An Interview about Where We Are Going – Part V

This is the fifth part in a series of interviews about “Where We Are Going” with Michael F. Shaughnessy of Eastern New Mexico University.

School reform has now been a topic for generations but there seems to be little improvement. Any suggestions?

Any meaningful reform must affect the student-teacher relationship. I cannot think of a single school reform that started top down (and was a headline twenty years ago) that is still being used today.

Now education leaders have given their leadership over to government and business leaders. What reason do we have to think that legislators can improve education? On what basis can we assume that business is a model for education when every few months a new top-selling book is published on how to improve business? The Epilogue of my book goes into detail on this subject. It is important to understand that EFFORT IN LEARNING is different from EFFORT IN EMPLOYMENT.

As much as educators would like to think that we operate primarily on cognition, the reality is that we act more on our emotions. Think of any item you have purchased. Now reflect on whether you actually NEEDED that item or just WANTED it. If the item was bought because you LIKED it or WANTED it, then the motivation was emotional.

Therefore, until educators become wise enough to understand that education—at least in the elementary grades and in low socioeconomic areas—is based on relationships, there will always be a lack of student motivation. And the reason is simple. With every act of cognition there is an emotional involvement. I criticize you, and you feel bad. I compliment you, and you feel good. People do better when they feel good, not bad. Emotions drive attention. Attention drives learning. If a student is emotionally blocked, learning stops.

Because human beings act on emotions and because teaching and learning operate within relationships, teachers sell (think “share”) information. Learning cannot be forced. Students are continually making the choice “to buy” or “not to buy.” And in many cases how the student feels about the teacher has a great effect on whether or not to “make the purchase.” A teacher will not be successful in maintaining high standards AND motivating students to invest a lot of energy to learn if the students harbor negative feelings about the teacher.