Friday, September 21, 2012

Rom 1 reply, 13: A first level critique of William G Perry's model of intellectual (and ethical) development in College

William G Perry was a Harvard professor doing research on educational psychology from the 1950's on, and from the publication of a major paper in 1970 on, was the promoter of a theory of intellectual progress from naive authority-dependent black/white thinking dualism to relativism and commitment to a view within relativism. 

This "seminal" view -- modifications and extensions notwithstanding -- seems to dominate a good swath of the world of ideas on the proper educational aims of College curricula.

Wikipedia gives us a summary on that:
Perry (1970) proposed that college students pass through a predictable sequence of positions of epistemological growth. Fundamental to the Perry scheme is a student’s nine-position progression from dualist to relativist epistemologies. Learners move from viewing truth in absolute terms of Right and Wrong (obtained from “Good” or “Bad” Authorities) to recognizing multiple, conflicting versions of “truth” representing legitimate alternatives. Significantly, the intent of the original research was “a purely descriptive formulation of students’ experience,” rather than a “prescriptive program intended to ‘get’ students to develop” (Perry, 1981, p. 107). The Perry scheme of epistemic development becomes prescriptive when teaching and curriculum are “optimally designed to invite, encourage, challenge, and support students in such development” (Perry, 1981, p. 107) . . . Perry’s scheme speaks to epistemic issues underlying critical thinking: students’ assumptions concerning the nature and acquisition of knowledge (or truth).
Since his work, further research on epistemological beliefs and reasoning has refined, extended and adapted Perry’s developmental sequence.[5][6][7][8] Perry's Epistemology has also been extended by Baxter Magolda and co-workers who were looking at students intellectual development and in particular the exposure to the research environment.[9] Knefelkamp and Slepitza (1978) saw the Perry Scheme as a general process model providing a descriptive framework for viewing the development of an individual’s reasoning about many aspects of the world. They applied the scheme (with apparent success) to the development of an individual’s thinking about career planning. The assumption “that personal epistemology is unidimensional and develops in a fixed progression of stages” has been challenged (Schommer, 1990, p. 498). Nevertheless, Perry’s seminal work continues to function as the primary reference point for the discussion on epistemological growth in the adult learner.
 Now, the pivotal problem with this model is how radical relativism has been embedded in the idea of intellectual and ethical development, and how -- even a generation later -- this seemingly dominates thought on intellectual development in College and beyond.  This goes a long way to explain some of the key trends in our civilisation, trends led and promoted by those who have been educated in colleges in recent decades.

That also makes it highly relevant to the complaint that College too often serves as a context for manipulation and indoctrination of ill-prepared students, under the impact of profs, pals, peers and the general milieu of fashionable views on the campus.

A basic critical response is therefore indicated, in light of some basic canons of logic and what they do to the idea that knowledge is relative based on pivotal counter-examples to that ever so beguiling notion.  

In addition, radical relativism in ethics is deeply questionable, as can be briefly examined here. Greg Koukl soberlingly points out where radical relativism can end, here. Let's use the German, for shock effect: “Lebensunwertes Leben.” Life, unworthy of life. 

Thence the cascade Schaeffer and Koop pointed out in Whatever Happened to the Human Race: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia -- at first "voluntary" then patently involuntary, genocide, the death camp.

Let's pause and watch the video:


I therefore wish to snip from the draft NCSTS course as follows, for general circulation:

>> Let's pause for a moment, for a pointed question or two: 
I: why are we placing our spiritually and theologically under-prepared young people into the hands of violently hostile, clever skeptics who too often are ever so willing to indoctrinate them in the precepts of unbelief, in the name of education, science, liberation from the dark ages of "fundamentalism" and career preparation?

II: what can -- and, should -- we do about it, how?
One answer is that if we are serious about the Faith, we must make the sacrifice to create a sound education alternative, understanding that the intellectual climate of our civilisation is increasingly anti-Christian. 

If you doubt this and dispute that this undermining of the credibility of Scripture-anchored confidence in Him who is "the way, the truth and the life" has been going on for generations, consider the following diagram of the model of "Intellectual Development" in College pioneered by William G Perry c. 1970, based on research at Harvard from the 1950's on: 

A summary of the Perry model of college-age intellectual (and ethical) development.  (Source: Wankat & Oreovicz, Teaching Engineering, Fig 14-1, p. 270. Fair use.)

This view (with a few modifications for differences in the way women make similar progress and the like) seems to have captured the commanding heights of thought in educational circles -- cf summaries here and here, as well as a slide show here -- on how College students should and do "grow" intellectually and ethically.

Perry and many others view dependence on authorities and associated black/white dualistic thought that accepts absolute (or, objective) truth as dangerously immature and as needing to be corrected across the college years, especially through the teaching of professors, through peer influences of fellow students and through the resulting general climate of the college.

As one progresses (some are dismissed as seeking to escape the progressive process), one first loses confidence in authorities as having answers and  -- under the impact of multiple views and areas where no-one seems to have answers -- becomes relativistic, reducing truth to in effect the core beliefs or claims or views of diverse groups. Then eventually those who mature enough hold a committed view in the face of the reality of relativism.

However, it should be obvious that the view (ironically) is actually a new politically correct absolute view, one that seeks to relativise the concept that objective truth is real. To do that, it implies that
"truth [is] relative" -- note the implied commitment that this claim correctly describes how the world actually is. It is not just a mere report per opinion surveys that show that some people happen to think this is how the world is. (Of course, such a view is often presented or subtly disguised under the bland declaration that "[properly maturing] students come to see truth as relative." Or, the like.)

