The ideal is not necessarily ideal if we want to get things done.
Digging through the files I’ve been squirreling away to read “one day” I finished Laura Valentini’s article “On the Apparent Paradox of Ideal Theory” yesterday.
While much of it invited re-reading a time or two to really dig into the intense philosophical text, I got enough practical understanding to move the furniture in my brain around a little bit.
I’ll outline the basics as I understand them here, and let others who understand these things better than I chime in with clarifications.
The paradox Valentini describes is akin to letting the great be the enemy of the good. The problem of basing our goals or understandings of the world on the ideal comes in the application to the real world. The ideal is not the real world.
The imagining ignore the reality.
Then, as I understand Valentini, the application of plans to move toward the ideal runs the risk of nullifying the ideal because we didn’t think about the real world in our imagining.
The good, becomes the enemy of the great.
Another way to think about this.
A. I have a plan for an ideal school.
B. I build the structure necessary for the school.
C. The people who populate the school are not ideal.
D. I treat those people as though they are ideal and have ideal abilities.
E. Frustration sets in because people are not who I imagined them to be.
F. The school fails because we did not take into account the non-ideal nature of people, thereby nullifying my image of the ideal school.
While Valentini is talking about ideals of social justice, the argument travels nicely to systems like schools.
If we imagine the ideal school and take into account that people and extant systems are not perfect and ideal, then we can move the pieces of practice necessary to help all actors increase their ability to create the ideal.
In social justice terms, Valentini refers to the application of affirmative action toward the ideal of social justice as a recognition that people do not act without prejudice even after discrimination has been outlawed. The ideal vision holds while the system is adjusted in recognition of the unideal actors.
In the school scenario, the example would be the teachers and other school leaders who imagine all that needs to be done is working harder and longer hours to make up for their shortcomings in making their school the ideal.
This amounts to working much harder to fall short and not build the envisioned school.
Instead, other steps must be taken. Practically, this could include adjusting the school’s schedule, teacher course loads, course materials, training in new practices, etc. Whatever it takes to adjust for the unideal reality can keep the ideal vision from fading away. It might also include things like focusing first on whether or not all students have access to proper medical care, questioning the dietary needs of students and what the school can do to help, connecting students to adult mentors, etc.
The ideal need not die in education because the system isn’t build to bridge the gap between the ideal and reality. It can remain a viable possibility if we realize the needs of the system and move them toward the capacity of the ideal.