Kaos Pilots: The Cultivation of Character

What would unify the curriculum at Kaos Pilots? One way, which I explored in yesterday’s post, would be to treat the education as articulating and specifying what, concretely, making a difference means for me. A second way would be to explicitly teach the cultivation of character. This is called character education.

As far back as antiquity, the question of how to teach young men to be excellent or outstanding, the further question of what virtue was, whether it could be taught, and which should be taught, and other related questions were considered and debated with the utmost seriousness. And as recently as the eighteenth century, Enlightenment reform pedagogues sought to ground education on character and citizenship: a good education would furnish the pupil with training in character development and would instill in him a commitment to being a good citizen.

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Kaos Pilots: Making a Difference

Yesterday, I began to discuss what Kaos Pilots is; today I will discuss what it could become.

I suggested that what could unify the school would be (i) the cultivation of character, (ii) the articulation of a finite set of final aims, and (iii) the attempt to draw a comprehensive picture of a set of prima facie competing claims and vocabularies. It occurs to me that it could make the most sense to begin with (ii).

What it is Not

Manifestly, it is a school committed to the active life even though it does not fit the models of a design, business, or creative leadership school. The purpose of the school is not to teach design (e.g., Stanford D-School, RISD, etc.), sustainability (e.g., Bainbridge Graduate Institute), business (e.g., Aston Business School, Wharton, etc.), ecology (e.g., Schumacher College), or fine art (e.g., Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts). And it is not simply a social enterprise or social innovation school either. If it is not these, then what unifies it in form (formal cause), substance (material cause), and aim (final cause)?

Furthermore, even though it believes in self-cultivation, it is not a school oriented to the contemplative life. It is not an ashram, a retreat, a meditation center, an Esalen Institute.

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The nature of Kaos Pilots and the question of pragmatism

Kaos Pilots is described on Wikipedia as a ‘School of New Business Design and Social Innovation.’ On its own website, Kaos Pilots describes itself as ‘a hybrid business and design school, a multi-sided education in leadership and entrepreneurship.’ But I’m not sure that it is a business school or a design school or a social innovation school or some hybrid. If it were, then it would have no business inviting a philosopher to teach there three years in a row. Nor could it easily explain the presence of other guest lecturers, many of whom do not have backgrounds in business, design, or leadership.

These descriptions simply do not fit the varia of phenomena. If I don’t believe that it is, strictly speaking, a business, design, art, or leadership school, or else some combination thereof, then what do I think it is and what could the school become? The school is rooted, I think, in the folk high school tradition which emerged in Scandinavia in the nineteenth century. Wikipedia nicely, if inelegantly, puts the thought that such schools, meant to be a form of popular, lifelong learning, ‘should educate [its students] for life. They should shed light on [the] basic questions surrounding [the] life of people both as individuals and as members of society.’

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In Stillness: A 10 minute chant and meditation

Before leaving for Denmark where I taught a course at Kaos Pilots, Aleksandra and I recorded a 10 minute chant and meditation, which I have included below. One morning before dawn we sat as usual on meditation cushions. Aleksandra held an iPhone up to her mouth and chanted this two stanza poem.

An earlier version of the poem came to me while I was in Aarhus preparing to teach last year’s course at Kaos Pilots. I have since revised it again and again. Yet it was only Aleksandra’s final revision, on that morning when she intoned these words, that brought out the poem’s simple, intoxicating beauty.

I

Come

Sit in

Silence

In

Stillness

II

Oh my

Mind fasts

It stills

Is full

Making perspicuous the connections: Cheerfulness, surprise, and marvel

1. It dawns on me that there is a particular kind of person that I have been trying to describe over the past couple of years. There are three sets of terms that bring this kind of character more sharply into focus: dispositional terms, aesthetic terms, and an occurrence term.

2. The dispositional terms are lightheartedness (as in my book, Cultivating Discipline Lightly), cheerfulness (as in my posts about Nietzsche), chipperness, and eagerness.

The aesthetic terms are fascination, wonderment, perplexity, marvel, intrigue, and disinterested interest.

The occurrence term is surprise.

3. How are the dispositional terms connected to the aesthetic terms and to the occurrence term?

4. A P sort of man is someone who is open to being surprised. By a ‘P sort of man,’ I mean specifically cheerful, lighthearted, eager, chipper.

5. Presented with a surprise, the cheerful man is bound to feel perplexed, fascinated, a sense of marvel, a sense of intrigue, or a disinterested interest about what it is he is in the presence of. His proper response–perplexity or fascination, etc.–would depend upon his right perception of the situation.

5. A surprise is the starting point for an inquiry. Had he not been cheerful (or lighthearted, etc.), he would not have been surprised; he would have passed things by without notice. Had he not been surprised, he would not have been put in the spirit of (e.g.) marvel. Had he not marveled, then he would have never inquired.

6. I am trying to describe a kind of person who is ever on the verge of inquiring. The boundlessness of things astounds him. He is in a certain mood. (A beautiful mood?)

7. Why would any of this matter? Because we too often hear of the ‘happy man,’ the ‘tranquil man,’ the ‘resilient person,’ not to mention the ‘miserable man’ and his despairing cousins. But where do we hear of the cheerful man ever open to surprise, eagerly so, ever ready to marvel, and just on the cusp of inquiring? That must be the best man living the best kind of life!