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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Constricting Social Ideals: breaking the values-action link to ensure "stability."

"Stability," said the Controller, "stability. No civilization without social stability. No social stability without individual stability."--- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1989)

The idea of innovation is the idea of progress stripped of the aspirations of the Enlightenment, scrubbed clean of the horrors of the twentieth century, and relieved of its critics. Disruptive innovation goes further, holding out the hope of salvation against the very damnation it describes: disrupt, and you will be saved. -- J. Lepore (2014)[1]

Education is not just human cognition. It's about preparing children for their future as well-adjusted global citizens: mentally, emotionally, socially, physically, and personally. -- W. McKenzie (2014)

Introduction. Although saber-rattling by politicians never seems to disappear entirely, generalized, widespread nation-to-nation warfare is a losing proposition for all sides, given the interlocking economic and social relationships of, especially, the biggest and richest nations. (See Dunnigan, 1983)[2]

The primary thesis of this essay is that, for the sake of "stability," -- survival, even -- large modernly weaponized, culturally and socially diverse nations will press to develop citizens who, if "rational" appeals to them would likely fail, can be managed via distractions or by the promotion of cross-purposes.

Photograph taken by
Dirk van der Made

Not only schools, but institutions in every facet of life have long worked to such ends.(Rozycki, 5/2/11)[3] How is such distractive, pacifying "education" to be done? By severing the rational bonds between what is publicly preached as socially desirable from those actions individuals or subgroups might take in the pursuit of their personal understandings of such public preachments. Institutional procedures are developed, often inadvertently, which interfere with, or subordinate, the efforts which individuals perceive to be rationally related to their pursuit of espoused social goals. Help, even with good intentions, is often less desired than is individual obedience to procedure.

For example, leaders of many kinds would prefer "good citizenship" to be interpreted as "following the law" no matter that many people would hold certain laws to be immoral. Leaders prefer to risk errors of group-think, e.g. lynchings or vigilanteism or social activism, than to yield legitimacy to independent, even if "right," in someone's view, outsider opinion. Orthodoxy-vs-Heresy conflicts are long-recognized examples of such conflict.

Disruption, Innovation or Fundamental Failure? The word, "disrupt," has long had negative connotations, as in such usages as "disrupt a ceremony, a meeting, a speaker, etc." However, in today's United States of America, "Disruptive Innovation" (Christensen & Eyring, 2014)[4] has become used to re-characterize an institution's misfortune more optimistically as a unfortunate, collateral event, but, still, more importantly, as a contribution to organizational progress.

American parents and politicians, too, have long complained that schools, especially public schools, teach things disruptive of community, church and family traditions. For example, physical education, New Math, racial tolerance, sex education, audio-lingual foreign language methods, gender equality, core curricula, critical thinking and the other subject matters have long been condemned as disruptive by influential groups of public, private, political and corporate representatives.

How are the public schools doing? It depends on whom you ask at what point in the political calendar. It also depends on which public schools you are referring to. Even less likely to elicit an open public response is "which students you are focussing on?" The politically safe attitude for would-be office holders over the last century and more has been to claim that public schooling needs reform.(Rozycki, 2004)[5] Indeed, banking, commerce, state government and the courts are often claimed to need reform; but only education, almost uniquely, public education, has long been politically vulnerable enough to allow the often random interventions of "reformers" of all stripes.(Rozycki, 2001)[6]

Which Values Does Public Education Support?[7]
"Education is a weapon whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and who is struck with it."-- Joseph Stalin in Interview with H. G. Wells, (1934)

No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried from time to time. -- Winston Churchill to House of Commons, 11/11/47

Which values does public education support? There are, it appears, more basic issues hidden as presumptions. One is : "Whose values does public education support?" And consequently, "Why their values and not those of others?" And "In what way are these values 'democratic'?" These are the elephants in room often left disregarded by hasty focus on the topic question.

