Teaching Smart vs. not LO13558

Thu, 8 May 1997 23:57:48 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to LO13520 --

This has been an interesting thread for me, and as often happens here it's
beginning to branch off into several other issues. As we all know,
there's no such thing as an isolated "problem." Thanks, Neil, for making
the suggestion about Freire's work in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (ok,
different thread but works here, too). It's a great book for people in
business as well as those in education (sadly, Freire died just a few days
ago; end of an era).

I am troubled by those who proclaim that the problem with moving learners
ahead--getting them involved and active within learning settings--is
simply an individual problem (of the student or of the instructor)
involving people's failing sense of accountability. I know of nothing
that is simply an individual problem--though we often strive valiantly to
try to make it so! Allen provided a nice example of what can happen when
we fully engage people in related processes.

In my present research, one of the things people continue to mention is
this idea of accountability. This is a fairly large organization and I've
interviewed people at all levels. In the course of discussing their
meaning-making and experience of work within this workplace, they have all
mentioned the need to be responsible, and accountability to others. Doing
high quality work, regardless of their "job," is important to them because
they feel accountable, they don't want to let others down in any way if
they can help it. They see themselves as being a very important part of
the organization's success. They actively pursue their learning because
of this role they believe they play, and their sense of accountability.
Now, it would be easy to say this company simply has a bunch of unique
people with a strong work ethic or whatever, but it is more than that. In
other positions in other companies, these same people did not work with
that same sense of accountability (their description, not mine).

So what made this place different for them? What helped cultivate this
sense of collective accountability? Several things, I'm sure, but there
are a couple in particular that stand out. First, they KNOW that what
they do is important to the company, because their leaders express this
openly, they are actively involved in decisions affecting their own work
or the workplace as a whole, their input is sought, their ideas
implemented. And second, they have no fear of losing their jobs because
something they try doesn't work out. Trying new things, involving
themselves, taking thoughtful risks, is encouraged and recognized in any
number of ways. There's no need for sticks.

Accountability is far from an individual quality (though of course, it is
in part this), but is a social/collective quality as well. As workers, we
learn from our work structures, organization, leadership, sharing of
information, work culture, whether or not we need to be, or should feel,
accountable for our contributions--including our active involvement or
lack of it in organized learning activities. Our "being" and "becoming"
are learned, and learning takes places through social interaction, and the
interactions of our subjective states and the objective conditions in
which we find ourselves. People who can be seen at work as being lazy,
uninvolved, unmotivated, slow learning, or whatever, are too often seen
outside of work as being highly motivated, active participants in and
contributers towards their own lives and futures. We must become more
conscious of how the ways in which we conduct work contribute to active,
reflective, accountable, members of the workforce, or apathetic,
unimaginative, "feed it to me or leave me alone," workers.

It is frustrating to be confronted with a classroom of people who only
want to be spoonfed (been there, done that). When I'm faced with that, I
do what I can to engage them, challenge them, make the session meaningful
somehow to them, do what I can to help them create their own learning
opportunity. And sometimes it simply doesn't work, because they have so
solidly learned, outside of the classroom (and in other classrooms!) that
this is the way they best get by. This is what is important in being
mindful of not simply whether or not people (or an organization) "learns"
(we all do that, all the time), but taking a critical perspective
concerning *what* it is they are learning, and to what extent that moves
individuals or groups forward, or simply strengthens the status quo.


Terri A Deems tadeems@aol.com

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>