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Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I just returned from the Learning Forward conference in Boston. I had the great opportunity to hear Michael Fullan and Andy Hargraeves deliver a keynote address. They spoke about their most recent book that they co-authored entitled, Professional Capital. They take the concept of capital from economics (something that adds value and net worth to any enterprise) and extend it to education.

They contrast two versions of capital in education today. One version is of business capital that views education in the marketplace where the  motive  is to reduce costs and increase profits. This type of capital carries several assumptions:

 Teaching is simple and doesn’t require extensive learning

 Data gives you the answers

 Teachers can be replaced by technology

 Education is aligned with lay notions of teaching and learning

This means that teachers can be trained in series of skills or mechanical behaviors following a program or teacher proof materials. This  falsely equates the enthusiasm for teaching by new teachers with competency. (New teachers cost less than experienced ones).

Professional capital as opposed to business capital in education values the collective work of professionals supporting one another’s ongoing growth and expertise. The type of capital has these assumptions:

 Teaching is technically sophisticated and difficult

 Teaching is about developing wisdom and judgment over the years

 Teaching is perfected through continuous development

 Education requires collective accomplishment and responsibility

 Education should moderate and maximize the use of technology

I share this perspective because it resonates with what I have been trying to articulate in my recent blogs. Although it might seem to be a stretch (stretching is good thing), these two perspectives of ‘capital’ reflect the two visions of education in schools today.

The business capital articulated by Fullan and Hargraeves is based on a behaviorist view of education most prominently reflected in the PBIS programs that seem so prevalent in our schools. In these programs teachers need to follow the program, i.e. the scripts and protocols telling them what to say and do in response to student behavior. This is the opposite of viewing teaching as a professional that requires thinking, judgment, creativity and expertise.  Fidelity or compliance with the program is paramount; compliance on the part of teachers is essential for getting the compliance on the part of students. In both cases, thinking, questioning, or any deviation from the program is frowned upon and in many cases considered unacceptable. Data in the form of the number of behavioral referrals or time on task (regardless of what the task is) is proof of the program working-it gives the “objective” answers for dictating a course of action-it is something you really can’t argue with.

In doing some research on PBIS, I discovered a disturbing trend but one that makes sense from the business capital perspective:  many schools using PBIS have come to the conclusion that if it works for students, it should work for staff. There are now schools where teachers earn tickets and can accumulate them for rewards, e.g. special privileges in the school-parking spaces nearest the building. Teachers earn these tickets when they are "caught", “catching students being good”.

Ed Deci in Why We Do What We Do provides the best explanation for how these two views shape how we view the human experience:
Most modern psychologists and sociologists view the self as socially programmed, which means that people’s concepts of themselves are said to develop as the social world defines them…For these theorists, whatever the social world programs us to be, that is what constitutes our self.

The problem with that view of self … is that it makes no distinction between true self and a false self. It fails to recognize that we each begin with an intrinsic self (nascent though it be) as well as the capacities to continuously elaborate and refine that self. Thus self can develop in accord with nature, or it can be programmed by society. But the self that results from these two processes will be very different.

The intrinsic self … is a set of potentials, interests and capabilities that interact with the world, each affecting each other…the development of the self is significantly influenced by the social world but the self is not constructed by that world. Instead, individuals play an active role in the development of self and true self develops as the social world supports individual activity.

True self begins with the intrinsic self-our inherent interests and potentials and organismic tendency to integrate new aspects of our experience. As the true self is elaborated and refined, people develop an ever greater sense of responsibility. Out of their needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, people develop a willingness to give to others, to respond to what is needed. By integrating such values and behaviors, people become more responsible, while at the same time retaining their sense of personal freedom.

... the false self develops as children accept the identity that controlling caretakers want them to have. In an attempt to please their parents and gain contingent love, children gradually intuit what it is that their parents want.

We as educators must first believe that children are not just socially constructed beings shaped in accord of what we want them to be. We must value their individual identity over our desire for the efficiency and order of getting everybody to do the same thing, at the same time just because the rules say so. Achieving such consistency cannot  and should not be our measure of success. We must believe that our role is to support students as whole human beings each with an unque identity.  Our intention must be to create the optimal conditions for their true and authentic selves to develop and flourish. This is extremely different from trying to control or manage them to fit our need for order and efficiency. It is a false dichotomy to say that this approach means letting kids just do what they want. It means raising them, educating them, guiding them, influencing them by example and by designing environments that meet their developmental needs.  This far from a laissez-faire approach. This type of education is how courage, wisdom, generosity, and a moral conscience emerge in children, they can choose the do the right thing even when they get nothing in return. The people who develop in this way ultimately become the people who have what it takes to stand up not just to bullying but to injustice. We need more and more people like this and our democratic society is dependent upon having citizens who can think and act with moral integrity with attention to the common good. 

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