Sure, because they have been taught systematically and intimidated to doubt traditional authorities, including especially God (who, presumably would have perfect knowledge and who would call us to grow towards the perfect good expressed in love for God and for neighbour).  And, if students' worldviews and value systems brought from home, church and community have not been well founded prior to reaching college, they may then easily undergo the sort of belief and value system collapse summarised by the late Gene Denham of SCFSU in Jamaica back in the 1980's in student leadership training materials:

We are raised with a set of values and beliefs, primarily those of parents, siblings, church, school, and community.  For values to become internalised, they must be reflected on, and made the objects of our best efforts and judgement in decision making  . . . 

Many students (Christians, too!) have never worked at the former.  If we conceptualise the College experience as a situation in which one is confronted daily by radically differing value systems, be they religious, political, economic, racial, philosophical, and whether they be presented by peers, profs, or pals, we will see why there may be so many Christian victims in this area -- especially in the first year.  The total collapse of the value system can follow and is a catastrophe of major proportions  . . .

The alternative to this is for friends to recognise the symptoms and offer support through this period.  Or, students may find another set of values (often ready-made) and swallow it whole -- at least for now. [Denham, Gene.  Developmental Tasks of the College Student.   Paper presented to the 1983 National Conference of the University and Colleges Christian Fellowship, Jamaica.]

An alternative, sounder path of progress is to first firmly fix that truth is real and knowable, as -- echoing Aristotle in Metaphysics 1011b -- that which says of what is, that it is; and of what is not, that it is not. 

For instance, take the claim championed by American philosopher, Josiah Royce as a pivotal first truth:
error exists.

From our painful memories of the elementary school Maths classroom, and especially of corrected work returned full of red X's, we would say, that is obvious. But, it is more than just factually so,
it is undeniably true.

To see that, symbolise
Error exists as statement E. Then, symbolise its denial as NOT-E.  Now, consider the two together:

Can both be true? No, as one is the direct denial of the other. Similarly, they can both potentially refer to the real world, and so, one or the other must be false. As well, to join them together and assert that both are true, will be false. So, we see that some one of these three statements MUST be false -- must be an error, and that we can thus see that error must exist. So we can draw up some premises [a, b, c] and infer some implied conclusions [d, e, f, g, h, and i]  that are soundly established on following logically from known true premises:
a: Statement E is true, and MUST be true.

b: It is undeniably true.

c: It can be shown and known to be undeniably true.


d: Truth exists as that which conforms accurately to reality

e: We can in some cases warrant our belief in such truths as E

f: Thus knowledge exists as warranted, credibly true beliefs.

g: In some cases, that warrant is to the point of being undeniable.

(NB: In others, it can be to moral certainty, where it is foolishly irresponsible to think or act as though such a truth were dubious or false. In others, warrant is provisional, on balance of evidence, as in a lot of science and practical affairs.)
h: However, that E is true means that we can be in error about what is true.
(NB: So, we must be humble and open to correction, that we may grow in responsible and confident knowledge of the truth.)
i: As a result, views that dismiss truth and knowledge as merely relative to opinions or views, are themselves in error.
In short, the whole concept that represents becoming a relativist thinker on truth represents intellectual development, is deeply questionable.  But, this view is, beyond dispute, deeply embedded in contemporary culture all over the world to the point of being a largely unquestioned axiom among those who view themselves as intelligent, informed and educated.

In that context, such are conditioned to dispute claimed authority that does not have their seal of approval:
sez who? However, this often encountered rhetorical challenge/ dismissive talking point fails to appreciate that in actuality 99+% of real world arguments rest on explicit or implicit appeals to experts and other authorities ranging from the dictionary and Wikipedia back to newspapers and other mass media, professors and teachers, "Science sez," and many other similar appeals.

So, a wiser view is that
no authority is better than his or her facts, reasoning and underlying assumptions.

This means that we need to audit the quality of the authorities we are inclined to use in general, and to check the basis of their claims on particular cases that may be under examination or dispute. What we must not fall into the trap of, is to allow an authentic and reliable authority to be discredited and dismissed unfairly, and then blindly switch to a more politically correct or fashionable one in response to pressure on campus or media campaigns or talking points spread in the community.

Where also, the case of "error exists" vs relativism above should show how such pressure to go along and be squeezed into a new shape by undue pressure can all too easily happen.

Beyond this, we must also learn to think in terms of comparison of
worldviews, and to understand that the very fact that error exists is itself a point of knowable objective truth that then undergirds the possibility of knowable and livable truth despite our finiteness, fallibility, sinful fallen-ness, and too frequent ill-will.

So, we should instead learn how to grow towards reformation and renewal rather than abandoning the insight that truth and right are real, they can be knowable and it counts.

Similarly, we should recognise that some things -- such as: the consequences of the truth that
error exists -- can be sufficiently warranted that we would be irresponsible to then act as though they were false, i.e. they are warranted to moral certainty and can and should serve as a guide to sound decision-making. (Cf Unit 2 in this course, here and here, with key backdrop here and onward remarks here on in Unit 9 on indoctrination in hostility to God.) . . . >>

In short,the Perry model is seriously flawed and needs to be corrected in light of the errors of radical relativism. (The associated issues of manipulation, undermining and indoctrination on the campus also serve to ground the call for the creation of an independent AACCS, as is discussed here.) END