Determining whose values persistently influence education, then, seems to be a pertinent inquiry, both politically and morally. But such a pursuit is distractive. It typically leads off into well-practiced expatiation of politics and ethics. These areas, being more familiar and entertaining, seldom get us near a practical answer for the question, except perhaps with a sentimental slogan bolstered by a false consensus, e.g. "We all want what's best for all the children!"[8] Or, if we avoid sloganeering -- difficult in most public venues, we drop the question and agree to disagree on … whatever "we feel" it is. (Clabaugh & Rozycki, 1999b)[9]

But let's consider an even more shunned elephant-in-the-room than the values taught . A second even more fundamental issue is this: On what basis do we judge that a person values something? How can you "teach values" if you don't know what indicates that someone has learned them?

This risks a lengthy diversion into esoteric philosophy or psychology. Yet, it does invite some investigation essential to planning wise and effective interventions.[10]

Teaching Values: how should this be done?
School Days, school days, Dear old golden rule days
Readin' and 'ritin' and 'rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick
(Music by Gus Edwards; Lyrics by Will D. Cobb, 1907)

American public schools have long been charged to "teach values." But what this means remains after many years controversial and somewhat vague, at best. Tough talk about about holding someone, somewhere — usually teachers — "accountable" even though hickory sticks are long gone. (Anyway, no one ever really checked to see if they were very, if at all, effective.)

The easy response by schools to the value-teaching mandate in times when criticism of them is not too vehement is to have teachers mimic preachers. Teaching is Preaching. At the same time, in order to avoid disappointment, little effort has, in the past been expended by trying to ascertain their effects. This lack has been over-compensated for in the past three decades by increasingly disruptive (in the pessimistic sense) program of school testing. Yet, despite much expenditure, few practical changes for the better have resulted.

Talk is cheap. We live in a cultural of hyperbole where people, especially children, are often induced to talk up what they may not personally value or even know. What is it that can we rely on to show that a person values something? Normally it is that he or she works to acquire it. Or recommends it to others. Or, once acquired, takes care of it. Or tries to defend it against harm or disesteem. Actually, any of these might do. But, how do you test for values acquired in a mass-teaching environment, especially in a culture where, for the sake of cost-cutting, surfaces are conceded acceptable as thorough examination?

Looking for Excuses.
The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made. -- Groucho Marx
If we really wanted to verify that someone valued something we would check to see if that person pursues, promotes, sustains or defends what we think he or she values (or purports to value). The quickest and most common way to get at this is to consider what excuses a person makes for himself or herself when they "let themselves down." Whichever excuses we accept as reasonable are indicators of what we believe to be preconditions for connecting a person's values to the behavior that manifests commitments to those values.

This is more complex than it appears: at any given moment a person may be inactive. For example, he or she may be sleeping, or lost in a book. She or he, nonetheless, may be said, still, to value expensive chocolate, or foreign movies, or their friends' admiration, or her or his alma mater's school song, if she or he did so before falling asleep.

Consider our friend, Harry, who is overweight and flabby. Yet, he claims he really values being in top physical condition, which is quite far from his present physical state. Is he deluding himself, or lying? Not necessarily, because he may believe that he faces substantial, or, at present, insuperable, impediments blocking his pursuit of a buff body.

What might these impediments be? Harry's belief that either
a. he lacks the knowledge, at this moment, to get himself into shape. Or
b. he is not physically able to do what is required to get him into shape. Or
c. he is not where he could work on getting into shape. Or
d, he has a deadline he won't meet if he lets it go right now. Or
e. he is not, at the moment, "in the mood" to get to exercising for the buff body he seeks.

The impediments are, in respective order, lack of knowledge, lack of ability, lack of opportunity, lack of priority and lack of mood, (some vague kind of "emotional consonance"?). These are not unusual excuses for inactivity in pursuing, at a given time, what one claims to value.

