Being Good

It is state testing time in my neck of the woods which means the school kids are alternately stressed out and learning nothing.

The kids are stressed because the teachers and principals have to put so much emphasis on the test scores that they are drilled and prepped for the month before, or the whole year in some districts. Budgets, raises and even jobs are on the line with these score. The big day (or three) arrives and the kids are given three hours to take a test that maybe takes the slowest among them an hour to complete, and the rest of the day is given over to watching movies. I remember taking these standardized tests. When finished you weren’t allowed to read or write or even lay your head down, you sat with your hands folded, watching the clock. Very instructive and useful lessons for adult life actually.

Most parents and educators dislike the tests, and No Child Left Behind, and its reshaping of public education as a system focused on memorization rather than thinking. One irritated parent proposed a new test in a fb post- A Good Person Assessment – and asked her friends to submit questions. This was interesting for two reasons. First, I am always fascinated by what other people choose to write in these situations, and secondly its a good question. How do you measure a persons goodness?

The replies tell you so much about the people. One person said “How many people have you hugged today?”, another said “Do you spend more time in class paying attention to the teacher or being disruptive?” Hmm, could they be a teacher? Of course I couldn’t resist and posted an essay question:

“Describe how you contribute to a) your family, b) your school, c) your community, or d) the world. Choose one or more categories and provide examples to support your statements.” 

No news there – I think part of being good is defined by action. But the real question – for her pretend exam and in real life – is how do you define being a good person? Without  getting distracted by semantic arguments about words like “good/bad”, “right/wrong”, I am really curious how people define “being a good person”. Can good be defined outside of actions or outcomes? What about intentions? What if you intend a good outcome and something awful results, are you a good person? What if you had no conscious intention of doing good, but there is a good result, does that make you a good person?

I think we are missing an opportunity by not teaching philosophy in public schools. And I guess I miss having the space to read, think and write about these kinds of questions.

How do you define being a good person?