In spite of the trouble with parent and student complaints, Mr. White returned for a 2nd year, enjoying strong support from the principal. Her advanced, 2nd year students were far more capable, and he was excited to build on this foundation with them so that they could earn college credit for Chemistry (last year’s advanced students earned no credit). Unfortunately, midway through the year, he was fired, even though he was under contract (private schools have more freedom to do that). The reasons were not made plain to him, except that students continued to complain (though not the advanced chemistry students) and certain, influential parents wanted him gone. The decision had nothing to do with the demonstrable academic results her students were achieving. On the Monday after Thanksgiving break, he was told to move his things by the next day; he would not be allowed to finish the year.

Private schools, especially newer ones that are not well established and therefore are not financially secure, can become hostile places for tough, demanding teachers to work for the simple reasons that grades are influenced by money. Administrators are anxious to lose students because of the resulting loss of revenues, so there is financial pressure to give students the grades they and their parents expect. So the relationship is not direct, e.g. parents paying more for their students to get better grades, but the possibility for administrator’s judgment of teachers to become biased by dollar signs is very real.

This story raises the question: are public schools different from private schools concerning the impact of money on grades? Theoretically, they should be free from such influence because parents are not paying directly for the education. But are there ways that public funding and other factors can corrupt grading and make things difficult for tough teachers in public schools? These are questions I will explore in subsequent posts.

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Why You Should Support Tough Teachers – Reason 3

Failure is an option

The preservation of a child’s self-esteem has come to be the most important goal in education for many teachers and parents.  Since failure is believed to be damaging to self-esteem, it is normal for teachers to design assessments in a way that limits the possibility of failure.  But counter to these intuitions, failure is not damaging to children, and may even be good for their learning.  The WSJ article cites a 2012 study in which a cohort of sixth-graders in France were given a set of problems that were too difficult for them to solve.  One group was told that failing and doing it again is a normal part of the learning process.  The other group was not told this.  The first group did better on subsequent tests than their peers.

I remember listening to a lecture in 2006 by a distinguished engineering professor who was heading up the National Science Foundation’s efforts to improve Engineering education.  Producing larger numbers of qualified engineers is a national priority because of the economic benefits of innovation.  A gnawing anxiety is that countries like China and India will outcompete the U.S. eventually because they are graduating more engineers.  When I asked what reason there was for hope in future U.S. competitiveness, his reply surprised me.  The main advantage the U.S. has over other countries, he said, is a cultural one:  people know how to respond well to failure.  In these Eastern nations, failure is ruinous, but in America we have seen failure as an opportunity for growth and improvement.  He then referenced a long-standing policy of Hewlett-Packard that if people leave the company to start businesses, HP will hire them back with a promotion if they fail, believing that the experience of venturing out on their own yet failing results in better problem solvers.

I worried then that we were at risk of losing that mentality.  It reminded me of a professor at Georgia Tech who revealed to me while I was in graduate school that they (professors) were discouraged from failing students anymore and thus it was rare.  That was before I started teaching.  I am more worried now that our educational system is not teaching kids to deal with failure by not even allowing failure to be a real possibility.

Failing students is hard.  There is nothing enjoyable about it; no self-interest in it.  In fact, the system is set-up such that it is in teachers’ self-interest not to fail students.  It results in more work for you (e.g. conferences with parents, tutoring, etc.); and when you are held accountable for your failure rate, it is implied that failure is a result of your deficiencies as a teacher, not the fault of the students.  Thus, teachers have all kinds of gimmicks (like ‘curving’ tests and dropping grades) to avoid failing students.

How will people who never experience real failure as children ever learn to respond to it in a healthy way?  And when they eventually experience it as adults, instead of being seized as an opportunity for growth (i.e. redemption of failure), it will just crush them.  Or more likely people will minimize the risk of failure by avoiding difficult tasks.  Imagine the loss of entrepreneurship and innovation if people are unwilling to risk failure!

