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ThoughtStretchers Education Podcast

What Is Objective Pluralism? And How Can It Help Us Teach The Truth?

Jun 7, 2024 | Leadership, Teaching

What Is Objective Pluralism? And How Can It Help Us Teach The Truth?

by Drew Perkins, Director of ThoughtStretchers Education

Objective Pluralism is an approach to teaching and learning meant to help educators and those in the K12 education ecosystem navigate the kinds of contentious topics fueling our culture wars. This approach leans into the Enlightenment liberal principles that undergird America’s (and western) democracy.

Objective Pluralism is guided by these two core rules:

  1. The fallibilist rule: No one gets the final say. You may claim that a statement is established as knowledge only if it can be debunked, in principle, and only insofar as it withstands attempts to debunk it.
  2. The empirical rule: No one has personal authority. You may claim that a statement has been established as knowledge only insofar as the method to check it gives the same result regardless of the identity of the checker, and regardless of the source of the statement.

In an era where people claim we each have ‘our truth’, Objective Pluralism helps distinguish between that standpoint epistemology and the truth or accepted knowledge as determined by consensus. Jonathan Rauch calls this The Constitution of Knowledge and Objective Pluralism draws heavily on this work to help us be ‘objective’ about what we teach and present as knowledge or truth.

While K12 educators should teach this consensus truth, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t present multiple perspectives. On the contrary, this use of pluralism helps acknowledge that while there is a consensus truth, it is always provisional. In fact, pluralism is vital for at least two reasons. First, it helps us revise truth and knowledge that may be wrong. Second, it helps us understand the many ways things can be understood and the kinds of questions others may raise.

When engaging in planning, teaching, and curriculum design, educators should be cognizant of the intentional and intuitive components. The former involves the specific planning and lesson design steps to be built into teaching and learning. The latter involves the teachable moments that arise from effective intentional lesson design where leveraging their perception, educators can reinforce and model the core rules and practices in their lesson delivery.

Developing a better understanding of Objective Pluralism helps prepare educators to engage learners in ways that model and instill the Enlightenment liberal principles that foster productive dialogue and navigation of conflict. While studies show that most K12 educators are not idealogues they benefit from:

  • understanding the political spectrum and the problems of illiberalism and authoritarianism on the extremes
  • developing intellectual humility
  • clarity about the two core rules and ten commitments of Enlightenment liberalism
  • understanding the 3 challenges to free thought (fundamentalist, egalitarian, and humanitarian)
  • and embracing these three “great untruths”:
    • What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker
    • Always trust your feelings
    • Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

K12 education is squarely on the battlefield of our polarized, increasingly toxic, culture wars. Our Objective Pluralism Workshop can help those teachers, leaders, and other stakeholders in the ecosystem move away from the Us v. Them mindset and teach in ways that honor and recognize the incredible diversity of the human experience.

Read: Want To Teach The Truth? Use Objective Pluralism

Discarding the dogma and orthodoxy that many feel compelled to engage in because they feel they have to pick a side, we can acknowledge the complexity and nuance of contentious topics and allow for a plurality of perspectives while not letting go of accepted truth.

 

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