Monday, June 17, 2013

What's in a Test? Part 2: Respect is a Two-Way Street

One of the chief motivators for young people to perform tasks and services assigned to them by their elders is the desire to earn the respect of their elders.  It follows then, that one of the chief fears young people have today is that their successes will not be accompanied by respect from the adult population.  All too often, this fear is justified in today’s society.  The successes of our youth are often devalued or ignored.  Formal occasions in which our youth might be granted the respect they have earned through repeated success have become mere exercises in custom, with little or no real value placed upon them, and no real respect granted.  There are numerous reasons for this shift, including a decline in overall parental involvement, the prolonged stage of adolescence we have previously discussed, and the rising belief that providing our youth with tangible items and rewards somehow makes up for providing them with guidance and respect.One of the biggest reasons, however, is that the adults of today’s society are so preoccupied with gaining respect from their own successes that they are ignoring the accomplishments of the next generation. This stems from the fact that these adults were never formally initiated into the world of adulthood themselves.  As Don Pinnock of Conflict Resolution Center International puts it:

Western cultures have largely lost what most pre-industrialized cultures knew: adulthood does not gain full expression by itself-- initiation and ritual guidance are required.2

We must find better ways of acknowledging the successes of our youth, and granting them the respect that these successes have earned.  We must find better ways to bring young people into adulthood, and this starts with recognizing successes for what they are.
            In the past, ancient cultures recognized the successes of their youth through established rituals.  These rituals played a combination of roles.  They indicated in front of all who had succeeded at their tests. They honored those who had succeeded by proclaiming them adults and ready to take their place in society. Perhaps most importantly, they granted those who had succeeded the respect that went with becoming a contributing member of society.  With the respect granted by society came a level of self-respect that could be gained only through earning the respect of others.  It may be argued that these rituals still exist today, in the form of graduations, bar mitzvahs, confirmations, and the like.  While we will examine each of these rituals in depth later, it is safe to say that most experts agree that each of these rituals has become a ‘watered down’ exercise, and that none of them carry the meaning they once held. Almost before these rituals end, we see a return to ‘life as usual’, in which no real change has taken place.  The child is still a child, or at most an adolescent, even after the ritual ends.
            In the past, those who succeeded at their tests were first given the respect of becoming an adult and then asked to fill a role in society.  Today we have it exactly backwards.  Uninitiated adolescents are asked to find their role in society, and only after doing so are they considered adults.  Filling a role in society once meant contributing to the overall health of the society.  As people in these societies began to contribute and take responsibility for the well being of others, they earned the respect of those others.  A sense of Social Responsibility was fostered and maintained with each succeeding generation’s initiation into adulthood. As formal initiation into adulthood began to fade, so too faded the levels of respect granted to each successive generation.  A never-ending search for that respect began to replace the search for ways in which to contribute. A focus on self-accomplishments supplanted the focus on Social Responsibility.  This becomes a vicious cycle, as each succeeding generation desires respect to a greater degree, but receives it less from elders who are still searching for respect themselves. We must find a way to break this cycle. A good test, then, must provide a vehicle for formal recognition of success. A complete test will include some meaningful ritual in which the test taker who succeeds is not only formally recognized, but is granted a new level of respect, and in turn is initiated into a new circle in which a new level of status is confirmed.

Test Results Reflect Social Status

            In addition to respect, social status is highly sought after, not only by the young, but by adults as well.   It is often the case in society that social status is directly linked with factors such as popularity among peers, looks, physical prowess, or the amount of money one makes, but this was not always as prevalent as it is today.  At one time, social status was more closely linked to the results of the tests administered by the society.  Mental, physical, and spiritual roles in societies were clearly defined, and those that excelled in any of these three areas reached levels of social status accordingly.  Spiritual leaders, teachers, craftsmen, and warriors all had a role to play, and all had a corresponding level of social status.  The results of one’s tests within any of these groups were tied to an individual’s place, or status, within that group. Within the caste of craftsmen, proficiency with the tools of the trade, ability to work across different media, and understanding of aesthetics were all indicators of the status of individual craftsmen. Within the warrior caste, proficiency with different weapons, battle prowess, and the ability to lead were all indicators of the rank a warrior would achieve, and that rank was an indicator of status.  Teachers and philosophers were tested through their thoughts and writings, and through the advancement of their students.  All of these were reflections of the status accorded to these teachers.
Today we have lost something of this link.  While it is true that on the average, those who succeed in school or in their places of employment will earn higher salaries and achieve more respected levels of status in society than those who do not, there is still a decidedly skewed view of social status in our society.  In their formative years, those who achieve academic successes and excellence are often belittled and made the object of taunts, or worse, physical bullying.  Those who achieve spiritual successes are often ignored, while those who reach new levels of depravity and spiritual corruption gain accolades and power.  Physical prowess and beauty is seemingly valued above all else.  Those who look good reach higher levels of status than those who do good. If we are to survive as a healthy society, this too must change. Our tests must once again be given some value in the larger society. The results of a good test should be linked directly to status within the group of test takers. The results of a complete test will be linked to status not only within the small group of test takers, but within the larger society as well.  We must become more aware of how and on whom we bestow social status.  Those who achieve status in a society become the role models of future generations, and without good models, we can never truly have good tests.

