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Barry Schwartz: The real crisis? We stopped being wise PDF Print E-mail

Barry Schwartz gives a thought-provoking, insightful, and inspiring speech at TED about the value of "practical wisdom."   He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.

The stories he shares are memorable, but his insight into the nature of incentives, empathy, and moral work are incredible.  You owe it to yourself to spend a few minutes watching this.  It has several direct benefits to our organizations and school systems.  We have gone wild with bureaucracy and have used rules to prevent disaster, but over-reliance on rules has unforseen consequences.

An excerpt:

Let me give you just a few examples first of “Rules and the War on Moral Skill”. The “Lemonade” story is one. Second, no doubt familiar to you, is the nature of modern American education—scripted, lock-stepped curricula. Here is an example from Chicago kindergarten.

Script for day 53.
Title: Reading and enjoying literature/words with “b”.
Text: “The Bath”
Lecture: Assemble students on the rug or reading area… Give students a warning about the dangers of hot water… Say, “Listen very quietly as I read the story
.”… Say, “Think of other pictures that make the same sound as the sound bath begins with.”…


Say 75 items in this script to teach a 25 page picture book all over Chicago in every kindergarten class in the city. Every teacher the same, the same words in the same way on the same day.

We know why these scripts are there—we don’t trust the judgement of teachers to let them loose on their own. Scripts like these are insurance policies against disaster. And they prevent disaster. But what they assure in its place is mediocracy.