But, by turning the impediments inside out, as it were, we generate conditions practically necessary for planning and evaluating educational goals. Also, satisfying these conditions may be sufficient to transform values inculcated into active pursuits. That is both their promise and their danger. (See Rozycki, 1979)[11]

All this is very complicated. Little wonder that educators of all sorts, including parents, are still fumbling around with the problem.[12] The closest we seem to solving it is in situations of very high interest or compulsion which are given close attention to action, e.g. in scouting, sports or military training. In other more relaxed or forgiving learning situations training success drops off exponentially.[13]

Active and Passive Valuing: the realities of prioritization. An ancient, though banal distinction is important to continue our undertaking:
a. Instrumental values sometimes called extrinsic, are pursued in order to extend the pursuit to something they are necessary for. One earns money, for example, not to eat or wear it, but because it is instrumental to obtaining food and shelter.
b. Intrinsic values are pursued for their own sake, e.g. pleasure, health.
Note that something may be both intrinsic and extrinsic depending upon one's perspective, e.g. exercise may be done both because it feels good and it leads to better health. Better health may be pursued because it enables a broader experience of pleasures.

Our friend Harry's excuses for his observed lethargy will be the conditions for what we will call "active valuing." These conditions, briefly put, are: knowledge, ability, opportunity, priority and motivation. The lethargic Harry we observe today still "passively values" physical health, but believing he is faced with an impediment, is doing nothing to pursue it: " You didn't get any physical exercise today! I thought you wanted to get into shape." "I do; but I sprained my lower back this morning and need to take it easy for a day!"

That is, Harry will actively pursue a value (here, a healthy physical condition) provided he believes he
1. (Knowledge) has the knowledge of what and how to so pursue it; and
2. (Ability) has the (physical and mental )ability to pursue it; and
3. (Opportunity) has the opportunity to pursue it; and
4. (Priority) has no present object of higher value whose pursuit impedes this one; and
5. (Motivation) has the will, is in the mood, is inspired to, the pursuit.

(Test these conditions out, e.g. "Harry has no knowledge of what to do or how to do it to improve his health." Note that the lack of any one of them would provide him an excuse for his lack of activity.)

We begin to understand how easy it is to beg off being responsible for non-performance for doing what is expected of you. You didn't get your late-return IRS tax-forms done by July? Hope someone "understands." You weren't sure exactly what the deadline date meant. Or, you didn't understand the complicated instructions. Or, you were busy nursing your sick mother. Or, you didn't get back from your European vacation in time, etc., etc.

Seeing how complex the relationship is between valuing something and demonstrating that you do, you can see why it is so difficult to teach people values, especially moral values which often require you to forego something you really want.

Passive values and Akrasia. Passive values are what philosophers refer to as dispositions (psychologists, as habits). Active values are episodes of unimpeded action toward those values. The educator's problem is how to get passive values to become active, i.e. to get a student's professions of esteem, wanting, or liking to become behaviors of promotion, pursuit, maintenance or defense.(Rozycki, 1994) [14]

Note the following: if Harry insisted that he very much valued physical well-being and yet continued in his lethargy despite admitting that he believed he had the knowledge, ability, opportunity, priority and motivation to pursue that value, we might well wonder if he was less than rational or mentally disturbed.

Aristotle in the Nichomachean Ethics invents a term for such a condition: akrasia. This is basically a covering term for our lack of will to pursue what we know we ought. It is not unimportant, however, since showing too many signs of akrasia, whether of irrationality or mental disturbance, invites intervention in one's life by state authorities concerned with particular abnormalities of this sort.[15] But akrasia is precisely the general disruption of values-action links.

Changing resistence into acquiescence. We suggested above that identifying the conditions for linking disposition to active behavior offered both promise and danger. Let's expand on that point. An individual's values often conflict with those of others. Powerholders have long used the active-passive distinction to convert opposition to their values from resistence into acquiescence. Such are the practical, socially defensive uses to which they have been put in governing organizations throughout history: the conversion of the natural dispositions of individuals to actively pursue what they value into a "socially acceptable" kind of passive valuing. This is how one turns people into soldiers, or soldiers into "peaceable" citizens or "overenthusiastic" students into quiet seat-warmers.[15a]

Since it is active valuing, the pursuit of values, which might cause conflict where values are not shared, certain policy directions can be drawn immediately from the above formulations. If it is a mission of the schools in a multicultural society to forestall conflict between different cultural subgroups, then
a. this mission is served by policies which promote "passive valuing", i.e. some kind of esteeming which does not involve the pursuit of that which is esteemed -- typical of so-called "appreciation" courses or of values clarification classes;

b. this mission is also served by policies which gainsay any of the conditions given above necessary to connecting action with value, i.e. the conditions of rationality, knowledge, ability, opportunity and consistency.
Thus, recalling the conditions for an individual's active valuing, knowledge, ability, opportunity, priority, and motivation, a rational -- not necessarily moral -- school policy serving the social goal of reduced conflict might promote ignorance, incompetence, unequal opportunity, or inconsistency of conduct, or irrationality. Hardly anyone would think such aims educational; our considerations are suggestive, however, as to the persistence of these ills despite continued exhortation to eradicate them.