Testers Must Serve as Models

            It has been said that a paramount concern of today’s young people is to gain respect from their elders.  Respect however, is a two way street.  A young person will not crave or desire the respect of an adult whom he or she does not respect in return.  Adults must earn the respect of children and adolescents before they can hope that these children and adolescents will want their respect in return.  One of the surest ways for an adult to gain respect from the younger generation is by serving as a model for appropriate action and behavior.  Models must first show the way, and there is only one way to do this.  The testers must be willing to go through, or must have already been through, any test they are giving.  They must have ‘been there,’ and they must have ‘done that.’  Only then can they point out where mistakes are made and how to get back on track. According to Greta Nagel:

The power of modeling has been demonstrated over and over again in various educational settings.

The parent or classroom teacher who is intent upon showing rather than just telling will enhance academic recall and deepen understandings of real life.3

When serving as models, we must be able to show that we have done what we are asking of our youth, and that if called upon to do so, we can still do it today.  This level of modeling serves several important purposes.  First, it builds a foundation of trust between the model and the student, by showing that models will not ask anything more of the students than they are willing to do themselves.  This is an extremely powerful way to both earn respect and build up confidence.  Second, this level of modeling indicates the need for ongoing learning.  By showing that as models, we are willing to continue and maintain our own learning, we stress how important it is to our students, not only now, but later in life as well. Finally, this level of modeling illustrates our respect for and confidence in the next generation.  We are effectively telling them we believe in them, and we believe they are capable of doing the same things we can do.
            Any models that demand more of their students or children than they have done in the past or are willing to do today are doing a disservice to those children.  Children are not stupid, and contrary to what some may believe, they are not easily duped.  They will know whether their teachers and parents have done what is being asked of them. When models have not shared these experiences, children will begin to lose respect for them due to their hypocrisy.  A good test, then, will not include any question or action that the tester has not answered or undertaken in the past.  The complete test, however, will not include any question or action that the tester is not willing to answer or undertake now. Those who serve as testers must also serve as models, and they must understand that their own abilities and proficiencies are being constantly questioned and monitored by those who are taking the tests.  The results of those tests then, will tell us not only about the abilities of students, but will also illustrate something about the abilities and proficiencies of the teachers.
Tests are one of the most powerful indicators we have of the abilities and competencies of our youth.  Good and complete tests are also one of the most powerful tools we have to judge the competency and proficiencies of our teachers.  As we reflect on the status of our society as a whole, we must look not only to the problems of young people, but also to the status of their guides along the path to adulthood.  We must ask whether the models to which we are exposing our youth are prepared for the task that faces them.  Responsible adult members of society must look at the content and results of administered tests to determine whether they demonstrate an appropriate level of teacher proficiency.
            Teachers may be proficient in any number of educational areas, but if they cannot produce consistent results over time, and do not make valid decisions based on test results, they will never be truly proficient teachers.  The results of tests will tell us as much about the abilities of our teachers as they do about the abilities of our students, if only we know where to look.  Complete tests will incorporate the ideas of reliability and validity in their design.  In so doing, they will help us to form an accurate picture of the status of various subsets of our society, including our teachers. Only once we have this picture can we decide where the deficiencies are located and what must be changed in the future.

Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.

1.      Kohn, Punished By Rewards, pp.229-239.
2.      Pinnock, “Gangs, Guns, and Rites of Passage,” p. 7.
3.      Nagel, The Tao of Teaching, p. 69.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

They Aren't Called Attitude Suggestions: Regarding Accountability

          It seems to me now that it was only a short time ago that we began to implement the learning and practice of the World Tang Soo Do Association's 14 Attitude Requirements into our curriculum at Keystone Martial Arts.  In looking back though, I realize that we have arrived at Requirements number 5 and 6 at our two respective locations, and that we have been working on this project for nearly half the year.  At the outset, my wife and myself had three basic goals in mind when implementing this part of our curriculum:

1. Our students would learn the 14 Attitude Requirements
2. Our students would learn what the 14 Attitude Requirements actually mean. 
3. Our students would be held accountable for putting the 14 Attitude Requirements into practice.

