Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I have argued lately that students in our schools, who, by end of high school, have logged nearly 12,960 hours of classroom observation, compared with the pitiful few hours for which the official teacher evaluator in the school has time, but that those young observers are never asked for their views on any aspect of education reform. No one asks them how they think teachers should be selected or trained, or about anything else. Unlike many companies, we do not even conduct exit interviews when our best students leave our schools. When this idea is offered, many object that students are, after all, only students, forgetting, no doubt, that every Nobel Prize winner, every summa cum laude graduate of Stanford, Yale, Princeton, MIT and Harvard, and every college professor, was once a student sitting there and observing, and even thinking about, our education reform efforts. We spend billions and billions “giving help” to our students, but we have perhaps forgotten what Douglas McGregor wrote about the provision of help in 1960. It is worth reading again...

Douglas McGregor, Sloan School, MIT, The Human Side of Enterprise
Boston: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1960, p. 163-164

“The Appropriate Role of Staff

The appropriate role of any major staff group...is that of providing professional help to all levels of management. In some cases, such as engineering, the help is provided primarily to one or two functions, e.g., manufacturing and sales. In other cases, such as accounting and personnel, the help is provided to all other functions.

The hierarchical nature of the organization has tended to focus attention on help given to the level at which the staff group reports. Rewards and punishments for staff members come from there. Moreover, prestige and status are greater the higher level of ‘attachment.’ In large companies, where there are both headquarters and field staff groups, it is particularly important that the headquarters groups recognize and accept their responsibilities for providing help to all levels of management.

The provision of professional help is a subtle and complex process. Perhaps the most critical point—and the one hardest to keep clearly in mind—is that help is always defined by the recipient. Taking an action with respect to someone because ‘it is best for him,’ or because ‘it is for the good of the organization,’ may be influencing him, but it is not providing help unless he so perceives it. Headquarters staff groups tend to rationalize many of their activities on the field organization in a paternalistic manner and, as a consequence, fail to see that they are relying on inappropriate methods of control. When the influence is unsuccessful, the usual reaction occurs: The recipients of the ‘help’ are seen as resistant, stupid, indifferent to organizational needs, etc. The provision of help, like any other form of control or influence, requires selective adaptation to natural law. One important characteristic of ‘natural law’ in this case is that help is defined by the recipient...”

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