As parents in this culture, you should be more alarmed if no one is failing the classes your children are taking than if a lot of people are.  For if failure is not a real possibility, then passing the class means very little in terms of what a student has learned.  And if passing the class requires very little learning, then making A’s and B’s in the class is likely not much of an accomplishment either.  In a truly rigorous learning environment, students will feel the real possibility of failure if they do not perform at a certain level.  But when they do fail a test or assignment, a good teacher will be right there by their side, admonishing them to learn from the failure and to use it as an opportunity to grow.  Teachers that won’t fail students, or parents that make it difficult for teachers to do so, are robbing the kids of an opportunity to learn the priceless life skill of redeeming failure.

Cheating in Atlanta Schools: Extending Our Moral Outrage over Grading Deception – part 2

Superintendent Hall basking in public praise

This is a re-post of a blog I wrote when news of this scandal first broke.  See part 1 below.

In my previous post on the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal, I argued that the common ways teachers manipulate students’ grades to portray a false sense of learning achievement is morally similar to teachers changing wrong answers on standardized tests, and therefore should also provoke moral outrage from the public.  Here I will develop that argument further by explaining more how these more common practices violate the same moral principles that bear on the cheating scandal.

Governor Deal’s investigative report on the matter criticizes Atlanta Public Schools for “emphasizing test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics.”  In other words, educational leaders and teachers were more concerned about the appearance of student learning than actual student learning, and the ends of higher test scores justified the means of changing wrong answers in the minds of the violators.

I have seen this ethos at work in both public and private school settings.  While teaching at a private school I received a steady stream of complaints from parents that their children were making C’s instead of B’s, or B’s instead of A’s.  These complaints translated into trouble with the administration who criticized me for not having enough A’s and B’s.  Ironically, I left public education to teach at a private school seeking more freedom to implement academic rigor and to seek grading integrity.  Sadly, there was less freedom because the grades were even more scrutinized.  I was given a number of specific directives (like assigning an easy extra credit project that would add 10 points to the overall grade) designed to transform F’s to C’s and C’s to B’s.  The motivation for these directives was that my classroom grades created a bad image for the school – an image that students were not succeeding in science – that needed to be corrected.  Upping the grades would portray an image of success.

My response was to admit that it was true that a significant number of students were not learning that much, though those that were making A’s and B’s were achieving a lot.  I argued, with evidence to support, that low achievement in science was by not means unique to my classroom, but was a national problem especially severe in Georgia. What made me different was that I was not afraid to disclose this low level of achievement in my course grades, believing that was the only way the problem of low achievement could be corrected.  To improve the problem it had to be acknowledged openly, not covered up by grade manipulation.

Yet the cost of attempting to bring to light a real problem was gaining a negative image, among some, of being an ineffective educator.  My local leadership wanted me to change this image by changing grades (which would also enhance the image of the school) even though grade integrity would be compromised.  In Gov. Deal’s words, what was happening was a concern for “public praise [image] at the exclusion of integrity and ethics.”

The preoccupation with image (the perception of being good) versus character (actually being good) is by no means just a contemporary malady.  Yet I believe this mindset is particularly strong in an age where philosophically many have come to believe that “perception is reality”  and its corollary that “reality is what we make it.”  The postmodern worldview maintains that there is no reality independent of our perceptions.  Therefore, we cannot make objective truth claims; rather, all truth is socially constructed.  That means that it is up to human communities to determine what is accepted as true in that community:  knowing truth apart from these constructions is impossible.   Consequently, image is all we can ‘know.’

In a postmodern worldview the distinction then between image and integrity is meaningless, for the concept of integrity is based on the possibility of a real essence – a reality of being, a state of existence, that exists apart from how people perceive us.  Denying the existence of such a reality, or believing that it is there but impossible to know, negates the very notion of integrity and renders the pursuit of it impossible.  In the end this kind of metaphysics (beliefs about the nature of reality) justifies the kind unethical behaviors that put public praise before integrity and leads to grading practices that conveys an image of success without concern for real success in learning.

So far I have only diagnosed critically without offering any solutions.  I’ll follow this post soon with thoughts about the biblical basis for integrity and helpful ideas for parents and educators about how to pursue greater integrity in education.

