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Education: Taking Responsibility vs Responsibility Talk - THE GENIUS IN CHILDREN

Education: Taking Responsibility vs Responsibility Talk

by Rick on January 17, 2013

Taking Responsibility vs Being Responsible

Who is responsible for fixing education: teachers, parents, administration, the community, the government? When people try to answer this question, there is almost always a fight. When someone says, “the teachers,” someone says back: “How can you blame the teachers? Research shows that student achievement is two-thirds aGoogle Image Result for http___4.bp.blogspot.com_-A_PJfZtGKIQ_TekCUX5DW0I_AAAAAAAAAZU_H16mGv0vjSE_s1600_responsibility.jpg-1 function of factors the school has no control over.” And so on for 100 years with no fundamental change in our 19th Century school system.

Why? Because what is really being discussed in this paragraph is blame not responsibility. The word “responsibility” is being used irresponsibly. If we want to change this conversation from a fruitless debate to a real attempt at change, we will have to use the word responsible responsibly.

What does that mean? For answers to this question notice incidents where individuals have taken responsibility for the education of those in their care. Where education is occurring, you will see less talking responsibility and more taking responsibility. The answer to the question, “Who is responsible for student achievement” is: “Whoever takes responsibility.”

Sophomore year in high school John was chatting at the edge of the soccer field after a game with his coach who had taken an interest in him.

“So John, how are you doing in school?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“You sound unenthusiastic,”

“Well, it’s kinda boring, and I often don’t see the point.”

“Ah, I see that you are missing the point. The point is that school is not supposed to be interesting, relevant, and enlightening. That would be nice, but in most schools teachers are not required to challenge you with material that will make you be a success. In fact they are not even required to challenge you.

“Look at school as a game—maybe a game against the toughest team in the league—maybe impossible to win. As you know from all these years of playing soccer, success isn’t about always winning, it is about always playing a great game. School won’t give you an education; school is a place for you to get an education. School is an opportunity to challenge yourself to learn the game and to play the best game you can. Playing THAT game will put you on the pathway to success.”

John told me this story in answer to my question, “Did you get a good education?”

He had said, “Yes, I got a good education once I realized getting a good education was up to me. From then on I took responsibility for my education, and for my success, and that is how I became an analyst at Google. Before that pep talk, I didn’t even think I was any good at mathematics, after that talk I realized it didn’t matter. I loved Google and wanted to work there.”

People will hear me say this and say: “That’s a REAL cop out. Now you are saying education is the child’s responsibility.”

And I will remind them to use of the word responsibility responsibly. I will say, “No, I am giving an example of what it means to take responsibility for education.

“Parents and teachers, also, can take responsibility for education. They can make the commitment to make sure those in their care are learning, especially learning to face up the their challenges with courage, to get skillful at conflicts, to learn from their mistakes and failure, and to keep in touch with their creative genius. A teacher’s job may be to teach some academic skills, but an educator’s responsibility is to lead each person’s genius out into the world to function creatively, effectively and gracefully within it.”

Taking Responsibility vs Responsibility Talk

Responsibility talk involves (1) apportioning of responsibility (as in “Teachers are partially responsible, but so are parents”), (2) uses the past tense (“Research has shown that sociological factors are more important”), and (3) betrays a shortage of the first person singular. When people take responsibility the verbs look to the future and the subject is the first person. Taking responsibility is a 100%-0 commitment, not a 50-50 deal. Responsibility talk won’t make a difference; taking responsibility will.

Taking Responsibility vs Responsibility TalkAnyone can take responsibility. A teacher can take responsibility for figuring out how to inspire students even if the system seems to work against them. Parents can take responsibility for creating the conditions in which their children take responsibility. Each member of a community can find a way to make a difference and take responsibility for it–examples of such initiatives abound.

Responsibility is a very important word in education, please use it responsibly.


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Why Do Adults Have to Take Over? - The Genius in Children
August 30, 2013 at 10:28 am

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne Marie Schar January 17, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I like this post. Mostly I like the story. An educator helping a student decide to be responsible for himself. I agree that there are a lot of people who could take responsibility, and who should to a certain extent. But I truly believe that the bottom line is that the student, in most cases, holds the ultimate responsibility.

This may be because I teach at a high school. If our students don’t/can’t take charge of their own education (with our help and support) we are not giving them the education which they deserve and need.

Rick January 17, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Anne Marie, The objective truth may be that it takes a team to maximize a student’s education, but the functional truth is that to make a team work, each person has to take responsibility (100%-0; not 50-50). If not, one partner’s failure could let the other person off the hook. To be and feel powerful, it’s 100%-0.
I bet you know that because I know you are that kind of teacher.

Swati Lahiri January 22, 2013 at 5:14 am

A very thought provoking and realistic post. Yes,I too believe that it is everyone’s concerted effort that brings out the best in a child’s education and the metaphor that I’d like to use is that of an orchestra ~if anyone is out of sync,the whole orchestra falls apart. We all should put in our 100 % in imparting education to our children and keep a close watch on the system,lest an individual/group fails to impart his due share of the duty. It is definitely an effort that needs to be carried out as a whole and of course with responsibility so that we do not fail our next generation.

Rick January 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Thank you, Swati. I would like to see a reduction in blaming and an increase of responsibility, hence it is less interesting to me that all members of the village SHOULD raise the child. It is more interesting to see who does take WHAT responsibility. The orchestra analogy breaks down because if the clarinetist is not taking appropriate responsibility for the quality of the sound, all an audience member can do is boo or walk out.
With respect to children, I would like to see older people without children volunteering in schools, business people taking on apprentices, other businesses engaging a class or a school in a service learning project, still other companies engaging a class in a research project, or the populace in general voting for more money for education.
How can the audience get involved?
No more talking about responsibility, more taking responsibility.

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