A Need for Practical Wisdom

As faculty, we often think about what it is that our students most need in order to be good teachers of young children. This is what we talk about around the water cooler, it is what we discuss in faculty meetings, and hopefully it is the basis of the curricular decisions we make both in long-term planning, as well as  in-the-moment teaching. We speak of content knowledge, skills, dispositions, values, and ethics. We assign vignettes, video and real-world observations, and even faciliatate role-play activities for students, but ultimately we are not able to provide them with a step-by-step guide for every challenge they will ever face in the field – it’s impossible!

I’ve just read a book that I found rather intriguing. It’s called, “Practical Wisdom: The right way to do the right thing” by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe. I enjoyed the book immensely and I’m finding it difficult to explain why. Perhaps because wisdom seems to be a quality I most hope will develop in early childhood professionals and yet I find it very difficult to define, much less teach. There is more to wisdom than content knowledge. There is more to wisdom than technique. There is more to wisdom than caring. It’s difficult to pin down. However, this book does a very good job of it.

I highly recommend the book, but if you don’t have time right now to read something like this, consider taking the time to watch Barry Schwartz’s TED presentation,  The Real Crisis? We stopped being wise.  I assure you it is worth the 20 minutes. Watch it to the end if you can – I think you will be glad you did.

“The rules and incentives that modern institutions rely on in pursuit of efficiency, accountability, profit, and good performance can’t substitute for practical wisdom” (Schwartz & Sharpe, 2010. p.9).


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