Educational management needs to address the chronic motivational deficiencies that plague schools today.
Motivational deficiencies are the causes of three major problems in schools today: drop-outs, lack of achievement, and fauxcheivement (going through the motions of achievement, without getting the learning benefits.)
These chronic behavioral problems are just as preventable as many of the horrible diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies.
For example the diseases of scurvy, goiter, and rickets are all caused by nutritional deficiencies.
After scientists figured out that humans have nutritional needs, and therefore that these diseases were really nutrition problems, we took action to ensure that children would not suffer from them any more.
We took action as a society to ensure that children would get their primary nutritional needs met.
We educated everyone to know that vitamin C occurs naturally in citrus fruits and that we can get enough vitamin D from a moderate amount of sunlight.
We even “fortify” foods that don't normally have these vitamins and minerals to make sure appropriate nutrition is more readily available, such as putting iodine in salt and vitamin D in milk.
To put an end to the suffering that nutritional deficiencies caused we changed our fundamental concepts about the role of food in our lives and we adjusted our behavior.
Right now we have educational management systems that accept motivational deficiencies and the suffering they cause in children as normal, some might even say inevitable.
But scientists have discovered how to prevent motivational deficiencies by providing for the primary psychological needs of competence, relatedness, and autonomy.
In the same way that many people in the past, especially children, suffered for our systematic ignorance of our biological needs for iodine, and vitamins C and D; many people in schools today, especially children, are suffering for our systematic ignorance of the psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy.
We need to break down the barriers to school policies and teaching practices that are supportive of primary psychological needs so that we can prevent motivational deficiencies and the suffering they cause.
Partisan approaches to systemic educational management reform have been ineffective because they neglect to account for the primary psychological needs of the people who make up the school system.
But we all share several key areas of common ground that can enable a trans-partisan approach to this overlooked educational management problem.
The most important common ground for both sides of the political debate is creating a better future for our children.
I propose that another key area of common ground we can adopt across educational management reform plans is the assumption that anyone who is responsible for children has a primary moral duty to nurture those children.
I take this assumption to be unassailable and, as a caring professional, not available for reconsideration.
Taking this duty to nurture as given, I thereby assert that we currently have educational management systems that force adults responsible for children to sacrifice their fundamental moral duty to nurture children on the alter of being in control in order to deliver academic instruction and this is wrong.
My assertion about how the controlling nature of the school system leads to harm is a considered conclusion, not an assumption.
The basis for this conclusion is a combination of many years of self-directed inquiry into education and my recent studies in psychology.
I returned to Reed College after a 20 year hiatus to finally complete formal scientific training in what I had been studying informally in publicly accessible psychology and educational management books for the last two decades.
What I discovered is that there has been a wave of recent psychological research that has built up an impressive case for humans having at least three primary psychological needs: for competence, relatedness, and autonomy.
These needs are just as critical to human psychological well-being as our needs for vitamins and other nutrients are for human biological well-being. Some of those studies also show that mainstream schools tend to have a systemic bias against meeting the primary psychological need for autonomy.
Mainstream schools are all too often controlling environments and control is the exact opposite of autonomy support.
Autonomy support is a method of wielding authority in a manner that is nurturing. It is the nurturing middle ground between authoritarian and permissive behavioral management.
Policies from federal to district to building levels have caused administrators and teachers responsible for the day-to-day care of children to neglect the primary psychological needs of those they manage.
The most fundamental behavioral problem in K-12 schooling in the United States is the pervasive systemic reinforcement of controlling policies and behaviors which directly results in the neglect of the primary human psychological need for autonomy.
The neglect of psychological needs leads to what I have euphemistically called motivational deficiencies, primarily referring to the consistently observed decline in intrinsic motivation.
But this is a behavioral problem that we can lick.
My own research into the motivational patterns of two alternative schools suggests that there are some educational management practices that are doing something right because they maintain the intrinsic motivation of their students.
This is in contrast to the fact that numerous studies of mainstream schools since intrinsic motivation began to be studied in the 1970's have consistently shown declines.
It is not necessary to parrot the specific educational management practices of the alternative schools I studied because we have a clear picture of how psychological needs relate to intrinsic motivation and for now we can assume they were simply doing a better job of meeting those needs.
It would be wise to study those school models and their educational management practices further in order to discern exactly what they are doing right, but we don't have to wait on that data to start doing a better job of meeting teachers and students primary psychological needs.
The pervasiveness of the problem across multiple levels of our cultural institutions means that it will not be enough to simply provide some professional development workshops to teachers on the topic of autonomy support.
Educational management today is in the same situation faced in medicine in the 1840's.
While there were some practices that helped prevent disease transmission (such as hand washing), it would was futile to try to teach doctors those practices in isolation from the germ theory that explained why the practices were effective.
In fact, Ignaz Semmelweis, the doctor that discovered that hand-washing was effective at preventing disease was not only rejected, but he was driven to insanity by the ridicule of his peers and, sadly, died of a preventable infection in a mental hospital.
As long as doctors believed in the miasma theory of disease, then they acted in accordance with that theory, even though it was wrong.
It was not until germ theory had informed the policies, procedures, and guided infrastructure development that real progress was made in substantially reducing infection and death rates.
In the same way educational management is currently dominated by the delivery theory of education and practices are guided by that theory, even though that theory is fundamentally wrong as an explanation of how people learn.
Until the cognitive cartography or mental mapmaking theory of education is used to replace the delivery theory, then large-scale problems in educational management will continue.
The process of change needs to support school staff, administrators, and teachers at every level to deeply reconsider their policies and practices.
They need to figure out how they can shift their concept of education itself to accurately reflect the fact that both they and those they are responsible for managing share the primary psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
It was the deep conceptual change in our cultural understanding of disease that was necessary to organize and implement the public health measures that prevent nutritional deficiencies from ravaging our children today.
Germ theory not only replaced the external causal explanation of disease it also replaced the bodily mechanism by which disease operated.
Previously, it was believed that there were four bodily humours that got out of balance under the influence of the bad smells, or miasma.
Germ theory enabled us to think about molecular mechanisms within the body that would create the diseases of nutritional deficiencies when certain vitamins and minerals contained in food are systematically absent.
Changes in understanding lead to changes in behavior, changes in the organization of institutions, and changes in how those institutions shaped the physical infrastructure of society.
The critical change in our conceptual understanding in education is adopting a mental mapmaking perspective to the process of reforming educational management practices such that meeting primary psychological needs eventually becomes second nature, like meeting nutritional needs is now.
Creating change consistent with primary psychological needs can transcend the issues of pedagogy, educational management, and school administration that have defined partisan educational politics in recent times.
All humans share these needs, though it is true that there are cultural and developmental variations in how these needs get expressed and satisfied.
Pedagogical and administrative variations from state to state and even from school to school are to be expected and should be honored.
What cannot be accepted is continued negligence of the primary psychological needs of any of the humans in schools.
Please join in raising awareness of this problem and supporting a trans-partisan dialogue about reforming educational management in schools of all kinds to ensure that teachers and children will have their primary psychological needs met through nurturing educational policy.
By joining Schools of Conscience you can help me ensure that nurturing policies are incorporated into schools at every level from federal governments to school buildings along with need supporting educational management practices.