Must Conflicting Values Lead to Open Conflict?
"To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, (the Romans) call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace. " -- Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. AD 56 – after 117)
Condoned, even, esteemed, social practices of yesteryear, e.g. subjugation of people on the bases of gender, race, religion, etc., which are condemned (at least, orally) nowadays as evils in our multicultural democracy, were relatively successful in maintaining a kind of social stability and suppressing open conflict in other contexts: shortly put, ancient social practices more or less produced, in the short run, at least what Tacitus characterizes as Roman practice of "peace-making."[16]

It is only when we open up to questions of morality that the costs of "peace" begin to provoke investigation. But if educational environments are burdened with promoting not only intellectual or skills development, but, also, morality, how then can they, then, meet expectations that they support social stability and reduced conflict? It could happen, if morality becomes confused with group-think.

Pursuing Schooling Aims: Intellectual and Moral. The organizational values which tend to be of highest priority are:
a. to reduce or stultify individual propensities to act out conflicts; that is, to actively pursue values, i.e. by "vigorous" opposition; and
b. to make a plausible attempt to meet goals formulated by outside controllers.

But plausibility is likely inversely related to discernment. Thus, institutions of all kinds relax in trying to produce people with the discernment to evaluate organizational aims in more than a superficial manner. The boss decides what the philosophy means. And his or her bosses decide for him or her, if he or she doesn't know. The question gets passed up and around until it gets lost or forgotten.

About schools, Harry Broudy pointedly notes:
Especially awkward for the public schools are the accounts of the civic and political process. … The school operates on the principle that it must reinforce the ideals the community professes and not the behavior that it tolerates. Yet it is difficult to keep up the pretense that the behavior of officials, elected and appointed, does not violate professed ideals. For one thing, the mass media are exposing the pretense daily; almost hourly. … How much of this can the school teach as part of the social studies or social science curriculum? -- (Broudy 1981. 23.)[17]
American schools are not intended to be merely intellectual training centers. They have been burdened by ancient traditions of inculcating morality, more recently repackaged as "values education."

Staff in American schools, whether public or private, presumably undertake to bring their charges to display behavior that pursues, promotes, sustains or defends things they might not if left alone to their individual pursuit. In this sense, the school a sort of back-up system to the vagaries of family, community and state educational efforts. Schools are to promote both individual and social goals.

Democracy and multiculturalism (diversity) can give rise to sometimes open conflict among educators, family, community and state. Many of these struggles are, in effect, a form of cultural warfare. Long-held communal, ethnic and familial biases, even though traditionally esteemed in their contexts, are often deprecated in some schools -- particularly in public schools -- as prejudice and injustice, for example, annihilation, racism, sexism, and class or religious bias.

Thus, importantly, in a multicultural democracy, the schools are believed to reinforce, and enhance, no small part of what students are preached to about in family, church, community and state. This reinforcing endeavor is especially professed to be prevalent in the public schools. And always foremost in the demands made of public education is that the schools promote the values of domestic peace and stability

What is overlooked -- more likely, disregarded -- is that individual goals and social goals not infrequently conflict. So it is that, for example, issues of racial or sexual segregation, religious and class bias, and the submission to school and general legal authority have given and continue to give rise to controversy and conflict in education.

