The Puritan Ethic in Education

Not long ago on a listserv, someone questioned what I meant by the Puritan Ethic. This was in connection with teacher attitudes toward poverty. Recently, school started and teachers were talking and again, the Puritan Ethic raised its ugly head. How?
The teacher who drags in with no ability to engage with his students because he stayed up until one or two grading papers is lauded for his dedication. The teacher who wasted precious times setting up a digital world is seen as on the cutting edge just b/c his grades now go in with all sorts of statistical machinations attached. Power point presentations turn eager students into passive absorbers of “information”, but how can you criticize someone who turned out such a great product?
The teacher who does everything he is told by the administration, fulfills all mandates, follows assiduously all pronouncements from on high, is rewarded with accolades. The teacher who labors at his job, teaching, is seen as a bit quaint, even perverse, and certainly undeserving of praise. This teacher may take naps, may get 8 hours sleep, may play a sport, may exercise, may focus on good food and good eating, and may perhaps forego some of the great short-cuts and facilitative technology to spend time thinking, reflecting. It’s interesting how we post placards around school with the word “Reflect” on them but seldom reflect ourselves. Conversations with teachers tend to be truncated, interrupted by a bell…… perhaps, but more likely by the sight of a colleague or colleague’s interruption to discuss something best described as non-reflexive.
How is this the Puritan Ethic? First, let’s posit a connection between the Puritan Ethic and the Protestant Ethic. Theologians may see a difference but I recall only a few details from my history books that seem unimportant to this discussion. It is the Puritan Ethic in operation on account of several traits I see:
#1 a detestation of leisure, of down-time, of relaxation, of rest.
#2 a concomitant raising of endless work, sleeplessness, and massive, paralyzing fatigue to the level of martyrdom.
#3 a faith that all this work accomplishes something with no questioning of the results (lack of reflection)
#4 an intolerance of deviant thinking, of anyone who is not compliant, who is not “on board”.
#5 a suspicion of anything not bearing the seal of authority.
#6 a worship of sacred texts, in this case the received manuals of instructional goals and methods.
#7 an unwillingness to collaborate, especially with those who differ even in detail with the received goals and methods.
#8 #7 being a corollary of the enshrinement of individualism as the basis of society, with collective efforts brushed with the taint of Communism
Those are a few things I see as reflecting the Puritan Ethic in educational practice as I have experienced it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *