Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Long Term Effects of Paternalism

Much has been made of David Whitman's book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism, a book I have not yet read, but for which you can get a synopsis here written by Whitman. There have been discussions as to the loaded nature of the terms "new paternalism" but I leave that to others. Corey Bunje Bower however, has posited what I find to be an interesting question: What are the long-term consequences of the this new paternalism?

Whitman's paternalism is founded upon teh idea that six inner-city schools are bringing about success by being more paternalistic, read more disciplined oriented, than their couterparts in the inner-city schools. Whether this is the key to their success or simply an ingredient is beside the point, Whitman argues that these schools impose not only academic expectations but also behavioral expectations that are associated with middle-class values, such as respect, responsibility, accountability and so forth. One could argue that these are current middle class values amoung young people today, but it is difficult to argue that such attitudes are not expected.

Bower calls it micromanagement, writing:
it's quite logical to assume that students will perform better when they're micromanaged and when not following directions results in severe consequences. A child will keep their room cleaner if their parents do weekly checks and refuse to let them go out and play until it's immaculate than if a parent just chides them for having a dirty room every so often. And a child will have higher test scores if they're told how to do every little part of every little problem on the test and practice it repeatedly.
Aside from success on tests that result from regular drilling and constant reinforcement, I don't think what the new paternalism is attempting to instill in micromanagement.

Whitman talks about expectations in these schools. I think the paternalism that should be taught and I believe is implemented, is that expectations are set publicly from the start. The schools define what behavior is expected, how it is to be achieved and the consequences for success or failure. There are no moving targets of what is considered proper behavior, the proper behavior does not alter from classroom to classroom, teacher to teacher or grade to grade (Bower tells a story about the difference between his 8th and 9th grade math teachers, each with a different method and expectations regarding homework). The standards are uniform and they are enforced.

So back to the interesting question of the longer term consequences. I think that these students, inculcated from the start to know the standard of behavior will come to expect that kind of knowledge at the start of any endeavor. They may have trouble when future efforts are not delineated this way, but there is hope that success will breed the discipline necessary to succeed even when the standard is poorly designed or presented.

Conversely, you may these students starting to demand more of their employers/colleges as they age. We often live in a work/higher education environment where expectations are fuzzy at best and non-existant at worst. So perhaps, longer term, these students of the new paternalism will actually help society by being more demanding.


The Tablet PC In Education Blog said...

I take your point. On the other hand, the statistical regression toward the mean effect seemed to apply school studies, for whatever reasons. That effect confounds many well meaning large scale learning studies.

Engelmann and Becker found that students adapt to their new, lower expectations in school, rather than continue their superior learning rates during focused instruction. (Check out their Project Follow Through final report that resulted from studying for 3 years the progress of 1M+ students in their direct instruction program. This is probably the largest single controlled experimental education (really schooling) study. Bob

Corey Bunje Bower said...

Micromanagement still seems like an apt description to me. And that's meant as a judgment-free observation. I hope students leave these schools with better habits and higher expectations for those around them, but I'd like to know for sure before I decide that replicating these schools is the answer.