Ethics? Next Slide, Please

Sometimes you learn more than you want to in an interview. Such was the case last week as a number of us participated in an interview of a candidate for one of our IB teaching positions. The candidate, who works at a school known for its excellent IB results, started telling us how the program is conducted at that school.

Imagine our surprise, turning to shock, as the candidate detailed practices clearly at odds with the aims of the IB program: concurrency of learning over a period of two years, and the centrality of the “Core,” particularly Theory of Knowledge. We heard that the school’s students studied some of their set texts two or three times starting in Grade 7 in preparation for some of their assessments. Imagine the students’ being told told, “Time to study Things Fall Apart again!”  They would end up loving Achebe as much as a friend of mine loved Yeats after having to write a 35-page paper on “The Circus Animals’ Desertion.” Loathing from A to Y!

And ToK: so much time spent preparing an essay on a topic connected with one of each student’s Higher-Level subjects that the students had insufficient time left for the rest of the ToK program. Our applicant said, “We give them Ethics in a PowerPoint presentation” because the students don’t need Ethics to score well on the assessments.

Evidently neither does the school, but it sounds as if they need more than a PowerPoint presentation to remedy that defect. One of my colleagues, a thoroughgoing professional and normally unflappable, asked our applicant, “Don’t you see any ethical problems with the way the program is conducted?” The applicant didn’t understand what the problems could be.

That is because the applicant and the school had accepted the corrupt idea that getting students to pass tests is what a school is for. George Orwell called that kind of conceptual corruption a “preparation for a confidence trick,” and Donald Campbell warned that it could lead to more than conceptual corruption, as news headlines about cheating on tests prove. Edward Tufte, the author of the famous Visual Display of Quantitative Information, warns that the “Cognitive Style of PowerPoint” is not suited to the transmission of subtle material. Evidently not.

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