The importance of being unprincipled
This was written by Larry Ferlazzo , who teaches English at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento He writes a popular resource sharing blog at http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/, on which a version of this post first appeared. His third book, “Student Responsibility and Engagement in Your Classroom: A Practical Guide to Classroom Management and Instruction,” will be published in 2011. He is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network.
By Larry Ferlazzo
Community organizers and leaders in the Industrial Areas Foundation (where I spent most of my 19-year organizing career) are given a 1933 article by John H. Randall, Jr. It’s titled "On The Importance Of Being Unprincipled."
Granted, it’s a bit of a strange title. Its premise is that we need to be very careful what beliefs we turn into principles, because once they become a principle, we can’t really compromise on it. And that many people turn far too many ideas into principles that they are unwilling to reconsider. Subsequently, negotiation becomes out of the question, and unnecessary conflict often ensues. We can see it in our families, our schools, our country, and in our world.
The article is not saying there are no principles worth upholding. It’s just suggesting that we very, very carefully decide which ones they are.
I was reminded of this article in a piece titled Strong Opinions, Weakly Held by Bob Sutton. He writes:
...I was talking to the Institute’s [For The Future] Bob Johansen about wisdom, and he explained that – to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward – they advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” .... Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions. This is what psychologists sometimes call the problem of “confirmation bias.”
Perhaps we all could use a little of being "unprincipled" and of "weakly holding some strong opinions.”
It’s a hard thing to remember in the classroom when it can be tempting to get into "power struggles" with a student (even though a teacher can never ultimately “win” one of them). It’s also a hard thing to remember when debating "school reform" strategies.
I know that in both situations I am often unsuccessful in practicing this advice.
But I’m trying.
That is much more than I can say about the legion of “school reformers” who over the past months -- the “Waiting for Superman" movie ; the Los Angeles Times publishing of teacher’s “effectiveness” ratings; and the recent appalling “manifesto” written by a number of school superintendents in The Washington Post -- have reached a crescendo of teacher-bashing.
And if the word “unprincipled” makes you uncomfortable, there is always Mark Twain’s admonition:
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
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| October 31, 2010; 3:55 PM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo, Teachers | Tags: larry ferlazzo, teachers, waiting for superman
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