The DeHavilland Blog

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Good intentions

I'm reading a great book called The Logic of Failure, as recommended (some time ago) by Catherine Johnson of Kitchen Table Math. This excerpt struck me as being particularly appropriate to education:

Thought is also always rooted in values and motivations. We ordinarily think not for the sake of thinking but to achieve certain goals based on our system of values. Here possibilities for confusion arise: the conflict between treasured values and measures that are regarded as necessary can produce some curious contortions of thought - "Bombs for peace!" The original value is twisted into its opposite. Motivations provide equally ambiguous guidelines. There are those who would say that what counts are the intentions behind our thinking, that thought plays only a serving role, helping us achieve our goals but failing to go to the root of the evils in our world. In our political environment, it would seem, we are surrounded on all sides with good intentions. But the nurturing of good intentions is an utterly undemanding mental exercise, while drafting plans to realize those worthy goals is another matter. Moreover, it is far from clear whether "good intentions plus stupidity" or "evil intentions plus intelligence" have wrought more harm in the world. People with good intentions usually have few qualms about pursuing their goals. As a result, incompetence that would otherwise have remained harmless often becomes dangerous, especially as incompetent people with good intentions rarely suffer the qualms of conscience that sometimes inhibit the doings of competent people with bad intentions. The conviction that our intentions are unquestionably good may sanctify the most questionable means.

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