Cheating in Atlanta Schools: Extending our Moral Outrage over Grading Deception – part 1

This is a re-post of a blog I wrote when this scandal first broke in 2011.  Earlier this month, dozens of educators implicated in the report were indicted on a litany of crimes.

This week Georgia governor Nathan Deal released an investigative report into allegations of systemic cheating on standardized tests in Atlanta Public Schools (including both elementary and middle schools).  The “cheaters” in this case, though, were not the children in the building, but the adults:  teachers and administrators who erased students’ wrong answers and penciled in the correct ones.  Altogether, 178 educators across 44 schools were indicted in the report, which described the school system’s culture as one where cheating was encouraged and whistle-blowers punished.  The scandal is all the more stinging since Superintendent Beverly Hall has received national accolades for her success in turning Atlanta’s schools around

Perhaps the most egregious instance of strategic cheating took place at Parks Middle School where the principal (hailed as a “miracle worker”) was held up by Hall as a model leader because of the dramatic increases in test scores under his tenure.  Teachers at the school describe him as being obsessed with numbers to the point of pressuring his subordinates to engage in cheating.  An Atlanta Journal-Constitution report on Parks depicts the kind of co-dependent relationship between the principle and Supt. Hall that made the school system culture so conducive to cheating:  “Hall wanted high test scores, Waller produced them, and Hall rewarded and protected him” (Judd, July 6 2011).  This protection took the form of Hall overlooking serious accusations of fraud against the principle and insisting that criticism against him would go nowhere.

The public outcry against APS has been fierce.  Parents are rightly concerned about the quality of their children’s education being compromised and the damage such practices to do children.  Gov. Deal summarizes these moral concerns in the report:  “Students are harmed, parents lose sight of the child’s true progress, and taxpayers are cheated.”

These concerns should not be limited to such scandalous instances of academic fraud, however.  It is common practice for teachers throughout all grade levels and school systems to manipulate students grades by curving test scores, “rubber stamping” assignments with A’s for just turning work in, not penalizing students for missing work, and giving bogus “extra credit” work that adds points to grades without expecting students to demonstrate achievement.

When I taught science at a metro Atlanta public school I was told  by my immediate supervisor to “curve” final exam grades by taking the square root of their raw score and multiplying it by ten (so, for instance, a score of a 36 would be raised to a 60, a 49 a 70).  There was no justification for this method except that it would cause more students to pass the course.  There were students in my class that had not passed a test all semester, but had a barely passing grade (above a 69) going into the final exam.  In my view, if they performed poorly on the final exam that revealed a serious lack of understanding of the subject and I believed they did not deserve credit for the class.  But as a consequence of this manipulative grading scheme, students who had a 71 average could make a 36 on the final exam and still pass the class (the final exam was already weighted so low as to not have a major impact on their overall grade, another way grades are manipulated to produce higher scores).  Giving students credit for a course in which they did not truly learn so troubled my conscience that I refused to change the grades.  Angry school administrators responded by demanding that the department chair secretly change my grades so that more students would pass.

In case you are wondering if my story is merely an isolated incident of manipulating grades to produce higher marks, there was a grade inflation report released in 2008 under then governor Sonny Purdue that showed enormous disparities between the passing rate of high school courses and the passing rate of corresponding standardized end-of-course tests, which are designed to measure student achievement of curriculum standards:  in most Georgia counties, students were passing the courses at a much higher rate than these exams.  This happens because teachers are often pressured by parents and administrators not to give failing grades to students even if they do not achieve.  Even C’s are discouraged in many educational circles.

This practice of manipulating classroom grades to inflate students report cards is in many ways morally equivalent to what these Atlanta school teachers are guilty of.  The motive is similar:  higher grades make the teacher and the school look good.  The consequences on the families involved are the same:  both students and parents are deceived into thinking that the children are learning more than they actually are.  And both practices waste taxpayer money.  The United States spends more taxpayer money per child than any country in the world yet our educational outcomes have been in decline for decades.

The kind of moral outcry against APS for blatant cheating on standardized tests should be echoed throughout the state (and nation) in response to policies that reward children with grades that deceive them, their parents, and society about what children are really learning.  Sadly, saying that one’s child is an all A/B student means little in this educational climate beyond that they showed up to class, were not disruptive, and did most of their homework.  Our children will typically accomplish as little as our educational system rewards them for.  Is this all we expect from our kids?

