Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Need Everyone Agree?: Changing Resisters to Supporters.

Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true. -- Familiar idiom.
You have probably heard someone say something like
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone nation could agree to live in peace? or, less hopefully,
Wouldn’t it be nice of we could all agree on the kind of country we would like to live in?; or, even,
Wouldn’t it be nice if the neighbors could agree not to play loud music after 10 PM?
Are such wishes at best vain hopes? Or are they something that with reasonable effort and careful planning can be achieved?

Here is a thought experiment to try with your friends, family or students:
a. Fill in the blank with a goal, a situation, condition or event, to complete the following sentence:
Wouldn’t it be a better world if everyone could agree on (Goal).

You could substitute other phrases for “a better world” such as “nice,” wonderful,” “a real moral improvement,” or “peachy keen” or “healthier.” Pick something you can get your group to agree on as a substitution.

b. Once you have your statement, e.g. Wouldn’t it be more environmentally sound for people to agree to ban all automobile traffic from inner city commercial areas?, ask your participants to speculate as to who would likely agree to the statement (and why) and who would likely oppose it (and why).

c. Using the chart available at Assessing the Likelihood of Implementing Change , (ALIC) locate your supporters and resisters and the proportions of each you estimate there are. Fill in Line A on the chart.

d. Continue using the above chart to speculate how much you would have to change the percentages of each subgroup to bring them to the likelihood of supporting the change (here, agree with the statement.) Fill in Line B on the ALIC.

e. Considering the Ways to Overcome Resistance suggested by Kotter and Schlesinger in the ALIC, fill in the grid block the likelihood, or your group’s likelihood, of finding the resources to implement these ways, e.g. education & communication, participation & involvement, … etc.

Now consider the following questions:
1. Is the goal well enough defined to be operationalized to avoid a slow shifting (creep) of the target? (See Operationalization.)

2. Consider some of the costs involved in implementing the changes needed; would they be worth the benefits hoped for? Consider who it is who would perceive the achieved goal as a benefit; and, who would think it to be a cost. (You might want to revisit step b. above at this point.)

3. Considering the costs involved in implementing the changes needed, would it be wiser to redefine the Goal so as to shrink the budget needed? (This is a very common practice in all institutions, public and private.)

4. Are the needed ratios of supporters and resisters (see Line B in the ALIC) likely to remain constant through the change process?

To examine these issues further, if you are involved with education, see POLITICS, CONSENSUS AND EDUCATIONAL REFORM

If you are involved with other kinds of organizations, or if you want a more general overview, see Employee Resistance to Organizational Change

--- EGR

Engaging Conflict: a Leadership Necessity?

War is Peace1984 -- George Orwell

I would rather have a general who was lucky than one who was good. – Napoleon Bonaparte.
Dilemmas. Leadership offers an incumbent realms of opportunity; and, also, realms of temptation. It is in the interests of the followership (and, also, of the disinterested) to hold leadership in rein. But it is natural, even necessary, for leadership to strain against it. The priorities of leadership and followership not infrequently butt heads. (See A Leader's Primary Pursuit: Incumbency)

Leadership as “Service.”
"The king is foremost the servant ... of the State.“ -- Frederic II, King of Prussia (1712 - 1786)
Incumbent candidates of all kinds support their proposal of incumbency with often not too subtle threats. A traditional approach is to claim a “servant’s” role to some widely “honored”, if fuzzy, goal or person, for example, Servant of God, Servant of The People, Servant of Justice, Servant of Peace.

As such, a Servant-Leader, the proposed incumbent promises to clarify, pursue and actualize the “Will” (or “True Meaning”} of God, People, Justice or Peace.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21

Why “God” Needs a “Devil.” It is the real or imagined threat of conflict that disciplines a “distractable” followership into supporting incumbency. The normal inclinations of people to go about their own business, giving only lip-service to the proposals of authority, tend to undermine that authority or lower its esteem.

Leaders looking to use their organization as an agency of change have to carefully distinguish between members who are marginal, those who are interested and those who are zealots. It really makes a difference. (See Assessing the Likelihood of Implementing Change )

So it is that “natural” priorities, e.g. attention to personal physical needs, to personal gain, to individual interests, or to ties to family, friends, or neighbors have to be demonized, if only minimally lowered in esteem, as “distractions” from pursuit of “nobler” goals, i.e. those goals “clarified” by the would-be incumbent. People must be “educated” to resist the “temptations” of such “selfish distractions.”

So it is that all over the world, Societies send out Teachers to Educate the Intellectually and Morally Underdeveloped so as to reduce Discord, Crime and Corruption.
The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. Matthew 13:41

Conflict: A Balm for Incumbents? Louis Coser identifies several important functions of conflict.
a. Conflict makes connection. It is a basic form of exchange and interaction. It is a negotiation.

b. Conflict among groups sharpens their exterior boundaries.

c. Conflict among groups revitalizes traditions and norms.

d. Information gathering, reconnaissance, is a function of conflict.

e. Conflict among groups causes their replication of each other, a balance of structure and functions which may encourage formation of similar markets and power centers.

Generally often overlooked issues are several:
1. Who, specifically, benefits from these outcomes of conflict?

2. Who, specifically, pays the costs?

3. Does the leadership and followership share benefits in some fair proportion to the costs borne by them?

4. Why do incumbents tend to resist raising such issues?

The Moral Hazards of Leadership that strives to be heroic are unavoidable. But they can be dealt with. There are enough extant conflicts in the world to provide many an incumbent with opportunities for heroic leadership. (See LEADERSHIP vs. MORALITY: AN UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICT?)

The dangerous temptation is for the incumbent to create conflict merely to protect his or her own incumbency with little regard for those whom he or she leads. History has long shown this to be a not uncommon hazard. Leaders not infrequently tend to seek out, if not create, what they can present to their followers as an unavoidable conflict -- often prettified nowadays with the label, "challenge."

And inept, uninformed leaders generally end up being either just lucky, or, more frequently, losers. Much more so their followers. (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?)

For examples and to examine these issues further in a widely presumed less important, less turbulent context, see The Functions of Conflict in the Context of Schooling )

--- EGR

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bullshit: Common Currency in Public Discussion?

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.
--Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit (2005) Princeton University

The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it. -- Alberto Brandolini
Diverting Inquiry. When was the last time you asked a question and got a straight answer? If you can remember it, treasure it, because it doesn't happen all that much; particularly, among adults and those children trying to act like them.

When I was a kid I had an uncle who, when I asked him a question, would respond, "Whatsit teeya?" (What is it to you?) This was a very effective response for:
a. blocking a question he probably didn't know the answer to; or
b. extorting some favor in return for an answer he supposedly had; or
c. challenging my personal authority to even ask a question – "Children should be seen and not heard!"

Learning the Game. Kids have a hard time. They're fed the story that honesty and forthrightness always come first. But they soon learn the bitter lesson that it is adults who decide what is honesty and what is impertinence. There is also the painful "one-up(wo)man ship game" to be mastered. Those who are one-up can mistreat those who are not.

By the time we are "grown up," we expect bullshit in politics and commerce; it useful for getting around without having to tell a bald-face lie. Bullshit is not quite lying, but it confers many of the benefits of lying -- and is considered much more "tactful." But, many people still ask with bewonderment, "B. S.? Even in Education and Political Campaigning?!!!" (Drop your jaw at this point.)

