Self determination

Dennis

When it comes to teaching methods, Glanz observed that most techniques teachers used “promote the feeling that students have little control over or responsibility for their own education.” —Larry Cuban

I recently talked with an elderly woman about her dissatisfaction with the diminished life she has in a long-term care facility. She knew she would be happy, she told me, if only she could have an apartment of her own.

I pointed out her children’s concerns about her safety, and she said she would rather die living life on her own terms than live longer in her current circumstances.

While this may be an extreme example, no matter our age or life circumstance all of us want to feel in control of our lives, to make decisions large and small whose sum total makes up the substance of our days.

I have worked at jobs where virtually all important decisions were made for me. My circle of influence was very small, and while I knew that I could choose my attitude about those circumstances, I nonetheless often found myself feeling frustrated and unhappy.

A child says, “You are not my boss.” A dissatisfied worker says, “Trust me to make decisions about my work.” An elderly woman says, “I would rather die than not be able to do the simple tasks of life that gave me purpose and responsibility.”

The desire for self determination is deeply embedded in the human psyche. People have been willing to give their lives on its behalf.

What are the implications of this “truth” for school administrators and teachers?

From my perspective it means that we do everything in our power to give those with whom we work—both young people and adults—as much decision-making authority as possible, pairing that authority with appropriate responsibility and abundant learning opportunities to increase the likelihood of success.

When we trust others to take responsibility and enable their ability to do so we will be richly rewarded by the continuous flow of expertise and energy such trust generates.

What is your experience with both young people and adults in enabling self determination?  

2 Responses to “Self determination”


  1. 1 Paul Tufts November 4, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Hi Dennis
    Great post and tough questions. Very applicable to our world in education and beyond. Well done!


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