The Magic Eye: Knowing about Knowing

My blogging has slowed down this month because I just started teaching a new class, which has been very time-intensive.  The class is called “Theory of Knowledge”; it is the centerpiece of the curriculum for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (for high school).  It is an extraordinary course that aims to teach students to reflect critically on how we come to know and to think about thinking itself.  I absolutely love teaching this course and I feel very privileged to have a job where I get to engage bright teenagers in deep discussions about how we know what is true.  Since the questions raised in this course have been occupying my mind of late, I thought it would be worthwhile to share about a recent lesson I prepared.

You might remember the Magic Eye pictures that were enormously popular in the 90s.  Walking through a shopping mall you notice a small crowd of people gathered around a strange picture oohing and awwing, exclaiming “Oh, wow – I see it!”  The picture appears to be a chaotic mixture of various colors so you wonder what the big deal is.  You inquire and someone tells you that there is a hidden image of dolphins swimming in a coral reef, and proceeds to instruct you on how to open up this mystery.  Compelled by the promise of an extraordinary perceptual experience, you dutifully follow the instructions, feel frustrated momentarily that you can’t see what everyone else claims to be seeing, but resolve to persevere until you too are exclaiming “Oh, I see it now!”

Philosophy professor and author Esther Meek, in her wonderful book Longing to Know, uses the Magic Eye experience to develop a model for the knowing process that applies broadly to all acts of knowing.  She explains that there are three key factors to the knowing process:

1.  The focus – A meaningful, coherent pattern that is the goal or object of our knowing.  The hidden image is the focus of the Magic Eye puzzle.

2. Subsidiaries – These are ‘clues’ that we rely on to uncover the focus.  She calls them ‘subsidiaries’ because they themselves are not the goal of knowing but serve the focus.  She describes three kinds of clues:

  – Surface details:  These are bits of information or data that we immediately encounter when seeking knowledge and typically come to our minds through the senses:  colors, sounds, smells, words, and so on.  These include the colors, shapes, and arrangement of the picture; the details we initially see.

– Body clues:  These are the way our body feels when we are engaged in acts of knowing.  These are bodily experiences that help us discern whether we are doing something correctly or not. These include how the eyes and head feels when the image is coming into focus.

– Directions:  An authoritative guide that directs us to the focus.  We have to trust in the directions in order to follow them and achieve the focus.  Someone has to teach us how to see the human image.

We have to integrate the clues into the focus and in doing so the clues are transformed in light of the focus.

3.  Active and skilled human effort – Obviously attaining knowledge requires work on our part:  we do not passively receive it, but must actively work at it.  Doing so requires a degree of skill, and involves patience and persistence.

My student and I have found this simple model quite useful in understanding the normal processes of coming to know.  I had them choose a skill that they have mastered and apply this model to acquiring this “how to” knowledge.  Try it yourself!  How do you see each of these features involved in your coming to master this skill?

One implication of this understanding of knowing is that knowledge is more than having information or knowing where to find it.  Information is mere surface details, lacking a meaningful pattern by itself.  It is only when we can integrate information into a coherent pattern that we have knowledge.  For instance, I learned to play the guitar mostly through the use of tablature – which is a system of recording guitar music using numbers to correspond to fingering positions.  I eschewed the more difficult path of learning music theory and applying it to the guitar.  Tablature merely gives information about where my fingers should go; it does not convey patterns of musical arrangement that true musicians rely on to compose.  Consequently, I am limited in my guitar playing to just copying what other guitarists do and have little ability to compose for myself because I only learned the clues instead of using clues to see patterns.

Another implication is that we should be concerned for our children when they are merely memorizing and regurgitating information in school.  If they are just absorbing surface details and not learning to recognize meaningful patterns, then they are not really acquiring knowledge in school.