What to Do? Keep on Truckin'.
It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. -- Winston Churchill
"Group versus Individual" is not, per se a problem. It is a fluctuation in the distribution of perceived costs and benefits between and among individuals and groups. This is a dynamic that all organizations, all people have to deal with to survive. (Consider the current, vehement gun-control debate.[19]) Except for hermit-like individuals who eschew relationships with all other human beings, this dynamic functions to address perceived problems that arise living in a community, or in living in a community among other communities.(Coser, 1956)[20]

We can see from the chart below that conflict can benefit a group. But it is important to ask, whom does conflict benefit when it benefits a group? Not everybody in a group may get the same benefits nor pay the same costs. And the kinds of costs and benefits there are may vary considerably among group members. Who does the sweating and who gets the glory? What do they pay and what do they get for it?
In a world of change, in a dynamic society of non-omniscient beings, such questions are not answered once and for all. The dynamic is not merely repetitive orbits, but a helix, a tendril cycling around, searching as it progresses through time. Its responses to perceived difficulties, as Charles Lindblom [21] has put it, are "muddlings-through," which provide those of us who live in relatively free democracies additional cycles for the sake of adjustment for what we seek as improvement.[21a]

Supreme Court Justice Hans Raj Khanna writes of India what may be easily applied to any country with a constitutional government:
If the Indian constitution is our heritage bequeathed to us by our founding fathers, no less are we, the people of India, the trustees and custodians of the values which pulsate within its provisions! A constitution is not a parchment of paper, it is a way of life and has to be lived up to. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and in the final analysis, its only keepers are the people. Imbecility of men, history teaches us, always invites the impudence of power.[22]

Cordially, EGR
revised 11/16/17

REFERENCES & FOOTNOTES Under construction 11/16/17

[1] Lepore, J (6/23/2014) "The Disruption Machine." The New Yorker. Available as pdf at

[2] Dunnigan. James F How to Make War. New York. Quill. 1983 See Chapter 25 "Victory goes to the Bigger Battalions: The Cost of War.

[3] Rozycki, E. (5/2/11) "The Functions of Schooling"

[4] Christensen, C M.; Eyring, J. (2011), The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education, New York, New York, USA: John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-1-11-806348-4.

[5] Rozycki, E. (2004)"The Need for and Possibilities of Educational Reform."

[6] Rozycki, E. (2001) "The Evils of Public Schools." Educational Horizons, Fall 2001.

[7] Rozycki, E. (3/13/11) "Does Public Education Support American Democracy?"

[8] Rozycki, Edward G. (2010b) "The Indeterminacy of Consensus: masking ambiguity and vagueness in decision"

[9] Clabaugh, G. & Rozycki, E. (1999b)"Slogans in Education"

[10] Rozycki, E. (3/31/12) "Assessing the Likelihood of Implementing Change"

[11] Rozycki, E. (1979) "Values, Rationality and Pluralism" Philosophy of Education 79, 195-204. Available online as "Pluralism and Rationality: the limits of tolerance"

[12] Rozycki, E. (2008) "Democracy vs Efficiency in Public Schooling"

[13] Rozycki, E. (2010a) "Productivity, Politics and Hypocrisy in American Public Education: school organization as instrument and expression"

[14] Rozycki, E. (1994) "Rationales for Intervention: From Test to Treatment to Policy: a forensic theory of warrants & rebuttals".

[15] Rozycki, E. (3/31/12) "Are Humans Rational? What's at Stake?">)

[15a] Kotter & Schlesinger offer interesting approaches to changing resistors to facilitators. See footnote [10].

[16] Rozycki, E. (2005) "Religion, Intelligent Design and the Public Schools: serving God to Mammon?" Educational Horizons, Fall 2003.

[17] Broudy, H. Truth and Credibility: the citizen's dilemma (New York: Longman, 1981) p. 23.

[19] Rozycki, E. (6/15/16) "Gun Fun or Safe Citizens? Must We Make Trade-Offs?"

[20] Coser,L (1956) The Functions of Social Conflict New York: Free Press. For discussion with some application of his theory, see

[21] Lindblom, Charles E. "The Science of 'Muddling Through,"' Public Administration Review 19 (Spring 1959): 79-88.

[21a] Susskind, L & Cruikshank, J, Breaking the Impasse, 1987, p. 63-64. Sloganizing increases ambiguity, and with it, the likelihood of agreement. (But, ambiguity, in turn, increases the risk of false consensus. -- EGR)

[22] Khanna,H R Making of India's Constitution. Eastern Book Co, Lucknow, 1981. ISBN 978-81-7012-108-4. Cited in Wikipedia, "The Emergency (India)."

