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Before reading Plato’s Meno dialogue, I never thought of asking myself whether virtue can be learned or taught. I find this to be one of the most extraordinary yet controversial conversations of all times. In this article Plato provided examples through the voice of character Socrates, concluding that virtue cannot be taught and is a talent given by the Gods. The problem I see in this question is that for virtue to be taught, it would require a teacher and a student, but how can a teacher teach virtue? Instead, I think virtue can just be learned through life experiences and this only requires the student, not a teacher, therefore I think that virtue can just be learned, not taught. A teacher cannot prepare a lesson called “Virtue 101” but students can pick up information from their surroundings, backgrounds, and life experiences and learn how to be virtuous.
According to Plato, virtue cannot be learned. He claimed that virtue is acquired from the Gods. To some extent, I guess this can be true. Some people are born with many virtuous capacities such as compassion, loyalty, generosity and more. This does not mean that it cannot be learned. People are not born knowing the meaning of these virtues; instead, they learn it through experiences. At birth, we do not know what’s right or wrong, but throughout our life journey we may experience dishonesty from a loved one, then we may feel guilt or shame due to the other person’s betrayal, and that’s when we learn this is not right. Loyalty is another example that virtue is learned rather than innate. Loyalty consists on dedication to a person or place. When we are born, we are dedicated to our mothers because we rely on our mothers for survival; however, this does not mean loyalty is innate. Babies develop loyalty because of the time spent with their mothers and because mothers provide nurturing.
In conclusion, I think virtue can be learned, evolved or innate but cannot be taught. We evolve when we find out whether what we or others have done benefits us. We have innate knowledge of what is good or bad when we confront a situation and we follow our hearts to make a decision. What if someone wants to be taught to be virtuous for the reason that he has not being able to experience virtue? I think maybe this person can be taught how to act, in order to develop skills or build experiences in order to be virtuous. In summary, virtue is knowledge of what is right or wrong and the capability to distinguish right from wrong ensuring the act leans towards what is right.
Virtue cannot be taught but we can encourage people to seek virtue. In order to encourage someone to seek virtue, they must be taught to act right, and to acknowledge separating those acts from negative acts. I think this is the only way that we can persuade someone to seek virtue. If Plato would have worded the question differently, it may have given him a different answer. Instead of asking whether virtue can be taught, he should have done it better by asking: Can virtue be learned?
After completing my bachelor’s degree in Information Systems, and having the opportunity to meet many professors in different areas of technology, I realized it was just one of them who made an impact in my career. For some reason, I felt a special connection with my Systems Analysis and Designs professor. As soon as he introduced himself to the class and told his story, I said to myself: “If he is able to do this, so can I!”
Although it was his first year teaching at a university, he was able to connect with the students and teach us he was equal to all of us, but had to work hard to accomplish his goals. He tended to offer one-on-one meetings to the class, in order to ensure we grasped the main concept of the lessons and final project. During weekends, he joined us in the lab to assist with group projects and always made himself available providing feedback and answering questions and concerns. In short, he established a one of a kind relationship with us, he helped the students in the class feel comfortable and capable to accomplish the course’s goals, which ultimately led to the class’s success. His subliminal goal for every class was to make students understand the point of the lesson or topic, rather than memorizing verbatim the information; to associate our experiences and share with the class. That’s why he took extra time to devote it to those that seek for the fundamentals to build understanding. Then it was up to us to dig deeper based on our own passion for a given topic.
For that reason, I believe good teaching starts with building a good relationship with our students. I think it is extremely important to know students at different levels not only academically but socially and personally. However, I don’t intend to say that the content knowledge of a teacher is not important, but as candidate teachers, if we don’t start by knowing the students and learn to establish rapport we will not get anywhere. As a student, I value a teacher who has the ability to speak to me about life outside of school. While trying to accomplish our master’s degree, most of us have a full-time job with many responsibilities, such as family and debts but are still trying to earn a degree in order to open doors to new opportunities and have better quality of life. Summarily, all it takes is to say: “How was your weekend?” to help students feel relaxed and engaged during class.