Benefits of the Practice. We are quite accustomed to merchandisers "enhancing" the descriptions of their wares to attract us to them. Caveat Emptor, as they say. But why do educators, politicians and even (Horrors!?) religious leaders bullshit?

Because BS is tactful, therefore more likely forgivable than lying. Unlike a suspected lie, it doesn't burden the recipient with the compulsion to check it out and risk being perceived as challenging authority, i.e. "impertinent." Consequently, almost everything stated is cautiously taken with a "grain of salt," a taste that is all too easy to get used to. One can boast to oneself of having a critical mind without running any of the real risks of such a possession.

Most importantly, BS is functional; it works. On your first day, say, in class as a teacher, some wiseacre raises his (just a likely, "her") hand and asks you, smirking pointedly, if you had a "good" night last night. If you say, "My private life's none of your business," you can be reasonably sure that kid's parents are going to complain about your "unfriendliness." (Kid's complaint to helicopter parent: "Our new teacher won't even answer our questions!") Your principal will likely drag you in to remind you that the "acceptable professional conduct needed for renewal of one's contract" requires one to attempt to maintain "good public relations." Better smoke, mirrors and good, old B.S.

However, there is such public trust in educators that, up until quite recently, they could get away with massive bullshit for a longer period than could businessmen or politicians. School districts test their students and report their own results. They wouldn't possibly fake them, would they? (See Gaming the System: a Great Tradition!.)

The Risks. There is, at issue, status and money. Let's look again at my uncle's, "Whatsit teeya?" Certainly few degreed educators can own up to not knowing an answer. Especially when the question appears simple to the questioner or the public listening in. (If asked an uninformed or stupid question, for the sake of appearance one must, it appears, give either a stupid or uninformed answer. But one always has good old BS to the rescue!)

But ask a simple, honest question, and you get BS, too. Is there a kind of extortionary pressure given in an answer? Perhaps, if it takes place at an alumni banquet where a question of concern is brought up. For example a response to such a question might be, "We have several possibilities to address the issue you bring up, but little budget for it."

The challenge to the questioner works if he or she is seen as lower in rank then the person questioned: "I think the salary issue, which most of you will concede has been debated to exhaustion, will be handled at a faculty meeting that takes place after the trustees meet. Your committee chairs will be notified." (I have heard university officials, on many an occasion, say something similar despite having taken no polls to find out how many believe debate has ever reached the exhaustion stage.)

Spreading It. There used to be a farm implement called a manure-spreader. It did what you imagine. Those specimen-donors who believe themselves to benefit from spreading BS imagine that their donees, like growing crops, benefit also. Only the essential growth elements are missing.

For more on this, plus references see what follows. Some years back, before BS was referred to directly and euphemized for the sake of propriety, I asked a group of my university students who had school aged children to report on some of the "sloganeering" they encountered in the children's schools. You can find their essays and further references at
Disciplinary Slogans: A Critique of Three Slogans

Pseudo-Solutions: three disciplinary slogans.

--- EGR

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Art of Constructive Criticism

“Don't trust a mirror that only tells you how wonderful you look.” -- Matshona Dhliwayo
Constructive Criticism must be criticism and it must be constructive. It is criticism when it focuses on standards; it is constructive when it articulates those standards so that the shortcomings in a piece of writing (or item of construction) can be dealt with.

"Pats on the head," effusions of delight and the like are not criticism. They dodge the issue of criticism, except in the case where the text being critiqued is so excellent, so far removed from improvement that there is nothing left to do but to express wonderment and pleasure. (This is a rare situation.)

Criticism minimally expresses to an author,"There are standards which are relevant here that your paper does not meet." To be constructive, the critic must go beyond, indeed, avoid simple formulations like,
"This is poorly written," or "This makes no sense." 
It is more useful - not to mention, non-threatening - to avoid using such statements entirely. One might say, "The problems with this paper are that ...." This foregoes unnecessary emotional engagement and does the work that a critique should do: specify what it is that makes the paper fall below expectable standards!

We may - and sometimes do - encounter the following situation: a disagreement as to what standards are applicable in judging a paper. For example, what is acceptable as a report in a business might be criticized in an academic context as a hodgepodge pasting together of plagiarized material. Understanding the context of presentation and the audience that will receive your text is, consequently, important here.

The best procedure as as constructive critic is to adapt the attitude of a team-member trying to improve the workmanship of a colleague. Don't hold back from expressing concern if you think there is a problem; but don't try to intimidate or "one-up" the person whose paper you are criticizing by delivering judgment, but withholding the reasons for it.
(Note that this essay itself is a kind of critique. Do you think it, itself, meets the standards it articulates for constructive criticism?)

For specialized applications of constructive criticism, see:
What is a Synopsis? Controversy Analysis Worksheet (Interrogatory)
Worksheet with Examples 
Solving School Problems: a conflict resolution approach
Cordially, EGR

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Low Cost Interventions for a Better World: Reform by Redefinition?

"To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace. " -- Publius Cornelius Tacitus


In the Republic of Foz a group of high-minded citizens undertook to remove the bitterness from every medicinal preparation. And with all but one potion they succeeded. But there was an elixir the curative power of which diminished with its bitterness. This elixir was the only antidote for the fatal sting of the Fozfly. Thus, there arose at first a murmuring, then public indignation at the efforts of this band of crusaders.

Fearful that their quest be frustrated, our noble champions regrouped and with the help of a government grant formed the Foz Foundation. The members of the Foz Foundation dedicated their research to demonstrating that the sting of the Fozfly, far from being an affliction, was merely an occasion that precipitated a "natural life crisis."

Now, in the Fozian language, nothing categorized as a "natural life crisis" is considered to be a disease. Nor is anything characterized with the term disease also conceived to be a natural life crisis. Since only diseases require medical treatment, the proper Fozian response to a natural life crisis is acceptance and resignation.

Thus as the influence of the Foz Foundation waxed, the need for the recalcitrantly bitter potion waned. In the final stages of enlightenment to which most of Fozian society was educated -- called Fozzy thinking -- there existed in all the land no medicinal preparation that had a bitter taste.

And death by Fozfly -- still rumored by certain barbarians to be avoidable -- came to be accepted as natural and necessary, if still a discontent of Fozian civilization.

To examine these issues further, see School Violence, Punishment, and Justice

See, also, Cheating Well

--- EGR

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Relativity of Exploitation: the overburdened “middleman.”

It burns with a white rage against societies as a whole, from military leaders and chiefs of state to (more common in our time) comfortable civilians in easy chairs, who send rough men out to serve their interests brutally, murderously (what is war?), and then —- when circumstances change and in the exquisite safety and fastidiousness of their living rooms they suddenly find these rough men’s actions repugnant -— and disown them. — Richard Grenier (“The Uniforms that Guard Us” 1981)

A leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk. — John Boehner.

What is Exploitation? Exploitation is not bare-faced fact, an action in and of itself. (See Getting Down to Facts: can we avoid making assumptions?.) Exploitation is a matter of people's perceptions of actions and their judgments about them. These perceptions are about how the benefits and costs of an undertaking are allotted among participants. The judgments are about the fairness of those allotments.

It is important to note right off that even more fundamental value assumptions underlie identifying what to count as benefits, costs and fairness. Although often treated as a tedious diversion from planned action, overlooking who shares such value judgments is often the cause of much unproductive dispute. (See The Nature of Consensus. This preliminary aside done for now, let's get on with the sorrows of middlemen.)

