The Washington Times has been running a series of excerpts this week from Charles Murray's new book, Real Education. Today's excerpt is on educating gifted children. I thought yesterday's was the most interesting of the group. Wednesday Murray argued that the country is essentially "run" by a couple of thousand "elite" politicians, business people, and thinkers.
Thursday he tackled the question of the limitations of how this elite are educated today in "Virtue? The Good?":
The topic yesterday was the elite that runs the country, drawn overwhelmingly from among the top 10 percent in intellectual ability, dubbed "the gifted." Today's topic is their education in virtue and the Good.
As someone who has spent a fair amount of time on campuses over the past 20 years, I am happy to report that today's gifted students are, for the most part, nice. They are not racist, sexist or homophobic. They want to be generous to those who are less fortunate. They say please and thank you.
But being nice is not being good. Living a nice life is not living a good life. One of the special tasks in the education of the gifted is to steep them in the study of what good means - good as it applies to virtue, and the as a way of thinking about how to live a human life.
Virtue by what definition? It sounds like a daunting question. It is not. The great ethical and religious systems of the world are in such remarkable agreement on the core issues that, practically speaking, any of them will do. Take the world's two most influential secular ethical systems, Aristotelian and Confucian, as examples. If your children grow up to be courageous, temperate, able to think clearly about the consequences of their actions, to be concerned with the welfare of others, with a sense of obligation to set a good example for others in their own behavior and to accord to others their rightful due - all of which are central tenets of both ethical systems - do you really care whether they were raised to be good Aristotelians or good Confucians?
The problem is when they are raised in no tradition at all, and instead imbibe the reigning ethical doctrine of contemporary academia, nonjudgmentalism. If they were taught merely to be tolerant, fine. But nonjudgmentalism goes much further, proclaiming that it is a sin to make judgments about the relative merit of different ways of living. Nonjudgmentalism is the inverse of rigor in thinking about virtue - a task that, above all else, requires the formation of considered judgments.
I encourage you to read the whole thing. Based on these excerpts the book looks fascinating.