Cheating in Atlanta Schools: Extending Our Moral Outrage over Grading Deception – part 3

In my previous post, I claimed that common ‘postmodern ‘ beliefs such as “perception is reality” and “reality is what we make it” render the concept of integrity absurd.  Integrity, or consistency of moral character, assumes the reality an essential, continuous self defined by qualities that exist and have meaning apart from one’s public image.  Publicly a person might have a righteous image, though his true self is guilty and unrighteous.  Conversely, a person might be condemned in the public eye, though his true self is innocent and righteous.

One of the leading postmodern thinkers of the 20th century, French philosopher Michal Foucault, blatantly rejected this traditional view of the self.   He maintains that the idea of an “essential human nature” is a myth of Western culture and that therefore the quest for understanding one’s essential self is futile:

To all those who still wish to think about man, about his reign or his liberation, to all those who still ask themselves questions about what man is in his essence, to all those who wish to take him as their starting-point in their attempts to reach the truth . . . to all these warped and twisted forms of reflection, we can answer only with a philosophical laugh – which means, to a certain extent, a silent one.
– Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences

In place of an essential self, or human nature, Foucault posits that each self is “socially and historically constituted“; in other words, who we are is completely determined by where and when we live in time and space.  Thus, who we are is defined by how society at this moment in time perceives us, or perhaps rather how we perceive others perceptions of us.

Now what I am not saying here is that educators who cheat by changing answers on standardized tests or by manipulating grades in some other manner are reading Foucault and using his ideas to justify their actions.  Rather, such abstract ideas about the human self have seeped into our culture (through the media, schools, and so on) and have profound influence on our moral decisions.  If I have no true self apart my public image, and if there is no true degree of student learning actually taking place apart from what the public believes is happening at a school, then public praise and reputation is the only reality that matters and people will act to attain a position of approval and privilege within that reality

While Scripture acknowledges that social and historical factors influence people and that real differences exist between cultures, there are nonetheless qualities that all human beings have in common that constitute an essential, universal human nature.  Summarized, these are:

1.  Every human being is made in the image of God having traits in common with the Creator of the universe – traits such as sense of justice and ethics, an imagination to create, and a mind with which to reason to truth (Genesis 1:26-28).

2.  Every human being has a core, essential self called a “heart” (Proverbs 4:23, 16:1; Matthew 15).

3.  Every human being is born into a state of alienation from God because of the inescapable presence of indwelling sin.  Though the truth about God is plain to each one of us, we deny this truth and would rather give our loyalty and devotion to things of our own making than to the One who made us (Romans 1:18-20).

4.  Individual persons are known by God intimately and their lives are fashioned according to a divine plan (Psalm 139).

5.  The life of every human being will be judged by God, who alone has intimate, perfect knowledge of each person’s life, even the deepest secrets of his heart:

They [the Gentiles – those without knowledge of the Bible] show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Romans 2:15-16).

Without denying the reality of differences between individuals and between human cultures, the Bible clearly affirms certain universal truths for all people, regardless of time and space.  Simply put, the true self of each human being is defined not by social or historical conditions, not by public image, but of the internal state or condition of one’s heart before God, which is a private matter known by God.

Applied to education, the truth about what a student has learned resides in that student’s heart.  It is a truth known perfectly only to God, but partially and incompletely by the student and even more so by his teacher.  And this truth exists independently of what the public perceives. As the authority in the classroom, and as one that has access to the most evidence of what the student has really learned, it is the obligation of the teacher to report this truth to the student, the family, and the larger society as accurately as possible so that the public perception of what the student has learned is consistent with what is privately true in the student’s heart.  Integrity is compromised when that reporting is manipulated to create a public image that distorts this hidden truth.

I will close with some simple, practical advice for how you, if you are a parent, can help ensure integrity in grading practice at your child’s school.

1. Curriculum is defined and structured according to standards that convey the aims or objectives for a particular course or even grade level (in elementary school).  These are usually accessible on-line.  Find a copy and familiarize yourself with what the school intends for your child to learn.

2. Keep track throughout the year of what standards are presently being focused on in class at a given time so that you can talk specifically with your child about what he is learning and look for evidence that such learning is taking place.

3. Find out how much of your child’s grade is based on assessments (i.e. tests) that provide real evidence of achievement and how much is based on effort, turning in homework, etc.

