Schwartz, Barry & Sharpe, Kenneth. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010).
Schwartz and Sharpe offer an insightful analysis of the ways in which a rule-driven mentality is undermining the discretionary judgment of professionals, including educators. Contrary to the idea that wisdom is some esoteric quality, they examine the notion of practical wisdom. As they say: The term practical wisdom sounds like an oxymoron to modern ears. We tend to think of “wisdom” as the opposite of “practical.” Wisdom is about abstract, ethereal matters like “the way” or “the good” or “the truth” or “the path.” And we tend to think that wisdom is something for sages, gurus, rabbis, and scholars—for white-bearded wizards like Harry Potter’s mentor, Dumbledore. Aristotle’s teacher, Plato, shared this view that wisdom was theoretical and abstract, and the gift of only a few. But Aristotle disagreed. He thought that our fundamental social practices constantly demanded choices—like when to be loyal to a friend, or how to be fair, or how to confront risk, or when and how to be angry—and that making the right choices demanded wisdom. To take the example of anger, the central question for Aristotle was not whether anger was good or bad, or the abstract question about what the nature of the “good” in fact was. It was the particular and concrete issue of what to do in a particular circumstance: who to be angry at, for how long, in what way, and for what purpose. The wisdom to answer such questions and to act rightly was distinctly practical, not theoretical. It depended on our ability to perceive the situation, to have the appropriate feelings or desires about it, to deliberate about what was appropriate in these circumstances, and to act. (p. 5) Teachers are confronted daily with a never-ending stream of situations that demand action. So, too, are school administrators. While rules may provide helpful guides to thinking, they are not sufficient for choosing what might be most appropriate in a given situation. For that, wisdom is necessary. Schwartz and Sharpe explore the various aspects of wisdom and illustrate them with down-to-earth examples drawn from a wide range of professions, including education. Scholar-practitioners are committed to developing their own reservoir of wisdom, sharing that wisdom with others, and supporting the development of wisdom among colleagues. For this reason, Practical Wisdom, contributes to deeper understanding of the Scholar-Practitioner qualities of pedagogical wisdom, contextual literacy, and ethical stewardship.