We are all, sometimes, “middlemen.” If we work with people we often act as mediators, even though we tend to think of mediators as outsiders brought into a situation with the specific task of reconciling a dispute. Mediators,especially if by occupation, are usually chosen for their being disinterested or “objective,” i.e. having little personal stake in the proceedings beyond their fees and professional reputation which might bias their judgment.

But when we, working with our fellows, function as mediators, the stakes for us are higher because our mediation affects the people we are involved with. This happens, for example, when we find ourselves "caught" in the middle, obliged to deal with a situation where our actions are constrained by those who obligate us, our superiors, as well as by those we depend on for their cooperation, our subordinates. (It is not whimsy that such a position, if official, is called “middle management.”)

Some examples of such an “informal” mediation-role is often provided by policemen, nurses, teachers, military personnel, office managers and the like. But in fact, being a middleman is relative. Those who give orders may also be required by their higher-ups to follow orders. Those at the relative bottom of the totem pole may also constrain what middlemen above them can do. Subordinates to middlemen can resist by on the spot re-interpretation, mass disregard, or even sabotage of the directives they are given. Policemen, parents, teachers, and business managers, constrained themselves by laws, policies and traditions, yet dealing with subordinates, i.e. the workers, children, patients or public, know this all too well.

Abusing the Middlemen. There is a not uncommon practice where those in charge sit buffered from the “front lines,” concocting or imposing “rules of engagement” which do not take into consideration the realities of the person-to-person confrontations that middlemen, the implementers of rules, regulations, laws and policies face. (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?

For example, I have talked with nursing and support staff in mental health services where aggressive patients occasionally harm other inmates and staff. They tell me of the insistence from state-level officials that they, the on-site staff, reduce the use of physical restraints disregarding any complaints about the dangers on-site staff face. Published statistical reports then tend to praise reductions in the use of physical restraints but to ignore increases in patient or staff injuries.

The Disregardful Treatment of Military And Law Enforcement Service People is another major problem. When people are under threat, they are effusively thankful for military or police intervention to protect them. Otherwise, many are very much less than sympathetic for the daily burdens such service people face.

Legislators, fulminating with modish “moral” fervor against some even minor misadventure will pass draconian laws with little consideration for the difficulties of their enforcement or for the collateral damage done to the good community relations those legislators otherwise give such vehement lip-service to.

Service personnel, upon retirement, find that legislatures are often much less ready to fund adequate long-term medical care or pensions than they were placing them in service in harm’s way.

The Emphasis of this essay, however is not on exploitation but on its relativity. Whoever acts as a “middleman” in a situation, and consequently risks exploitation, is not necessarily dependent on traditions or laws, but on contexts. For this reason I will rely on research described in Kenwyn Smith’s book,Groups in Conflict. Prisons in Disguise (1982), in which he analyzes groups as comprised by subgroups he calls Uppers, Middles, and Lowers. His model is more context-independent than something like “Directors-Administrators-Behavioral-Change-Targets” or “Leaders-Followers-Public.”(See Schneider&Ingram. ”Policy design: elements, premises and strategies",(1990).)

Here are some examples of other research fit into Smith’s tripartite scheme:
a. Professor Director - Student Experimenter - Student Experimental Subject (Milgram, 1969)
b. Professor Director — Student Enforcer — Student Prisoner (Zimbardo, 2008)
c. Professor Director — Student Experimenter — White Rat (My experience, 1963 -- EGR))
Outside Academia we can handily find:
d. Club Sponsors - Club Chairperson - Club Members
d. Party Donors — Party Platform Committee — Party Members
f. Mayor — Police Chief — Police Officer ; and important to our discussion below
g. Statutes — Administrators — Target Populations (which effect goals aimed at by Statute Makers.}
Internal Conflict Situations Get Worse as the relationships from uppers to middlemen to lowers becomes formalized, either by tradition or law. There is what seems to be some kind of “social-class” bias in many organizations. The rule-of-thumb in institutions I have observed is:
“If a doctor (or high-ranking member) is assaulted, call in the police and prepare a report. If a nurse (or lower-ranking staff) is assaulted, call in a social worker and make no report.” This seems to reflect a well-established encasement.
Smith holds that if group members do not have sufficient experience at all three levels, Uppers-Middles-Lowers (not necessarily in the same group) because of legal or traditional practices, they develop attitudinal “encasements” which bias them against other levels with often mythological beliefs in the faults of individuals not in their level. Encasement may generate avoidable, costly and counter-productive conflicts. SNAFU may well be an encasement outcome.

The following is a chart that gives a synopsis of Smith’s research

How do we avoid encasement? It is particularly difficult especially if tradition is strong and supported by law. Groups with rigid hierarchies become what Smith calls "monocratic." Monocratic organizations risk encasement. Jeffrey S. Nielsen in The Myth of Leadership (2004) suggests that organizations press to move from rank-based to function-based governance structures. That will provide members with experience of — and hopefully sympathy for — members participating at levels other than their own.

What About “Chain of Command?” To judge by the media, especially during a political season, one would think that very few people are acquainted with the notion of “chain of command.” On the one hand questions are asked why a president hasn’t raised the GNP; or why terrorists managed to elude the efforts of a homeland defense official. The regnant idea here seems to be command-effect model, like rolling a rubber ball down a playground slide. He who rolls the ball is held responsible for where it rolls to.

Links in the Command Chain are Actors, too. Despite the simplistic command-effect sound-bite model many people know that chains of command can be problematic. For example, without Congress’s help presidential efforts to get legislation passed can be stultified. Each “link” in the “chain of command” can have its own agenda. And not even brutal dictators may be able to long control opposition from within. Historical examples abound. One approach to understanding what connects the links in a chain of command is given by Schneider&Ingram. These are illustrated in the next diagram which begins with Uppers and ends in the actual outcomes effected by Lowers (presumably desired by the Uppers).

From Uppers (assumed producers of the Statute) through Middles (Administrators) to Lowers (the Target Population) exist connecting but possibly fragile threads of rules, tools (available resources) and assumptions resulting in Goals.

What Roles do the Middles Play? It is their task to negotiate to adjust the demands of the Uppers to the realities of using alloted resources and the Lowers as agents for the achievement of goals in an environment whose complexity the Uppers may well have underestimated.

Encasements tend not only to undermine the development of practically adequate, subtle understandings of the casual relations between commands and goals; but, also, overly politicize the tasks of the Middles — in accord with the Peter Principle: every one rises to his level of incompetence. — reducing their expertise to the crudest kind of amateurism and the opprobrium that it produces.

To see expansion on these issues, See LEADERSHIP AS USURPATION: the Grand Inquisitor Syndrome and Morality in Rank-Based Organizations

--- EGR

Saturday, September 10, 2016

All Definition Ultimately Rests on Stipulation, i.e. Communal Agreement.

Fools bite one another but wise men agree together.-- Proverb
Agree, for the Law is costly.-- Proverb
The limits of your language are the limits of your world. -- L. Wittgenstein
Stipulative vs Reportive? A distinction has long been noted between what we call “truth” and what we designate as “knowledge.” And so, many venerable thinkers have speculated, we can imagine that as our knowledge expands, so will it – “in the limit” as mathematicians say – eventually comprise truth. (Given that the universe doesn’t collapse into a black hole, or explode into some multidimensional supernova or something equally distracting.)

One common distinction among definitions as been that some are stipulative, i.e. generally restricted to narrow uses in restricted circumstances. Stipulative definitions purportedly stand in contrast to “reportive or “semantic” or “real” definitions, i.e. ones that get at the truth of things.

