EMBED PRINCIPLES: The path to moderation is found through knowledge used and informed with wisdom
ONE of the more interesting issues that concerns reflective thinkers on matters of social justice, social cohesion and temperance in our social, political and moral lives is the extent to which a moderate and reasonable society is predicated on widespread education.
Many of us will agree that education plays a critical if not central role in inculcating the necessary preconditions for a society that is balanced, inclusive and resistant to the lure of extremism, bigotry and fanaticism.
However, given this, we still face a crucial problem in defining what it is about education that can help us to develop a social and political world that is resistant to immoderate and intemperate zealotry and extremism.
The argument I want to make here is that education, however, must not simply be understood only in terms of increasing a student's knowledge and analytical and critical skills.
Education must also be concerned with developing the wisdom of students.
In making this argument I shall refer to the work of well-known psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, whose work on creativity, intelligence theory and wisdom (to mention a few of his interests) represents an important and significant corpus of academic scholarship in regard to psychology and educational thought.
Sternberg argues that making good decisions relies on more than the possession of knowledge or analytical skills.
Good decisions also rely on an arguably less tangible dimension to decision-making, namely wisdom.
Sternberg writes: "There are several reasons that it is important to develop wisdom in the setting of the school.
"First, a goal of schooling should be not only to impart knowledge but also to help students develop wise use of such knowledge. Knowledge can be used to better or worse ends, and schools should help students use their knowledge for good rather than ill.
Education is the best long-run answer we have to embedding the norms, practices and dispositions of wise thought and action.
"Second, the teaching of wise thinking has always been implicit in school curricula in any case. For example, one learns history in part so as to learn the lessons of the past and not repeat its mistakes.
"One learns literature in part so as to learn how to apply to one's life the lessons literary characters have learned. So it seems a reasonable proposal to make explicit what has previously been implicit.
"Third, if adults do not make wise decisions, schools perhaps deserve a share of the blame if they have never conscientiously prepared these adults to make such decisions (What Is Wisdom and How Can We Develop It?, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 591, Development: Realizing the Potential of Youth)."
A society that is consciously seeking to ground itself on principles of moderation needs an educational system and curriculum that deliberately seek to inculcate wisdom into students.
Lack of moderation in our actions in part comes from ignorance and deficiencies in analytical and critical thinking.
Ultimately, however, you can have knowledge and analytical skills yet if you are lacking in wisdom informed by properly grounded values, the goals and practices to which this scholarship can be put can lack balance or sometimes, even worse, be used in the service of evil.
Sternberg discusses this clearly when he teases out the reasons that "wisdom-related skills" ought to be explicitly included in the school curriculum.
Sternberg, Linda Jarvin and Alina Reznitskaya write: "First, knowledge is insufficient for wisdom and certainly does not guarantee satisfaction or happiness. Wisdom seems a better vehicle to the attainment of these goals.
"Second, wisdom provides a mindful and considered way to enter thoughtful and deliberative values into important judgments. One cannot be wise and at the same time impulsive or mindless in one's judgments.
"Third, wisdom represents an avenue to creating a better, more harmonious world.
"Dictators such as Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin may have been knowledgeable and may even have been good critical thinkers, at least with regard to the maintenance of their own power.
"Given the definition of wisdom, however, it would be hard to argue they were wise.
"Fourth and finally, students -- who later will become parents and leaders -- are always part of a greater community and hence will benefit from learning to judge rightly, soundly, or justly on behalf of their community. (Teaching for Wisdom Through History: Infusing Wise Thinking Skills in the School Curriculum in Teaching For Wisdom: Cross-cultural Perspectives on Fostering Wisdom, edited by Michael Ferrari and Georges Potworowski)."
Wisdom is the central dimension to good decisions. Lack of wisdom will derail the best-laid plans and good intentions of those who seek balance.
Where we see a lack of moderation, we may be witnessing the acts of individuals or groups who lack an ability to think critically but, above all else, they may be short of that more difficult to define characteristic: wisdom.
The path to moderation is found through knowledge used and informed with wisdom which is itself mediated by one's values.
However, the holding of particular values does not in itself mean that one's actions will be necessarily be sensible or prudent. The extent to which one's values are practised and informed by wisdom is key.
Any serious discussion about moderation in society must ultimately involve a committed engagement with the issue of education, knowledge and the importance of wisdom.
Indeed, one of the most frustrating things for political leadership in any country that is consciously seeking to advance the values and practices of moderation in their society can be the undermining of this agenda by stupidity and lack of basic wisdom on the part of some who should know better.
Education may not provide an immediate or quick fix solution to the problems of immoderation, stupidity and lack of wisdom that can derail the best and aims of public policy makers.
However, education is the best long-run answer we have to embedding the norms, practices and dispositions of wise thought and action that can, over time, inform and help cultivate a society based on principles of moderation.
Sternberg's work on this topic provides an essential link between the broad aims of public policy in advancing the principles of moderation in society and the role that curriculum and learning in our schools can play in advancing this. Addressing the role of wisdom in our teaching and curriculum may provide a way to embed the habits, dispositions and principles of temperance that are the keys to moderation.