An Analysis of Aristotle’s Golden Mean: Social Justice and Academic Excellence, an Article by John Rivera
The article, “Finding Aristotle’s Golden Mean: Social Justice and Academic Excellence” discusses the battle in the American educational system over what should be taught. John Rivera, the author, appeals to Aristotle who wrote about finding balance in a full education. Rivera advocates putting aside the extreme idealistic agendas of the opposing sides in the debate and focusing on what people need to succeed in their professions and in their personal lives. Aristotle once wrote a treatise on ethics in which he proposed that there are intellectual and moral virtues to be developed in the human being.
Rivera pointed out, “virtue is roughly equivalent to the English word ‘excellence”” (1). Excellence is the ability of a person to act excellently. Aristotle believed that the correct way to act in any situation lies between the intermediary point between two extremes of excess and lack. This is the golden mean. The idea is to find a way of life that allows an individual to live in accordance with his nature and improve his character to better deal with the hardships that are bound to come his way. The goal is to strive for the good of the whole, not just the individual. In order to act virtuously, one must acquire virtues through experience and reason. This way of acting will have a positive impact on other people and improve their character which in turn sets up a never-ending circle of helping the fellow man.
This cycle is to benefit all, not just the individual. This, according to Aristotle, is part of the way to live and to help society as a whole. There is not a universal middle for every situation; perhaps it may be more rational to lean towards the deficiency or excess in a given instance. This is where the learning through reason and experience comes in. One must search for the correct way to act based on the ideal of helping society as a whole. Individuals must all strive to not lean heavily in any one direction. It is difficult to balance uncertain situations and that makes it necessary to work on constant moral improvements of the character.
This is where Rivera begins to relate the ideals of Aristotle to education. The educational system appears to be full of imbalances. Schools seem to be focused on teaching lower-level skills to the poor and the higher-level to the rich. The wealthy have more qualified teachers while the poor have less qualified ones. Rivera explains that, “Educational battles in the last century have raged between intellectual and moral education” (4). Rivera proposes a radical revolution where schools and classrooms focus on students across the economic and racial spectrum and allows them to gain the skills of the intellectual.
He calls for a school system where a balance is brought into the classroom curriculum. In reality there is no producible test that can measure all the important elements in a learning environment. Rivera believes, however, there is a way to measure the basic knowledge a person needs to function with a degree of confidence in today’s “knowledge age.” The best social justice program a nation can offer its youth is an excellent education. (7). Rivera calls for a rigorous common curriculum that can guide education for centuries. A curriculum that has no separation between moral and intellectual virtues that will lead to a stronger, more capable youth.
The education system does seem to favor the wealthy. Rivera points out multiple times that there is a gap between the achievement of the rich and the poor. There have been some laws passed in an attempt to bridge this gap and bring the social classes closer together. Rivera’s reference to Aristotle does ring true in this case. There must be a way to find a common, middle ground where all races can learn on the same level. Opponents argue a revolution would uproot much of the tradition in economics and schooling, but perhaps this is what the system needs. Instead of focusing on protecting the self-esteem of students, which is believed by some to be damaged by demands of higher achievement, create a confidence based on achievement. As Rivera pointed out, there is a universal mean for every situation. Aristotle challenges the individual to continue to improve in his moral character, but it is also necessary for society as a whole to pursue this golden mean. It is true that a nation should offer its youth an excellent education. The way to do so is find a balance of the curriculum and equality teaching for all of today’s youth.