So it is that a confusion arises between authoritative (for some purposes) sources and “truth-tellers,” founts of veracity, as it were. Dictionaries, technical manuals, and the like, become Holy Books. Why then do they (and Holy Books, too) “suffer” revision? See "What Does That Word Really Mean?" -- The Misleading Dictionary Ritual)

Stipulative Legal Use vs Other Usage Let’s look at the notion of stipulation as it is used in legal contexts:
An agreement between attorneys that concerns business before a court and is designed to simplify or shorten litigation and save costs. During the course of a civil lawsuit, criminal proceeding, or any other type of litigation, the opposing attorneys may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues. Such an agreement is called a stipulation. -- West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. S.v. "stipulation." (My italics to emphasize variables to be used in following paragraphs.)

Now, let’s see how we might transform such a definition of stipulation into a kind of framework for generalization distinguishing semantically necessary structural constants from variables that allow for generalization into wider contexts.

By substituting for the specific legal terms we derive
An agreement between (interested parties) that concerns (action) (in a given venue) and is designed to simplify or shorten (procedures) and save costs. During the course of (an undertaking) the (representatives of different perspectives) may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues. Such an agreement is called a stipulation.

There are six variables: interested parties, action, in a given venue, procedures, undertaking, representatives of different perspectives.

If we substitute other terms for the variables, which may designate either individuals or sets of variables, e.g. groups, professions, activity-types, etc, that themselves may be “unpacked,” we can generate broader, more inclusive, clearly stipulated definitions.

For example, substituting, in order: oncologists, use of chemotherapy, in children, patient discomfort, in hospital stays, attending physicians,
we get
An agreement between Oncologists that concerns use of chemotherapy in children and is designed to simplify or shorten patient discomfort and save costs. During the course of in hospital stays, the attending physicians may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues. Such an agreement is called a stipulation.

If we substitute: Nixon and Brezhnev, activating military forces, around the world, tensions, in times of confrontation, diplomatic services; we get

An agreement between Nixon and Brezhnev that concerns activating military force around the world and is designed to simplify or shorten tensions and save costs. During the course of in times of confrontation, the diplomatic services may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues. Such an agreement is called a stipulation.
(An important note: Just because all knowledge may rest on stipulation, does not mean that any stipulation whatsoever is knowledge. Many may be falsehoods, if not just nonsense.)

Why Does Universal Stipulativity Matter? So what if all
definition ultimately rests on stipulation?

The simplest response is quite plausible. Definitions are, so to speak, the building blocks of communally accessible knowledge. Stipulations are human decisions. They are often -- if not always -- constrained by non-epistemological considerations, the primary ones being monetary, time and opportunity costs. For example, dictionaries are finite, even such volumes as the Oxford English Dictionaries. One cannot define every word demanding that all terms in definiens be defined along with those of the definienda. People have to agree when enough is enough just to get the work published. (See The Fractalization of Social Enterprise)

We normally rely on our inculcated linguistic and cultural norms of communication and affiliation to provide often pre-conscious stipulations which limit the pursuit into infinity of ever more recondite items of possible knowledge.

To pursue these issues, see Searching for “Reality"? Stipulate A Turtle!

See also

--- EGR

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pseudo-Planning: Disguising Leadership Weakness?

Both teachers and students want science to be authentic, challenging, and engaging. How do you make this happen?   -- ASCD Twitter entry, link to source.

Noble aims no doubt: the kind that warms the hearts of the technically challenged in any field. Leadership cadres are not infrequently composed of no minute proportion of those once-upon-a-time competent persons elevated -- according to the Peter Principle -- beyond their level of competence. Such governing groups tend to rest confident of having done a day’s (a meeting’s) work when they formulate goal statements that ring of sound public relations planning.

Who would reject as undesirable -- using the ASCD examples -- such outcomes as authenticity, challenge, and engagement as goals for school curriculum? But two problems tend to be sloughed off as merely technical, i.e. to be left to subordinates whose burden it will be to try to implement the pursuit of such Holy Grails without knowing their targets or the unavoidable costs involved in achieving them.

Of course, should these technicians threaten to spend more than a pittance of resources researching these problems, i.e. target consensus and feasible implementation, budgets can be restricted to what is politically possible, i.e. to levels that will not raise objections from external powers, equally technically challenged, whose objections might threaten the continued incumbency of the leadership.

So, for example, the “American public” -- read “strong political influencers” -- is concerned about terrorism and lawlessness, but apparently more concerned about the high costs, both to budgets and individual convenience, of technically efficient approaches to dealing with them, e.g. intensive surveillance and inconveniences to personal freedoms.

This situation illustrates the Rule of Imminence: the more distant the threat, the greater the cost discount (unless the more distant cost is vastly greater than the nearer, e.g. nuclear conflict vs. loss of control over a market.). So it is that defense industries exaggerate imminent possibilities of US involvement in foreign armed conflict, while their competitors beat warning drums about domestic infrastructure failures.

Educational and political leaders play this out as, for example in the recent past, a matter of trying to raise graduation rates by changing curriculum for fear of loss of national competitiveness. Forget about other so-called more important influences on a child’s school success. Those are likely cost-enhancing technical quibbles by politically insensitive squints. Defining school goals are the leadership’s task!

Wadoo, zim bam boddle-oo,
Hoodle ah da wa da,
Scatty wah !
(- 1935, Ira Gershwin, It Ain't Necessarily So)

To examine these issues further, see America 2000: A Notable Educational Charade

--- EGR

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Public School Reform: a Major Tactic in America’s Hidden "Class" War

During the period 1985 – 1986 I spent about 15 months, officially and unofficially, as the headmaster of a small, struggling private school in an affluent and very status-conscious suburb of Philadelphia. Not infrequently I attended meetings for headmasters or parents of private schools. At these meetings, one of the most pointedly disregarded “elephants in the room" was the issue of social class. It was “un-American” to broach such a topic among these proclaimed “conservatives,” who often mistook narcissism for devotion to the philosophy of Edmund Burke.

But it was very clear that the regnant opinion in such gatherings was that there was no competition between private and public education. They were "different" schools for "different kinds" of people. In fact, when a bill was introduced into the Pennsylvania "legislature to provide tax relief to the parents of children who were attending other than public schools, people involved in private schooling, excepting the impoverished Roman Catholic parochial schools, successfully opposed this approach to “equalizing” education

Why? As the headmaster of a famed, old school near Philadelphia put it, "We wouldn’t want the wrong people to come knocking at our door just because they could afford tuition with government money."

There is no clamor to reform private or parochial education. It is not because such schools are highly successful or efficient trainers in scientific, literary or mathematical skills; in fact, many, many are not – after all, what is an admissions committee for? And many of the most "successful" students are the most "surreptitious." (See Cheating Well)

But, let's just call their behavior, "discretely in-group-goal-oriented." They are, after all, training to be masters, not servants. (See Peter W. Cookson, Jr. and Caroline Hodges Persell, Preparing for Power: America’s Elite Boarding Schools. New York: Basic Books, 1985)

To examine some related issues, see an analysis done by one of my graduate students, a school principal: Pre-Critique Draft of Major Paper on Class Bias

--- EGR

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Pseudo-Science: the reasonable constraints of Empiricism

Reporter: Professor Russell, is it true that you do not believe in the Supernatural World?

Bertrand Russell: My dear fellow, I do not believe in the Natural World.
Russell, in his reply to the reporter, rejects a traditional distinction, natural-supernatural, that has nowadays reappeared as grist for both religious and anti-religious patty-cake bakers plying their wares to a public undereducated and generally uninterested in the history of thought.

So it is that in this 21st Century it has become very modish for pundits, introducing themselves as aficionados of Science, to invoke scientific research to make sweeping statements, and to concoct sleight-of-mind distinctions about the Universe, its structure and its contents.

For example, we find Robert Shermer, writing in Scientific American (March 2003, p. 47) citing psychological studies which, he claims, "are only the latest to deliver blows against the belief that mind and spirit are separate from brain and body."

Mind (Spirit) is no more than brain and body. Perhaps that is so. But what kind of empirical science presumes to conclude that its own narrow, Earth-time&space-bound investigations apply across time and space? What kind of empirical evidence can be offered for such a claim?

Such presumption has long been indulged in: for example,
1. The sole motivators of human behavior are pain and pleasure.

2. Love is the hyperevaluation of the sex object.

3. Animals are mere mechanisms lacking feeling.

4. There are no non-environmental determinants of behavior.
These propositions, later revealed as very probably falsehoods, were held and promulgated even by those considered to be the intellectual giants of their era.

Note that they all presume to talk about "all" of some category of things, without indicating limits on where and when to look for evidence disconfirming them.

This is not to say that such claims ought to be rejected out of hand as false. Rather, they should be recognized, practically-speaking, as non-empirical, because they are unbounded, i.e. they go beyond what their advocates can produce a critical test for.

Note well: the considerations given above are intended to offer neither aid nor comfort nor rebuttal nor rebuke to the many (often well-intentioned, even if benighted) enthusiasts of esoterica, occult or otherwise.

To examine these issues further, see Religion, Intelligent Design and the Public Schools: serving God to Mammon?

Also relevant is Questionable Assumptions in Social Decision Making. Identifying Trans-ideological Epistemological Presuppositions.

--- EGR

Sunday, August 14, 2016

School “Success”: hoping for miracles.

In a country where celebrity counts so much that Donald Trump can apparently found a university on sheer bluster, and Miley Cyrus can generate 300,000 tweets per minute, why bother remembering Avogadro’s number? -- James Graff The Week 9/6/13 p. 3.
Having been in education almost 50 years, I have long wondered why a country that can put a man on the moon and work abundant wonders in many another field, can persist as a whole in being so distracted by plain, dumb slogans and suggestions of how and why schools should be run. (See Blocking School Reform: “scientific” metaphors)

I studied philosophy, math and smatterings of various sciences throughout my academic education. The questions I encountered were often confusing, ambiguous and, even when sufficiently clarified, hard. Being enthusiastic or well-intentioned or hard-working, by themselves, didn’t help answer those questions. Having knowledge did.

However, when I started teaching as an occupation I encountered practices that, even when failing, seldom were questioned as to their whys and wherefores. Questions? Who really wants to be bothered? Bothersome people need not expect a long or successful career. So, don’t ask questions; just look like you’re getting something done!

However, if you persisted and had not quit in your first three years as most new teachers do, explanations, “theories,” as they were called, abounded. (Actual research, unless it supported "enthusiasm," was disregarded. For an example, see Who Controls Teachers’ Work?) "Theories" virtually gushed from the mouths of anyone who claimed to sport an advanced degree. No matter; their nostrums were generally too vague, or it was too impolitic, or even illegal to put them to the test.

Unless … special funds were available for school “reform.” Then those who could seduce funders into believing that grant applicants could spin straw into gold would often end up making a mint by rebottling old wine or, even, substituting turpentine as a new beverage. see Ineffective Instruction: through ignorance, or distraction?

Some researchers have gone abroad to see “why,” for example, South Korean, Polish or Finnish kids do better in school than American kids do. The researchers report back interpreting what generalities they could make as causes of higher school achievement. (See the review of the book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. by Amanda Ripley. Simon & Schuster , in The Week 9/6/13 p. 20.) Such reasoning is riddled with logical error.

Invariably someone will claim title to being an “educational consultant” by invoking either or both of two long-recognized logical fallacies:
a. After this, therefore because of this; e.g. “Kids whose parents started attending PTA meetings got better grades. So, parents, join the PTA!” or

b. confusing correlation with cause; e.g. kids who (said that they?) believed there was a connection leading from high school to college to a good job, worked harder in high school. So parents, get your kids to (say that they?) believe in that connection and their school work will improve!” (But see Success in College: what might influence it?)
In past years I would mention such things to people in other fields and they would shake their heads in dismay that I had chosen such a madhouse-occupation.

Times have changed. Now when they hear that I have been in education for many years they repeat to me the easy reform slogans of the many ed-hucksters chasing after federal and foundation bucks. And of course, everyone, just everyone has a recipe for making schools better.

Concocting proposals to reform public schools has been a pastime in this country for well over 100 years. (See Perpetual Reform: an American Insanity?) You might think it’s been time better spent than paying attention to Donald Trump or Miley Cyrus. But when you consider not only the money frittered away, but the expectations futilely raised, the hopes dashed, in the long run the costs of playing at “school reform” far exceed the benefits.

Nearing the end of my half-century in this profession, this business, this ministry, I do not believe all the hocus-pocus, the hugger-mugger, about school improvement is merely a matter of stupidity, or disinterest. I doubt, for example, the few thoughtful people imagine that narrowing the focus on teachers will accomplish much.

Rather, I suspect that the widespread attitude that somehow education on its lonesome is going to make up for the weakness in its supporting factors, comes from the unwillingness to concede that even people quite removed from the public schools -- not just students, parents, teachers, or administrators -- are substantially responsible for their failings. (See What Can a Teacher Do? Two myths of responsibility.)

Very likely, what is described as the “failure of the public schools” is promulgated to distract from their abandonment by other, stronger, outside institutions, who finesse away their moral responsibilities to society by settling blame on one of its weakest members.

To examine these issues further, see Moral Responsibility in the Education Industry


--- EGR

Impediments to Improving Teaching: confusing Role and Function

If you want something done, ask a busy person. -- Benjamin Franklin, Pearls of Wisdom
It was a staff development day in the junior high school where I worked in 1974 as a teacher of ESOL and coordinator of the ESOL program. I was asked to be leader for a mixed group of experienced and newly-hired teachers. The topic was “Designing a School.” A few minutes after our session began, I was called by my principal to be a translator to help deal with a dispute between the families of two students. I gave my group the following “assignment” to be done while I was away:
You are going to design a school for 500 pupils, ages 12 -Your budget will be guaranteed at $5000 per student. There are no other restrictions. Use your imagination. Be inventive. (I should be back in 40 minutes.)

When I came back, I asked my colleagues what they had come up with so far. One replied, “It started off well, but we soon got involved in an argument over priorities.” I asked what the dispute was about. Another person piped up, “We couldn’t agree whether we needed more vice-principals or more counselors. It would be too expensive to hire as many as we all wanted for both occupations.”

I asked, “Did you consider at all why you would need either vice-principals or counselors? What was the school going to be about, so far as learning activities were concerned? The answer came back, “We didn’t get to that, because we wanted to get the humdrum necessities out of the way before we considered the more interesting stuff.” Apparently neither Experience nor Recent Mintage guarantees Wisdom or Inventiveness.

Assuming my group didn’t just run out, while I was away, for coffee and donuts, what seemed to be blocking their inventiveness was an all-too-common confusion between roles, which are defined by the type of organizations one belongs to, and functions, which are determined by the kinds of interactional environments one happens to be in.

The difference is clear and very important. Schools traditionally designate roles, i.e. which people are teachers and which are pupils. To each group, according to institutional practice, are reserved certain prerogatives, e.g. teachers have the authority to give pupils assignments; pupils are expected to do them. But surely neither group always functions within the role: teachers can be taught by their pupils as when, for example, the pupil give a presentation on a topic with which the teacher is little acquainted.

Institutionally, many schools have a specialist role, Curriculum Developer, to which is designated the function of creating materials for classroom use. But any competent teacher performs that function persistently as they adapt distantly prescribed documents to the realities of the everyday classroom and to flesh-and-blood pupils.*

In many schools, roles are revolving positions. Personnel are sometimes teachers, other times administrators, and often share functions among their difference roles as when teachers act as disciplinarians, or counselors, and vice-principals as substitute teachers.

Roles develop as schools become institutionalized to meet legal or communal expectations. When a new school starts up, invariably most personnel serve different and changing functions while the scope of their interactions develops. With stability -- read here, “assured funding, etc.” -- personnel become, like insects in amber, frozen into their roles. This is not a bad thing from the point of view of the pupils, who, especially when young, need emotionally the kind of constancy of role, and the consistency of function, that institutions provide. (, see Controlling the School: Institutionalization)

Would-be reformers who imagine that ephemeral groups are invariably better educational environments might well consider the corporate world. Whose stocks retain and gain value with the passage of time?

On the other hand, if the world changes significantly, institutionalized organizations risk ossification. And the roles, the careers, of those persons within them, often obtained through long and painstaking preparation, decrepitate. Eventually, the institutional roles may disappear, even though the interactional functions remain.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Do Schools Really Need Curriculum Supervisors? 
Confusing Role with Function

*See also On The Viability Of A Curriculum Leadership Role: Avoiding Confusion of Role and Function

--- EGR

Mutually Cost-enhancing Objectives (MCEO’s): hiding the “Elephant-in-the-Room.”

Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict. -- Saul Alinsky
Mutually cost-enhancing objectives," MCEO’s, are objectives which are operationally or politically unlikely of being fulfilled simultaneously, because progress made toward one tends to undercut the progress made toward the other. Pursuit of MCEO’s is the mechanism of cost-benefit conflict.

People in most undertakings have encountered such beasts, and not infrequently, for example:
a. you often can’t gain speed for a vehicle and cut fuel costs at the same time;
b. you can’t achieve both great muscle strength and running speed; and
c. on a fixed budget, you can’t accumulate savings and also spend profligately.

However, MCEO’s tend to be the “invisible bugs” in educational or other social programs. Particularly in situations where there is a delicate political balance needed to maintain organizational stability, MCEO’s tend to be the “elephants in the room” that are deliberately disregarded, discussion of which participants are dissuaded from pursuing -- “We don’t go there,” is the warning given. (To see how this may work, see Reconstructing Assumptions.)

Is your political candidate’s opponent a womanizer? If your own is, also, “you don’t go there” -- in public at least. Less newsworthy, of course, is the conflict between the objectives of having all kids achieve a high school diploma and college entrance; or between graduating college and finding high quality employment, or, even, providing adequate medical care without reducing those who provide or need it to poverty.

Some MCEO combinations seem unavoidable: e.g. every birth predicts a future death; every option exercised means others are foregone. But perhaps many MCEO’s can be softened by innovative procedures that avoid ultimate mutual cost generation. That hope has long sprung eternal even in the face of hard experience. But such hopes must not rest solely on mere assumption.

For some issues on cost-benefit conflicts in historical context, see Clabaugh & Rozycki (1986) School Reform via Teacher Professionalization: Is it Cost-effective?

--- EGR

Usurping the Rights of Others

Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
-- Lord Acton
Does power tend to corrupt? How exactly does this happen? Power does so by changing our perceptions of the people over whom we have power or who have power over us. This tempts us to deal with them in ways that may undermine both our personal and our common values.

Long ago John Dewey argued that democracy perfected itself the more its members communicated freely with one another. This jibes with what many researches indicate it is that brings people to mistreat others: communicating on a "need to know" basis.

Those who arrogate knowledge to themselves, who believe they have the right to define other people's needs, tend to see them as mere tools to serve either the personal ends of the arrogators; or, more important, to serve what they understand to be their organization's mission.

To examine these issues further, see Leadership as Usurpation

-- EGR

Friday, August 12, 2016

"Protection" : Prevention, Extortion, Compensation?

"I just bought a magic medallion!"
"What does it do?"
"It protects me from attack by a Komodo Dragon."
"There aren't any Komodo Dragons roaming loose within 10,000 miles from here."
"See! It really works!" --- Tired, old joke.

A well-recognized symbol for the idea of protection is the umbrella. An umbrella prevents rain -- to some extent -- from wetting you. But the hoodlum who demands money from a shopkeeper as "protection" is engaged in extortion. Unlike the rain – that raineth on the just and unjust alike, unconditionally – the hoodlum inflicts the damage selectively on those who refuse his demands.

Many schools do something similar to the extortionist, in pursuing a "mission" to increase parental involvement. In many schools parents who are particularly generous in donating time or money, get "special consideration" for their children when it comes to disciplinary treatments or failures for weak academic performance.

Not a small part of what purports to be "special education" engages in such extortionary activities. Little wonder that many school people complain that an IEP (Individualized Educational Program) is a free Do-Not-Go-To-Jail card for students whose parents are "involved" or aggressive enough to secure one for their child. Many a private and parochial school, especially ones on tight budgets, understand that generous parent donations help school administrators and teachers recognize the extra, special "needs" of the donors' children.

Insurance companies play another trick. It is surprising that it works, but it does. They regularly muddle the distinction between protection as prevention and protection as compensation. Parents and travelers, nonetheless, will buy insurance "protection" against events that are unlikely preventable.

School insurance may pay a parent $20,000 dollars if their child loses a finger while playing or working in the school shop. It doesn't prevent such occurrences from happening. If the schools manage to pass on the insurance costs to parents – as they often do in private or parochial education – there is little pressure on the school to take preventative steps against injury. This is why both private and parochial schools – as well as colleges -- permit the risks involved in some of the more combative sports, like football, lacrosse, rugby and boxing.

Insurance policies provide the buffering that allows schools, athletics enterprises, and parents to run the moral hazards of exposing their charges, their students, their team members, their children, to the risks of physical injury.

To examine these issues further, see Hurt, Harm & Safety

--- EGR

Neurosis Schooling for Social Control: Power-Placebos for the Subjugated?

I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life -- Karl Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections
Ever tried to swear in a foreign language? Unless you are very well acculturated to it, it doesn’t feel at all the same as cussin’ in your mother-tongue. No cathartic results. You might even begin to wonder how such a concatenation of sounds came to develop such a “nasty” meaning.

A friend’s anecdote shows how it might happen: At age 6, in 1949, he was helping his Mom wash windows using a spray-and-wipe technique. He was the sprayer. She stopped and went to the front door to chat with a neighbor. He walked up behind her and said, “This damn spray-bottle isn’t working …” Crack! Without missing a word or turning around she smacked him right in the mouth! (6-year-olds’ using such language was intolerable!) He joked that he wondered afterward what was so wrong about saying “spray-bottle”?

Considering he told me this story fifty years later shows that the event left an impression on him. But he got over it, it seems. As he told me the story, he did not flinch or stutter as he uttered “spray-bottle.”