4. When graded assessments are returned to the child, ask the teacher to explain in-depth what the grades mean vis-a-vis the curriculum standards.  You see a B on the test:  so what standards did your child achieve (and to what extent) and what standards did he seem to miss.  A number grade should translate in your mind into a verbal understanding of what your child has learned.

I am convinced that parents are in the best position to hold teachers morally accountable for grading with integrity.  Though all of us would like to think that our children are successful in school according to the grades that they receive, and thus may be too easily pleased by and ready to accept A’s and B’s, it is for their, and integrity’s, sakes that we and they know the truth about how much they are really learning

Cheating in Atlanta Schools: Extending Our Moral Outrage over Grading Deception – part 2

Superintendent Hall basking in public praise

In my previous post on the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal, I argued that the common ways teachers manipulate students’ grades to portray a false sense of learning achievement is morally similar to teachers changing wrong answers on standardized tests, and therefore should also provoke moral outrage from the public.  Here I will develop that argument further by explaining more how these more common practices violate the same moral principles that bear on the cheating scandal.

Governor Deal’s investigative report on the matter criticizes Atlanta Public Schools for “emphasizing test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics.”  In other words, educational leaders and teachers were more concerned about the appearance of student learning than actual student learning, and the ends of higher test scores justified the means of changing wrong answers in the minds of the violators.

I have seen this ethos at work in both public and private school settings.  While teaching at a private school I received a steady stream of complaints from parents that their children were making C’s instead of B’s, or B’s instead of A’s.  These complaints translated into trouble with the administration who criticized me for not having enough A’s and B’s.  Ironically, I left public education to teach at a private school seeking more freedom to implement academic rigor and to seek grading integrity.  Sadly, there was less freedom because the grades were even more scrutinized.  I was given a number of specific directives (like assigning an easy extra credit project that would add 10 points to the overall grade) designed to transform F’s to C’s and C’s to B’s.  The motivation for these directives was that my classroom grades created a bad image for the school – an image that students were not succeeding in science – that needed to be corrected.  Upping the grades would portray an image of success.

My response was to admit that it was true that a significant number of students were not learning that much, though those that were making A’s and B’s were achieving a lot.  I argued, with evidence to support, that low achievement in science was by not means unique to my classroom, but was a national problem especially severe in Georgia. What made me different was that I was not afraid to disclose this low level of achievement in my course grades, believing that was the only way the problem of low achievement could be corrected.  To improve the problem it had to be acknowledged openly, not covered up by grade manipulation.

Yet the cost of attempting to bring to light a real problem was gaining a negative image, among some, of being an ineffective educator.  My local leadership wanted me to change this image by changing grades (which would also enhance the image of the school) even though grade integrity would be compromised.  In Gov. Deal’s words, what was happening was a concern for “public praise [image] at the exclusion of integrity and ethics.”

The preoccupation with image (the perception of being good) versus character (actually being good) is by no means just a contemporary malady.  Yet I believe this mindset is particularly strong in an age where philosophically many have come to believe that “perception is reality”  and its corollary that “reality is what we make it.”  The postmodern worldview maintains that there is no reality independent of our perceptions.  Therefore, we cannot make objective truth claims; rather, all truth is socially constructed.  That means that it is up to human communities to determine what is accepted as true in that community:  knowing truth apart from these constructions is impossible.   Consequently, image is all we can ‘know.’

In a postmodern worldview the distinction then between image and integrity is meaningless, for the concept of integrity is based on the possibility of a real essence – a reality of being, a state of existence, that exists apart from how people perceive us.  Denying the existence of such a reality, or believing that it is there but impossible to know, negates the very notion of integrity and renders the pursuit of it impossible.  In the end this kind of metaphysics (beliefs about the nature of reality) justifies the kind unethical behaviors that put public praise before integrity and leads to grading practices that conveys an image of success without concern for real success in learning.

So far I have only diagnosed critically without offering any solutions.  I’ll follow this post soon with thoughts about the biblical basis for integrity and helpful ideas for parents and educators about how to pursue greater integrity in education.