          This seemed relatively simple in concept, and in truth, I have to say that for the most part, it has been going exactly as planned. We made our students repeat the Requirements until they learned what each one says. We defined the key words included in each Requirement and put these definitions together so that the students understood what each one means. We gave homework assignments keyed specifically toward the meaning of each Requirement that would hold students accountable for putting that meaning into practice. What I did not expect (though in truth I am now not sure why) is that I would learn as much about being an instructor as our students were learning about being students and martial artists.  
          Some lessons learned are actually fairly obvious. The first of these is that some students (and in some cases I will honestly say some parents) do not want to be held accountable.  Some merely wish to show up, kick and punch (easy stuff), and be awarded a new belt.  When confronted with the necessity to be held accountable for their actions, these students tend to wither.  They simply ignore the homework and do not turn it in.  They do not raise their hands when asked questions regarding personal development and personal accountability. In some cases they become argumentative and confrontational when told that they are not moving forward in rank.  They begin to compare themselves (non-obejectively) to other students, and often arrive at incorrect conclusions regarding their own progress or status in the class.  In the end, many decide to quit. This is not to say that every student who leaves does so because they refuse to be held accountable, or even that this is the main reason why students leave.  The sad truth, though, is that in at least half of the cases in which accountability is the cause, the students who quit needed to go. 
          Every instructor with whom I have ever had a serious conversation regarding student status, enrollment, and retention knows this truth, but we are all too often afraid to confront it.  We choose to believe instead that we can "save" every student who is lagging behind, when this simply isn't the case.  Some students will choose to be left behind, and some, when given too much attention, will actively lower the standards and performance of the entire class. If students choose not to be accountable for their actions, and choose to wither rather than grow, instructors cannot afford to focus all of their time on these students, allowing  this attitude to contaminate the class. We must instead nurture those students who do choose to grow, while allowing others to make a choice: Choose to grow, or choose to leave.  The next lesson learned, then, is that many students will choose to grow when held accountable, and the best students will thrive.

           I have found that in any group, be it martial artists or not, when a question or problem is posed, the majority of the group will stand back and wait.  However, there will always be at least one person in the group who is willing to raise his or her hand.  There is always one person willing to take a risk and step up.  Historically, I have not been that person.  However, I have decided, on more than one occasion, to make that choice, and to be the person who is willing to be heard, and who is willing to "stick my neck out." (If I hadn't, you would never be reading this post.)  I have found that, in almost all cases, the results are positive.  We must actively encourage this in our students, and show them that this is the way forward.  Holding them accountable for their actions is a sure way to make this happen, or to make it fail miserably.  As much as I actually believe a good instructor uses both positive AND negative reinforcement effectively,  I do believe that we must link accountability to positive outcomes, rather than focus only on the negative.  Let us congratulate, praise, and yes, even reward, students who demonstrate accountability, rather than only point out what they are NOT doing.  After all, our Attitude Requirements may say "Do not be overly ambitious", but they also remind us to "Frequently inspect your own achievements".  They don't tell us to frequently inspect our failures, and perhaps there is some wisdom in that, for only by helping our accountable students realize that they ARE getting somewhere can we hope to see them take the steps they need to move forward.
          In the end, it is my goal to see the majority, rather than the minority, of my students become willing to be held accountable, whether the results of doing so are perceived as "good" or "bad".  In fact, it is my goal to change that perception, and help them realize that accountability is almost always "good" in the end, even when that end is not instant and immediately known or understood. It is my hope that I will see more students raise their hands, see more students hold themselves and their classmates accountable for appropriate actions and behaviors, and, in the end, see the majority of the class thrive.  While there is no room in the dojang for anyone who will not be held accountable, there is more than enough room for everyone who will.
       This then is the final lesson I have learned.  There really is no room in the dojang for anyone who will not be held accountable, and that must include me.  If I want my students and my dojang to grow rather than wither, then I must grow as well, and I must choose not to wither.  Recently, I have been plagued by a series of personal injuries, but I must ask myself whether I have done everything I can to work through them, or if I have allowed them to stop me from doing what I must.  Equally, I must ask whether what I have been doing is smart, and if  my own methods of training and teaching have helped move me forward, or whether they have exacerbated my injuries and delayed my healing and growth.   I must be personally accountable, and I must choose to grow.  I must be accountable to others as well.   As Grandmaster Shin once said, 

When examining your abilities as an instructor, 
examine your young student's  manners, 
attitudes, school reports and health conditions. 
Their improvements should mirror your own.

I must realize that if I ask a student to do a thing, then I must be willing and able to do that thing myself, and if I cannot, then there had better be a darn good reason why.  If I can't find that reason (not excuse), then it probably doesn't exist, and I had better get cracking on being able to do what I demand of others.  After all, they aren't called suggestions...

Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.