However, some people obsess for a long time over matters that most people pass over quickly. Such seeming OCD (obsessive-compulsively disordered) behavior is often provoked by an initiating event that can come to supplant the evil consequence it originally was taken to foretell. His mother’s smacking him for saying “spray-bottle” is a good example. What was she trying to accomplish? Keep him from saying “damn!”? Why bother? To keep the devil away? Or maybe it was just a show to prove to the neighbor that she was raising her son on the strict-and -narrow? What was her worry?

Often a worry is based on the fear of something that people believe they have little power to control. So a ritual develops believed to forestall or lessen the consequences of the initiating event. So it is that people on sinking ships or falling planes turn to prayer. (In order to have an all-knowing, all-powerful and merciful God reconsider what He permits to be happening?)

But cuss-words come and go. Two hundred and fewer years ago such gems as zounds, bloody, My God (said casually), blaggart, could hardly be mentioned in polite company. (Does the term “polite company” still have much meaning?) In a single generation in the US, for example, vulgar, blasphemous or obscene words can transform from the publicly unspeakable to common, often even ceremonial parlance, e.g. suck, crap, deep doo-doo, shit-faced, while childrens’ nursery rhyme vocabulary has become more than border-line risqué. Think of “little pussy whose coat is so warm” or “cock-robin.”

Randall Collins has proposed that there three historically continuous interests have shaped curriculum in schools around the world: Status, Vocation, Social Control. Despite giving somewhat more than lip service to status and vocation, most schools emphasize inculating social control mechanisms, neuroses, weakly attended to by family, church and community.

The persistence and the power of the Social Control schooling mission across ages and cultures are an indication that such obsessive-compulsive behavior is primarily inculcated to protect entitlement structures and privileges, be they consequent to leadership position, Status, or group membership, Vocation.

To examine these issues further, see Permissible School Violence

Cordially, EGR

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Searching for “Reality"? Stipulate A Turtle!

"What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"
— Hawking, 1988 A Brief History of Time

Traditions of Stipulation Define Disciplines. We find in West’s Encyclopedia of Law** the following characterization of stipulation as it is used in legal proceedings:
An agreement between attorneys that concerns business before a court and is designed to simplify or shorten litigation and save costs. During the course of a civil lawsuit, criminal proceeding, or any other type of litigation, the opposing attorneys may come to an agreement about certain facts and issues. Such an agreement is called a stipulation.

From this conception of stipulation it is easy to construct parallels for almost any kind of research that does not or cannot push to some ultimate, incorrigible result. Within a discipline practitioners tend to pursue answers to questions arguably recognized as within the scope of their discipline, using methods arguably related to traditional methodologies. One cannot proceed within a discipline without some potential for recognition from others in that discipline that their undertaking is appropriate. Every graduate student learns early on how narrowly one must frame a research question for it to be acceptable to an advisor. (See Becher, T. Academic Tribes & Territories: the Cultures of the Disciplines. 1989.) See All Definition Ultimately Rests on Stipulation, i.e. Communal Agreement.

Of course, one can strike out on one’s own pursuing “gigantic truths” and risk possible self-delusion, uncompensated-for bias,and dismissal, should one's efforts, in the long run, not stand up to criticism from interested parties. Many famous discoverers have run this gauntlet and met with success, if only posthumously. (Many more of us console ourselves with advice from an ancient and also unremembered author: Pan metron ariston.)

But even well-established contexts of research have their own problems. Coordinated group activities, in general, are subject to tensions among authority, consensus and efficiency. Research problems frequently raise issues as to who decides procedures and goals, how much agreement among participants has to be obtained on these issues to come to a decision; and, how best to use the resources available for it.

The sticking point is this: such decision-types, i.e. those arbitrating authority, consensus and efficiency, may reiterate themselves for every decision consequently reached. This reiteration is often dismissed by invoking some tradition of stipulation contexts, e.g. budget limits, time and opportunity costs, political opposition from funding sources, diminishing returns on output, even researcher fatigue or boredom. (See The Fractalization of Social Enterprise)

Just as lawyers on opposing sides may stipulate evidence they have no hope of subverting, so do researchers in any field forego spending time and effort on pursuits that consume scarce resources with little promise of compensatory yield.

But What About Objectivity? Wouldn’t stipulation make it impossible?

In the early 1970’s I met a researcher whose speciality was disease etiology. Her interest was aroused by an apparent correlation between increased density of cancer cases and density of chemical manufacturers in certain neighborhoods of a large Eastern city. She obtained federal funding and began her investigations by interviewing people in those neighborhoods.

Two weeks into her interview schedule, she received a phone call at 3:00 A.M. The caller warned her not to continue the interviews; not even to come back in to the neighborhood. Otherwise, she would “end up with two broken legs.”

Being of a somewhat crusading spirit, she considered continuing with her research despite the phone call. Her husband, however, was not comfortable with her ignoring the threat. Little matter: one day later, while she was still weighing a decision, she received a phone call — this time at an appropriate hour — telling her that the funding for her research had been cancelled. No explanation was given.

No doubt from the research perspective of trying to see if there was a relationship between cancer victims and numbers of chemical plants, a set of conditions had been stipulated which impaired the objectivity of her research. The research was terminated before the experimenter’s intended procedures had been carried out. Lacking more information, we can speculate as to what the research-termination procedure was stipulated to be, although we do not know who had the power or authority to do it.

Objectivity depends on what the proposed object is. If all you want to do is stare through a tube to see pretty patterns, then a kaleidoscope will do as well as a telescope. Every procedure, or instrument employed in a procedure, can be questioned to what extent it creates as well as gathers “data.” Reliable instruments, stipulated as such, may permit reasonable stipulated outcomes, e.g. abridgments of otherwise lengthy procedures. (See Can Criminal or Immoral Behavior Be Dealt With Objectively?)

For references and to examine these issues further, see Knowledge: The Residues of Practical Caution

--- EGR

**West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. S.v. "stipulation." Retrieved August 9 2016 from

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Philosophical "Isms": tradition and dissonance for leadership practice.

It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. – Baudelaire

Leadership preparation in many organizations, e.g. educational, military, religious, even commercial, often requires participants to undergo some exposure to what is characterized as "philosophical" training. No matter to what depth it is carried out, it usually begins with rather simplistic categories charted to facilitate -- by contrast and comparison -- either memorization, or understanding of the relationship between different approaches to practice.

The distinctions made between different philosophies are generally believed to generate, in the long run, important distinctions in practice, as, for example, economic activities pursuing capitalism in contrast to socialism. In the United States, securing funding from governmental bodies is often contingent on applicants stating their organization's philosophy so as to enable judgment of their success while allowing for diversity of goals.

However, there is often a problem which arises both from the vagueness or ambiguity of critical terms used to define such philosophies, due in no small part from failure to recognize that such words as "pragmatic" or " "idealistic" or "behavioral," though fraught with philosophical content, vary in denotation and significance depending on context.

I created the chart to the right as a basic learning aide for professional certification candidates in my university classes. My personal aim was always to show my experienced, adult graduate students -- though in various professions, e.g. education, nursing, business administration, corporate instruction - that they could develop techniques of interpreting, critiquing and applying, what would be otherwise pointless "philosophical" puffery, to achieve the goals best serving their organizations.