In my opinion, good teaching is a quality that a teacher possesses, therefore, my definition of good teaching does not apply to all teachers for the reason that not all teachers have the ability to establish a personal or social relationship with their students. Based on my experiences, some teachers focus more on textbooks, assessments and curriculum achievement rather than understanding how the student operates and how to create an impact using specific words and techniques in order to reach students. All teachers are capable to practice good teaching. We can attempt to know students better to find creative ways to customize the curriculum according to their needs. Making students feel comfortable, not afraid to ask questions, enforcing the classroom rules positively, using appropriate language, and individualizing instruction are just some of the things I believe can be defined as good teaching.
In addition, positive words are powerful when it comes to impacting student’s performance. Telling the student directly that they have the ability to do well, monitoring ourselves to ensure we are creating equitable discussions to allow all students participate, not only the high-achieving students, but also the students who have a pattern of not performing well will encourage their success. Overall, I think a good relationship with our students is a requirement for teaching and learning. It can have a dramatic impact on the student’s academic performance and can help teachers design better curriculum and achieve specific and desired results.
Regardless of locations, poor communities, and/or spoken languages, there should not be a reason for student’s academic failure, nor the ability to obtain a first-rate education. In my opinion, after reading David L Kirp’s article The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools I agree with his position about turning ‘bad’ schools into great schools. I strongly believe there is hope for traditional schools labeled as bad or broken. Although chatter schools are a great alternative for children who need to concentrate in a particular vocation or interest, they are not the only solution.
I suppose the author used Union City as an example in view of the fact that Union City’s current third graders all the way through high school student’s achievement scores have changed, and are now close to the statewide average when in past, Union City schools were so discreditable that state officials almost seized to control them. The author states that public schools in poor communities such as Union City often operated as factory for failure for the reason that three quarter of the students are Spanish speakers and one quarter undocumented.
In 2011, Union City achieved a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent, 10 percent higher than the national average, what is more, last year, 75 percent of Union City graduates enrolled in college, and top students won scholarships. Given those statistics, Union City proved that all children have the same right to an efficient free-public education that prepares the students to meet the state’s academic standards. Because Union City committed to prepare high school children to graduate, enroll in college, and have the capability to earn scholarships, the state demonstrated that there is hope for “bad” schools by setting and implementing strategic goals with their students.
Union City teacher Susana Rojas cited that her goal was to use the head and the heart, cognitive and non-cognitive, thinking and feeling, and do for the kids what she would do for her own children, because if both concepts are combined, not only the child will have the helping hand and the role model, but they will take home the knowledge and the skills needed to be successful. Teachers and parents are the most influential people during early childhood through adolescence as well as culture. Teachers have the power to change children’s development because without good teaching and mentoring, kids would not develop most skills and understanding. Every child’s learning pace is different; therefore teachers need to implement strategies and a variety of learning programs and techniques to assess children’s educational development according to their needs and based on demographics.
Alina Bossbaly, another Union City teacher states that building ethics, character, and getting students to think by solving math problems and writing journals is essential in her classroom. She teaches the kids about helping the community and being part of it. Union City’s schools success was not an easy job. Administrators formulated long-term goals, from pre-school to high-school, developed necessary and customized programs to help students according to their needs which evidently made a huge difference. Schools should not be categorized as “bad” schools, I think the school administration is responsible for being labeled as bad, and it is the school leader’s responsibility to make that change. Schools should do whatever is in their hands to provide communities the best possible education.
Because I believe teachers respond different to children’s linguistic and cultural background, because of cultural expectations in the school, it may also be difficult for the teacher to address the developmental needs of each child; therefore, teachers should be sensitive when it comes to students’ background, community or culture, I think that working with the parents in order to get informed about the child’s background can be a great idea. Union City schools developed early-childhood learning programs for children to learn to speak English and teachers urged to work together in order to make that change.
As I have shown, academic progress, student’s well-being, and success are the end product of effective schooling. Urban schools deserve the same education, help, and resources as the rest of the schools nationwide. Although in the past Union City schools were unable to afford these resources, they worked extremely hard to earn them. It was the result of all the efforts from professionals, administrators, teachers and parents in need of a great school system, and hoping to give their kids high-quality education.
Closing schools is not the solution; the secret to fixing bad schools relies on creativity, dedication, hard work, and engagement from students, school leaders, and parent’s support, all with a long-term goal and a clear vision of what we want for our children’s future. It is team work from everyone who cares about the community and children’s lives.
The NewYork Times Article: