Things I Know 288 of 365: A managerial approach can include an ethic of care

We fail to realize that the way we manage ignores the fact that very few people – and students are no exception – will expend the effort needed to do high-quality work unless they believe that there is quality in what they are asked to do.

– William Glasser

Glutton for punishment, I picked up William Glasser’s The Quality School by choice a week ago.

Until then, all I knew of Glasser was the ubiquitous table that ends with some variation of, “Children learn 95% of what they teach to someone else.”

It seemed a bit thin as a basis for evaluation.

The basic thesis of Quality thus far is the importance of doing away with coercion in schools as a system for managing students and for managing teachers.

For the less advantaged, boss-management both at home and in school is a double disaster: First, such students have learned fewer need-satisfying behaviors than children from advantaged homes, and they come to school both less willing and less able to do the work. This means that almost from the start they do not do as well in school, even though they are inherently just as capable as the advantaged students who do better.

Writing in 1990, Glasser throws around now-out-of-fashion terms like “boss-manager” and “lead-manager,” and that took some getting used to. Each time I pick up the book, I’ve got to remind myself he was writing in a time when we weren’t yet trying to disguise the use of business principles in education.

By coercing students, Glasser argues, we’re attempting to move them away from their natural tendency to meeting their inherent needs. This ignoring and subversion of needs leads to resentfulness in students. “If we attempt to manage people without taking their needs into account,” Glasser writes, “we will ask them to do things without considering whether or not those things are need-satisfying either now or later.”

Ignore students’ needs enough, he says, and you kill any chance of inspiring quality work. Oh, you’ll get work, but it won’t be quality.

And eventually, you won’t get work from those whose needs are most often ignored or marginalized.

I’m not entirely in agreement with Glasser at all times. That’s one of the signals I’m reading something worthwhile.

What I am digging thus far is the connection his thinking on management inadvertently makes Nel Noddings’s philosophy behind the Ethic of Care. Oftentimes, when I speak of caring to people, I’m heard as a touchy-feely sort who can’t speak in the register of results or blend the thinking of workforce with schooling.

While I’ve some definite issues with looking at the purpose of schools as workforce development centers, I do understand the need to speak the language of my audience.

If I’m not having to define each term as it leaves my mouth, I save time and manage a clear, cogent line of argument.

Adjusting for the 30 years since it was written, The Quality School, offers language of explaining an ethic of care to those speaking for a more managerial or business ecosystem. In that way, I’m finding it quite helpful.


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