Emotional intelligence meets virtue ethics: implications for educators.

Author:Culham, Tom


The notion that there is more than one kind of intelligence for human beings, and that social and emotional intelligence (EI) is just as critical as cognitive intelligence for success in the world is by now fairly well-received and well-established in North American educational contexts. The main proponents of social and EI are Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee (2002) who are noted for advancing the notion that social and emotional intelligence is important for effective leadership in any organizations, including teacher education and teaching in schools. Convinced that this notion is applicable to all educational contexts, Goleman with others founded the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) in 1994 with the mission "to establish social and emotional learning as an essential part of education" (CASEL, 2009). (1) His work has been enormously influential in various education and leadership contexts, ranging from business leadership education to classroom management. But the more we--the authors of this article--are impressed by the magnitude of salutary influence that the Goleman et al. (2002) EI work spreads in diverse educational domains, the more we see its limitations as an educational project that can actually and practically augment people's EI and ethics.

We have chosen to consider EI in this article not only because of its far-reaching influence in the field of education as abovementioned but also because of the claim that it was inspired by Aristotle's virtue ethics (Goleman, 1995) and its association with ethical development. (2) Our own research and practice interest has been fostering ethical development in people via virtue ethics, and if EI is, as Goleman et al. (2002) claimed, such a singularly important ingredient, we would like to investigate their conceptualization of EI and consider the possibility of further developing and fortifying it. Given the acceptance of EI, its claimed value and roots in virtue ethics has prompted us to research the limitations of the EI work by Goleman et al. (2002), and to search for works that would address these limitations. (3) The Goleman et al. (2002) EI project has attracted a healthy debate regarding its philosophic and practical foundations. (4) This discussion suggests that there is empirical evidence that EI has a positive impact on student's behaviour; however, we believe instructive philosophic concerns remain. We are particularly concerned about the educator's EI impacting students' learning and emotional intelligence, a concern also identified by others (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009). Our paper advances the thesis that the cultivation of educators' EI requires the practice of virtue ethics. We establish this thesis by first examining the limitations of the Golemanian EI, and then by showing how these limitations can be addressed by MacIntyre's (1984, 1988) virtue ethics, which is a contemporary version of Aristotelian ethics. In the process, we also address what we see as MacIntyre's (1984, 1988) theoretical limitations that are in the way of extending virtue ethics to become the cornerstone of school teaching and learning. We also bring in Vokey's (2001) work to support our thesis. We present our work on the marriage of EI and virtue ethics as a challenge to the conventional and hegemonic conception and practice of education that marginalizes the education of the heart. (5)

Educators' Emotions Are No Private Matter

Goleman et al. (2002) held that the leader acts as the group's emotional guide and "has maximal power to sway everyone's emotions" (Goleman, et al., 2002, p. 5). The emotions of the leader are important because, for example, if people's emotions are pushed toward enthusiasm, performance can soar. He refers to this effect as resonance. That is, those under the influence and guidance of the leader/educator come into emotional resonance with her or him: "Whether an organization fails or flourishes depends to a remarkable extent on the leaders' effectiveness in this primal emotional dimension" (Goleman et al., 2002, p. 5). To elaborate, a learning organization's performance depends on whether the emotional mood is positive or negative, and this is established by the leader whose emotions are contagious. As this is a crucial point in the Golemanian thinking, we wish to elaborate on it and draw out implications for the cultivation of EI. Goleman et al. (2002) hold that emotions spread whenever people are near one another, even when the contact is nonverbal. There have been a number of empirical researches that support this thesis. For example, Friedman states: "[W]hen three strangers sit facing each other in silence for a minute or two, the one who is most emotionally expressive transmits his or her mood to the other two--without speaking a single word" (as cited in Goleman et al., 2002, p. 7). To elaborate, the following has been observed:

People seem to be capable of mimicking other people's facial, vocal, and postural expressions with stunning rapidity. As a consequence, they are able to feel themselves into other emotional lives to a surprising extent...Awareness of the existence of emotional contagion may prove useful in understanding and perhaps advancing various areas of interpersonal communication between . . . teachers and students. (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1993, p. 99)

There is substantial evidence that people mimic speech, facial expressions, mannerisms, moods and emotions of others (Chartrand, Maddux, & Lakin, 2005). As well, recent studies of the brain show that the limbic system, which determines our emotional response, is an open system that relies on external sources to regulate itself. That would explain why people rely on emotional connections to other people for their emotional stability (Goleman et al., 2002). According to Rosengren et al. (as cited in Goleman et al., 2002), "three or more incidents of intense stress within a year triple the death rate in socially isolated middle aged men, whereas this experience has no impact on the death rate of men who cultivate many close relationships" (p. 7). Lewis et al. (as cited in Goleman et al., 2002) suggest that the limbic system is open to signals transmitted by others in a way that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, and immune functions of others (p. 7). Friedman and Riggio (as cited in Goleman et al., 2002) observed that heart rates and other physiological responses of two people synchronize after a 15-minute conversation. This synchronization of moods can occur even when there is no conversation. Goleman et al. stated: "[P]eople in groups inevitably catch feelings from one another, sharing everything from jealousy to envy to angst or euphoria" (2002, p. 7). According to Kelly and Barsade (as cited in Goleman et al., 2002), "the more cohesive the group, the stronger the sharing of mood" (p.7). Furthermore, research has demonstrated that the leader's moods are contagious: that is, they are transferred to subordinates in self-managing groups, and influence group processes that are critical to group effectiveness (Cote & Sy, 2005). These findings have a major implication for the education of leaders in any arena of educational leadership capacities--including schoolteachers.

Given that the leader's personal and private emotions are contagious, Goleman et al. (2002) draw a profound conclusion. He holds that how a leader feels is not a private matter: It has public consequences. Therefore, "the most meaningful act of responsibility that leaders can do is to regulate their own state of mind" (Goleman et al., 2002, p. 47) and "effective leadership demands the capacity for managing one's own turbulent feelings while allowing the full expression of positive emotions" (Goleman et al., 2002, pp. 48). For many students, negative emotions impede learning while positive emotions support learning (Schutz & Perkrun, 2007). The terms negative and positive refer to individual experiences. Goleman et al. suggested that the leader's (in our context, educator's) private emotions have a significant impact on the emotional experience of those who work with her or him, and hence on learning outcomes. This suggests that leaders have the responsibility for developing their own EI, given that their emotional well-being and competency affect people's learning and growth. Now we come back to the crucial question: how do we increase emotional intelligence? What is the process of education for this? As we shall show, Golemanian understanding of how to educate people for EI has some fundamental limitations. Unless we address this, we cannot move forward in any serious way with our goal of educating individuals for emotional intelligence.

Limitations of Goleman et al. EI as an Educational Project

In the Goleman et al. (2002) conception, EI is fundamentally an individualistic trait. It is not predicated on principles espoused in MacIntyre's (1984) virtue ethics which holds that the emotions of individuals must be cultivated in the context of a communal or institutional practice that values internal goods, such as justice, courage, and honesty. While Goleman et al. (2002) saw the communal implication of the individual leaders' emotional states, this did not affect his conceptualiz ation of the cultivation of EI as an individual rather than a relational and communal matter.

Let us further explicate and elaborate what we are saying here. When a human quality is taken as an individual trait, we tend to see it as something that the individual possesses, like intelligence or beauty. Having reified such quality as an individual attribute, we proceed to increase it by targeting it with enhancing techniques and resources such as how-to instructions, supplements, tools, exercises, and enrichments. The same seems to be happening with increasing EI.

Our point is that it is a mistake to reify human qualities, including EI, and treat them...

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