Friday, May 08, 2015

"Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him and let him know that you trust him." - Booker T. Washington

I'm thinking about the corrosive effects of criticizing teachers.

If you're in a business, you talk about "managing" people. But in a social endeavor, in doing work that we believe helps people, it's a word and a concept that I think is fraught with misunderstanding.

When you manage someone, you are seeing them as an object. Managing presumes you're capable of understanding their situation, that you know better than they do, and that you are are able to control their actions. As the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said, in an "I - it" relationship, you see another as a separate object to use. In an "I - Thou" relationship, you find meaning in the relationship to a sacred other.

This is religious language, as "Thou" ultimately denoted God, and therefore an "I - Thou" relationship involves seeing the divinity in others. But you don't have to be religious to believe there is something so sacred and uniquely valuable about everyone, and that how we treat them matters.

Again, using religious language, but not confining ourselves, we are either managing people or ministering to them. To minister is "to give service, care, or aid."

If the ultimate goal of our efforts is to help others, then taking the shortcut of managing someone rather than ministering to them arguably negates that very goal. Yes, it takes time (sometimes a lot of it) to work with someone, to understand their situation, to help them understand what you know or care about, and then to build together a plan to accomplish worthy goals. But it takes even more time to recover from the consequences of not making the investment in others early on.

People are not machines. Treating them as such creates a psychic crisis on both sides.

Think about how hard it is right now to even have the conversation about trusting teachers, we are so far down the path of consequences from not trusting them. The rebuilding we have before us to understand the sacred importance of the role that teachers and mentors play in the lives of children is so enormous that it may even be a cognitive protection to imagine such a role is unrealistic or no longer possible.

We've become so used to the lens of managing others--teachers and students--that we may not even realize that we have glasses on. Measuring and managing other people is a choice we have made, a terrible shortcut that does not, and can never, give us the outcomes we desire.

Trusting and working with people, caring about them, and helping them do a better job is actually the only pragmatic course to helping build better learning environments.
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