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Pursuing Excellence: cultural rivalry disguised as common market?

Everybody talkin' 'bout Heaven aint goin' there… -- Thomas Arthur Dorsey (1899 - 1993) Walk All Over God's Heaven

"Excellence in All Things!" A friend was hired as the headmaster of a small (70 students, grades 9 - 12) private school, the dominant if not sole admissions criteria of which was the parents' ready ability to pay the tuition. This school touted its ability to transform reluctant or lackadaisical children into "Ivy League" students. In fact, scholastic achievement, as one might soberly expect, was rather variable.

At a school board meeting, several of the governing members proposed that the headmaster post and preach the slogan, "Excellence in All Things!" The headmaster suggested that such action would only provoke derision from their rather sophisticated teenagers and likely, also, a certain disdain for the competence of the staff. He, the headmaster, would personally be happy if each student could show better than mediocre accomplishment in a few areas of endeavor.

A particularly vociferous board member remonstrated that it was the headmaster's and teachers' duty to educate all the students to adopt the slogan and strive to actualize it. But another asked, "Which subjects should be favored if it turns out that time or other resources run short?" Thus began what turned out to be neither a very long nor very comfortable "discussion" among those present at the meeting.

Creating More Hamster Wheels. Many of us can look back over many, many years to see the sacrifice of the adequate, the good, even, to the pursuit of the excellent. Yet we seldom see memories of such pursuits raise much apprehension of yet another treadmill exercise. Is our communal memory so weak, our resources so plentiful or our embarrassments so forgettable? What accounts for this Sysiphean proclivity (in almost every area of organizational life)?
One kind of explanation for cavalier attitudes toward excellence comes readily to mind: disregard of how ideas of "excellence" vary even within the markets pursuing it.

Broadly characterized, a market is a (theorized) group of people looking to acquire what they perceive to be a benefit, some thing or state of affairs perceived to be of positive value. These market members pursue an exchange via some medium, be it money, labor, time, attention, material items, or the like.

These and related notions are quite run-of-the-mill. However, here we mean to include in our considerations "externalities," beneficial or damaging effects affecting persons or organizations which are not themselves involved in the markets creating those effects. The motivations of school directors and staff, paying parents and the students involved may be -- indeed, usually are -- somewhat different, despite school slogans proclaiming, say, "Our school community works together in pursuit of excellence!" (See SLOGANS: junkfood, dead-weight or poison?.)

Weak Markets Markets can be weakened by attrition or disorganization. If groups that are willing to bear the costs of pursuing "excellence" are lacking, of insufficient size or disorganized, "excellence" remains little more than a vacuous shibboleth. This is often seen with the promises so easily bandied about in our political campaigns: hopes for benefits are much more easily raised than are the sacrifices, e.g. taxes, to pay for them.

Sometimes a purported benefit is perceived to "cost" too much. Just as the initial costs and future upkeep may "price" a car "out of the market;" so, also, might the burdens of a social relationship with some persons, "high-maintenance" individuals, leave them unbefriended.
It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. — Baudelaire
Though many people will agree on the face of it that "excellence" is better than "mediocrity," lack of agreement as to what the term, "excellence," delineates may cause an actual market to dissipate.

A potential market may not coalesce because of disputes about which criteria exactly should be used to describe the hoped-for benefit. This is a general problem in every area of life with vaguely described benefits, such as security, responsibility, ownership; and, not least, achievement, education and excellence.

Consensus is often only apparent. Sloganistic terminology abounds. Practical criteria are either missing, or lost in controversy. Leaders of long established institutions, family, schools, churches and governmental entities, may not to be able to find common criteria of excellence that serve each of their particular institutional interests. (See Engaging Conflict: a Leadership Necessity?)

So, the pursuit of "excellence" and the quarreling about its "true" meaning are not the high-minded undertakings as they often made out to be. They're just fancy forms of rivalry; nonetheless culture-clashes.

But better rivalry than warfare.

For further examples pursuing these issues, see "Sacrificing Public Education to "Pursue Excellence"?

--- EGR