I want to start a conversation. I want to explore what I have seen and have experienced as a deeply rooted problem that will not be easily fixed nor entirely addressed in this single blog-post (I’m hoping that this becomes one in a series dealing with this subject). The teaching profession is suffering from a vexing issue of professional trust. While that term may be ambiguous and unclear, I hope to make it less so as we continue to think, talk, and discuss the phenomena. Professional trust consistently arises in all venues of my work. Whether it’s the implementation of standards, adopting curriculum, new evaluation systems, assessment processes, student-centered classrooms, Project-Based Learning (PBL) and on and on and on, the yeah, but mentality of the professionals in the room is as predictable as the sun rising in the east. (One could make the argument that society as a whole has lost trust in our public school systems, but for now, I ask you to hold that thought at bay.)
The typical response, whether it’s with teachers, principals, administrators, departments of education, looks something like:
“Yeah, I get x (insert new thing here), but the y (student, teacher, school, district, or state) down the way will NEVVVERR be able to do it”.
The more I work with and talk to education professionals across the country, more frequently I hear this type of declaration. How did we get to this place? Is my experience unique? Could this be a barrier that impairs student success? Does the mentality of yeah, but keep each student from being successful?
I’m currently reading Eula Bliss’s On Immunity (great read btw), she quotes philosopher Mark Sagoff who says,
“Where there is trust, paternalism is unnecessary. Where there is no trust, it is unconscionable.”
According to the online dictionary Merriam-Webster, paternalism is the
"the attitude or actions of a person, organization, etc., that protects people and gives them what they need but does not give them any responsibility or freedom of choice”
Coupling these ideas together, trust and paternalism, was kind of an epiphany to me. It helped crystallize the essential truth about the dichotomy of our work. Do we want a profession that practices trust? Do we prefer paternalism?
Which type of profession do we want? I believe by-and-large we have the latter system. One where there is no trust but instead robust paternalism. We practice paternalism in our classrooms, our schools, our districts and our profession. As my colleague, Nate Bowling consistently says, education professionals have handed over our responsibilities. We have allowed others to make decisions for us throughout the entire system. So why should we ever expect our classrooms to not reflect this current structure? The system where all our actions and attitudes practice paternalism? What happens to individuals who try to break the bonds of paternalism? Do we trust ourselves enough to make responsible choices?
I hope you don’t think I have the answer to this complex question, but I think we can start by practicing better professional trust. Do we practice paternalism with our students? Colleagues? Administrators? Lets make changes on the micro level in order to better reflect the profession we all really aspire to be apart.
How do we end the practice of paternalism in education?
Let's have a conversation about this. Leave a comment. Tweet me a thought at @the_explicator
Thanks for reading.