“…the quality of an idea doesn’t justify an…

As the management theorist Peter Scholtes used to say, “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” (Note: people includes students of all ages.) Thank you, Alfie, for this quote from management theorist Peter Scholtes. It’s a good thing to reflect upon as we welcome 2013. Then read the whole column: “…the quality of an idea doesn’t justify an attempt to shove it down people’s throats. Nor does it increase the likelihood that such an effort will be successfully digested. ( Read the whole column: “http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/decree.htm)

We have two problems. One is that so many so-called reform ideas are either stupid (e.g. fear can motivate good thinking) or ill-intended (making a profit off children’s eduction, outlawing unions, etc). But the second problem is, in some ways, an old enemy and harder to fight. It’s one practiced by the right and left, and those in-between, and more complicated to tackle. There’s probably almost none of us who take Alfie’s advice when it comes to… You name it. Every rule and regulation, after all, is a form of coercion.

So, what’s the alternative. How do we separate those ideas that truly “can’t” be shoved down our throat and still do good from those that we have reason to believe will, over time and with strict enforcement, rightfully prevent us from doing evil to others.

“To make an omelette you have to break eggs,” is an expression that goes back more than 60 years–in the the aftermath of the Russian revolution of 1917). It proved prescient. The eggs have gotten their revenge. The idea that the ends do not justify the means is ancient But on the other hand it’s alternative is a shaky proposition too. We can all think of circumstances, I suspect, in which lives were lost–including those of thousands and thousands of innocent victims–for a good that we believe in. Not to mention all the nuances in-between.

It’s tough to be human. But let’s face it, and carry out our arguments with awareness that we ourselves hold contradictory beliefs and so do some of those we hope to win over to our side. So, I “single-mindedly” wish that by exercising our best “teacherly” practices we will be closer to ending the abusive use of standardized testing! Not to mention ending a few other even more abusive practices.
So I count my blessings….such as the freedom to write and receive these messages! And Happy New Year.

8 Responses

  1. Deb, this phrase came to me this week, and I’d like your take on it:

    “Only a broken organization needs a union.”

    In a properly functioning organization, is there really a need for a separate worker-focused organization? If leaders and doers are working together toward the best interests of all concerned?

    If they’re together pulling in all the resources they can? Using those resources to do the job and reward the team members in a way that grows the pie for all?

    • In a perfect world we wouldn’t need a Constitution, due process, lobbyists, et al. But…in the one we live in, and probably will forever, we need to find ways to balance the power relationships that differential individual power (the boss or the lobbyists) creates.

      Good will is im-ortant, but we don[t count on it when it comes to the bottom line.


      • Agree totally…yet not sure that addresses my question.

        I’m wondering if you believe an organization can reach the state where it has those checks and balances built in.

      • Probably But them I’d want to join a union in solidarity with those less lucky than me.


        Sent from my iPhone

      • OK, a person can join a union and that union still isn’t the bargaining agent at that workplace?

        But an organization where the workers bring in third party negotiators,… I’m thinking of a family. If my kids brought in a third party negotiator, I’d pretty much feel that I’d not created a well-functioning family. And I’d feel the same about my Rotary Club if I were a leader and my members brought in a lawyer. Or if the workers in my business brought in outsiders to work out issues..I’d feel I’d failed in setting up the team.

      • Well, I feel quite the opposite. There are times we all are “disfunctional” perhaps, but having access to a third party we both trust is one of the saving graces of any human-based organization, including families.

        That’s where we part company. But, I wonder why? What would it take to convince each other otherwise–or even leave room for some doubt?


      • Perhaps a couple different examples. A church: Is it normal for the congregation of a church to have a standing outside representative negotiating with its pastor and other on the week to week goings-on? “Father Flannery gave me too harsh a penance; I’m filing a grievance.” Or a professional organization. Should I have a standing third party to negotiate my dues and benefits with the I.E.E.E.?

        I’m asking not to say that the nation needs far fewer unions at the local level. I’m asking what a well-functioning team looks like.

        My theory is that the goal of most people is to belong to / work for organizations where the relationships do not in the normal course of things need outside intervention.

        Wouldn’t they?

        Also, you say here “have access to a third party we both trust”. Is an organization that extracts $50,000-$1,000,000 a year from one side , and is paid to represent only that side, ‘a third party we both trust’?

      • I was glad to be principal of several well-functioning teams of teachers et al, but I was also glad we had thought ahead of time about how to handle those times when we ran into trouble–between any two parties. And I was glad that if we ran into a situation where we couldn’t solve it the “normal way” or the next step up, we also had a process that was indeed neutral and we both had someone representing us on our side. We may or may not ever have to use that last step–we did once in one of the three schools I was “principal” of, and it was a tough but successful way to resolve a crisis.

        A dysfunctional nation needs such processes too–we call them our judicial system which doesn’t always works but is better than having none.

        Given the incredible financial inequities in our society those on the lower end (what teacher earns a million?) need to be well-orgaized to confront those whose wealth far beats out the combined strength of teachers. We need our lobbyists to influence legislation and public opinion, and legal help and just emotional support too.

        ut of course we’d all love to work in organizations that never have to call upon crisis mechanisms! Knowing they are there is one way of making these moment less likely to happen.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: