Practical Wisdom *
The Quaqua Society derives its approach from the concept of practical wisdom. Practical wisdom emphasizes problem-solving and results. It draws from the insight and experiences of the many to guide the forward progress of society, rather than relying exclusively upon the views of the politically connected and wealthy elite. The public value of a new idea or accomplishment is gauged by its ability to genuinely better the lives of others who are beyond the proponent's domain of personal interest.

Practical wisdom leads to principled, balanced, innovative approaches for reconciling competing priorities and needs. It candidly acknowledges unavoidable costs and excruciating tradeoffs. It then responds to the challenge with a vacillating and timely blend of boldness and humility, independence and cooperation, creativity and convention, altruism and self-preservation, discipline and defiance, speed and patience, persistence and flexibility.

The uniquely gifted have the courage to defy prevailing understanding by uncovering new concepts and the humility to subject their unorthodox notions to the scrutiny of the many. The collective experience of society serves as a sieve, testing new ideas against a reservoir of vicarious insight accrued from the continual performance of routine yet essential societal activities.

The art of the possible is prudently pursued without forgetting more lofty long-term goals. Moderation may at times be used as a temporary crutch, but there is a simultaneous, sincere, open-minded effort to precisely distill previously unappreciated causative principles. Mistakes are accepted and even expected, so long as one falls forward and stands back up after setbacks.

Practical wisdom accepts with gratitude the earnest desire of others to help, however humble or limited their offering may be. It eschews distinctions that, under the relevant circumstances, are gratuitous or pretentious instead of functional. Wise groups build upon and optimize their functional commonalities, wise individuals preserve and utilize their unique characteristics, and wise families maintain memories and adapt their heritage free from centralized coercion.

Excellence is always the goal, yet timely solutions pocked with minor stylistic imperfections are preferred over approaches that are trendy or glossy but fundamentally misguided. Individuals hold themselves to a more exacting standard than they apply to others, without making an issue of the point. Thus, a wise person is always mindful that seemly unlikely individuals are capable of stepping forward to aid in a just cause at a pivotal time.

Today's awkward or idiosyncratic child may well prove to be the world's next Galileo, Beethoven, Jefferson or Edison. Just as the uniquely gifted must not neglect the admonition of collective experience, so too must each member of society recognize the need for imagination, innovation, idiosyncracy, and exploration. A society that can resist excessive conformity while retaining a code of public virtue can also enable people to share their usual or exceptional gifts. Collective experiential wisdom is thereby expanded and advanced.

Gifted individuals and society must remember that class standings, grades, test scores, and the like, though useful as general indicators, measure only narrow dimensions of overall intelligence. Manifestations of practical wisdom are much more difficult to detect or predict. This disconnect exists because 1) most institutions tend to reward conformity over innovation or achievement, favoring those who reliably and skillfully reinforce norms over those who intelligently redefine them; 2) society necessarily assesses new wisdom against its current body of knowledge and conventions, unavoidably relying upon the application of skewed evaluative standards and methodologies; 3) most testing, ranking, grading, and other feedback necessarily incorporate a statistical margin of error that is greater than the purported level of feedback specificity and the actual degree of manifested skill separation between competitors; 4) most institutions have front-loaded reward systems that advantage use of inherited wealth, political connections or preferences over use of raw talent; 5) most testing, ranking, grading, and other feedback focuses upon one type of ability rather than clusters of ability; and 6) many institutions are plagued by cheating and other distorting forms of dishonesty.

These and other factors have forced an alarming number of history's stars to endure the contempt of their contemporary peers and institutions. The world's top tier of accomplished politicians, scientists, artists, inventors, professionals, and businessmen have been precluded from prestigious institutions with disturbing frequency. Institutions are indispensable and valuable, but socializing or rigidly systematizing human intellectual capital imposes a tremendous cost. The influence of practical wisdom is leached away if institutionalism becomes excessive.

Parental liberty, the right to direct the upbringing of one's child, is an example of practical wisdom applied through the law. Parenting is a daily social necessity; no society can survive for long without drawing upon the practical wisdom which derives from the de facto exercise of parental prerogative.

Over the history of the United States, jurists and politicians from across the ideological spectrum have stepped forward to protect the parental liberty that has led to America's prosperity. Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Brennan, Marshall, O'Connor, Ginsburg, and Breyer, have all provided critical votes in important Supreme Court cases examining the right to direct the upbringing of one's child. Justice Thomas cast an especially-important deciding vote in one important case, Troxel v. Granville, noting that "fundamental" parental liberty is entitled to "strict scrutiny" deference.

Important legal cases regarding alternative education have been fought by Amish, Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Japanese Americans, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Native Americans, single parents, and many others. The sum total of these efforts has benefitted and improved general society. Without the practical wisdom expressed in this jurisprudence, home education and countless other exercises of parental liberty would have been severely curtailed.

Home education and alternative education, which rely upon parental and religious liberty for their legal survival, constitute practical wisdom in action. Indeed, prominent graduates of home education have made numerous crucial contributions to America and the world. History speaks well of home education and its ability to honor tradition and age without squandering the ambition, energy, awe, and imagination of youth.

The Quaqua Society encourages alternative and home educators, and those who wish to help them, to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before. By utilizing practical wisdom to advance, inspire, and enrich society, and by sharing the positive examples of home education in action, we can preserve our opportunities and liberties for future generations.

*   The Quaqua Society acknowledges that others have coined the phrase "practical wisdom." For example, Justice Clarence Thomas delivered a speech discussing his interpretation of Aristotle's term "practical wisdom," as expressed in his address entitled "The Virtue of Practical Wisdom," delivered February 9, 1999, at the Third Annual Claremont Institute Lincoln Day Colloquium & Dinner.