I based the chart on careful examination of several published sources (some indicated at the bottom of the chart). My students' initial reactions were that different categories showed a lot of overlap. Worse yet, there were internal conflicts. Obviously, there was, initially, at least, no clear path to be drawn from the short, sloganistic characterization of each "ism" to a real-life organizational goal. The ambiguity and contradiction were very much like what they often found in their own organization's philosophy.

However, by having the students bring in documents to class stating their organizations' philosophies, we could work using the chart as a springboard at articulating cogent reasons why some options for action should be considered better than others in achieving the goals expressed in their organizational philosophies.

To get a more explanation of the chart and fuller references for its sources, see Teaching Philosophy to Teachers: are ISM's Philosophy?.

See also PHILOSOPHY AND EDUCATION: What's The Connection?

--- EGR

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Productive Confusions: Faith with Doctrine, Community with Church

"Hey, how 'bout them Phillies!"
"What? Two good games? Fuhgeddaboudit! I lost my faith years ago!"
--Typical fan comments in Philadelphia
Confusion, which relies on ignorance, naiveté or inattention, is a much used marketing tool, both for commercial and political purposes. Why? Because it works. ("Idealists" who think that everyone appreciates the value of providing a good education, should dwell on this point. See The Classroom Teacher: Who Wants Experts?")

Confusing "faith" with "doctrine" and "community" with "church" has its pay-offs, too. The question to be asked is the ancient, "Cui bono?," "Who benefits?" Do not jump to the conclusion that the answer is: the faithful or a community of faithful.

Confusing faith with doctrine is like confusing a baseball fan with a player, or a hunter with a soldier. The differences here rest on the fact that the behavior of players and soldiers is constrained by discipline, by "rules of engagement," which fans and hunters need pay no attention to.

But even more important, professional ball-players, like soldiers, have commitments to team or to armed service; commitments that amateurs likely do not have. Professionals come with agendas generally not shared with the laity or with civilians.

In the same way, community may be confused with church, even when it is capitalized, e.g. "Church." This is like confusing a home with a house, or love with marriage. They may sometimes coincide, but they are still critically distinguishable.

And who benefits from the confusions? Ask yourself the economic question: "From which persons to which others do transfers of wealth occur?" Who gets the loot? Look past the smoke and mirrors of claims of a "spiritual" transaction. Such may occur, but are they the point?

There are those who believe that such confusion could be cured to some degree if our public schools could include some religious components, a vision of something higher than individual success and happiness, or market competitiveness. Maybe.

But, let us shift our eyes, for a moment, away from celestial glory and salvation, down to the problems we have to deal with everyday in our worlds of commerce and politics. Down to where moth or rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Religion, Intelligent Design and the Public Schools: serving God to Mammon?

--- EGR

** Bill Klem. (n.d.). Retrieved August 02, 2016, from Web site:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Three Human Dimensions of Conceptualization

The limits of your language are the limits of your world. -- Wittgenstein

Dimensions of Conceptual Definition: emotive, descriptive and communal. There are three often overlooked dimensions of importance to be considered when attempting to define a concept used by humans. They are

A: The Emotive-Evaluative Dimension. This focusses on expression of feeling or evaluation, or lack of such. e.g. creepy, cute, three pounds, light, 6 feet. These terms range from expressive to dispassionate with either positive (celebratory) or negative (deprecatory) connotation.(For more on celebratory/deprecatory comparisons, see Philosophy, Race and Language

B. The Descriptive-Uncertainty Dimension. This focusses on the extent to which judgment is based on presumption as opposed to demonstration, e.g. honest. happy, graduate, felon, equilateral, topology. These terms range from defeasible (also characterized as presumptive, ascriptive or concessive) to summative (invoking the logical sufficiency of necessary conditions).

C. The Personal-Communal. This dimension focuses on the breadth of community invoked (not necessarily actual) by the judgment. e.g. cute, annoying, criminal. These terms range from idiosyncratic to social.

It is important to note that these dimensions are not merely embellishments on the distinction in common parlance between “subjective” and “objective.” Daston and Galison in their book, Objectivity, present much evidence that this distinction has been historically problematic, particularly in the sciences. (For more on “objectivity,” see comments and references at Can Criminal or Immoral Behavior Be Dealt With Objectively?)

Unexamined, a vague concept of objectivity probably best serves the interests of those engaged in the academic, professional or commercial competition for status or markets. For more on such considerations, see Tony Becher(2001) Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Cultures of Discipline.)

Note well that a disagreement among humans on how to describe something need not require a difference in sensory perceptions among them. A group of people could disagree, and often do, on whether a tarantula is creepy or cute, even though they all agree that it is black and hairy.

Those who find it creepy might disagree with those who think it cute on the conditions under which the tarantula would be also dangerous. Very individual fears (or indifferences) may not be shared among members of the same community. This is common experience.

Descriptive uncertainty, on the other hand, is often overlooked or assumed to indicate a (possibly mistaken) perceptual difference underlying a disagreement. What is ignored is the judgment of uncertainty that may be quite independent of agreed-on perceived characteristics.

For some problematic examples consider the uncertainty involved in deciding that:
1. John, a convicted embezzler just released from prison, can be treated as an honest man;

2. John having memorized X number (3 or 3000?) of Spanish phrases can speak Spanish;

3. John, having acquired some number of certificates and diplomas, is educated; and

4. John, playing above average basketball in his first season, is a star player.
Each of these claims, 1 through 4, is far more vulnerable to rejection (defeasible), and would require far more consensus on evidence than the following:
5. John is six feet tall;

6. John has low blood pressure.

7. John throws the ball well.

8. John speaks some Spanish.
Why? Recognized standards of practice or broad familiarity reduces uncertainty in judgment. But uncertainty in judgment, even if supported by some measure of mathematical uncertainty, is a psychological state evidenced by our (un)willingness to pursue action. Its connection to the "real world" is at best a "psychological" one. (See Cause and Effect: essential belief, misapprehension, moral hazard?)

Isn’t this just obvious, just old hat? Apparently not. In the frantic pursuit of the imagined treasures of creating robotic homunculi, defeasible concepts of mental capacity are reduced to a fool’s gold list of sensory inputs hoped to produce sufficient conditions for characteristics of human intelligence. The three dimensions discussed above are ignored as “unscientific,” e.g. too “sociological” or “philosophical” or “legalistic,” by researchers whose conceptual hammers have been tempered in the hard sciences.

So, for example, traditional myths about teaching and learning abound among some researchers in artificial intelligence – also among researchers in other fields, e.g. psychology, organizational studies, and education. (See Five Essays: Causation in Teaching & Learning )

So, we are advised, if we want to protect humans from killer robots – or robots who just don’t give a damn about humans -- we need only “teach them human values,” or “teach them right from wrong.” (For more on this see United Nations tackles the 'fight' against killer robots; teaching them right from wrong may be the first step.— )

The 3 Dimensions as Indicators of Human Capacities.
With artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon. — Elon Musk (2015 MIT AeroAstro Centennial Symposium)
I suspect the demon is soon to be, if not already, loosed. There are too many highly intelligent and skilled people working in AI today who, but for a misorientation away from promising sources for modeling the human mind, would have come up with something by this time. (The present situation recalls the German attempt during WWII to develop an atomic bomb: they almost got it but for having gone down an unfruitful byway.)

Some promising sources, if one wants to create an artificial homunculus, are to be found in evolutionary biology, linguistic investigations and social, especially organizational theory. ( (See, for example, Joan Bybee (2010) Language, Usage and Cognition).

The three dimensions examined above lead fairly directly to those human – and not only just human – capacities supporting the intelligence with which our evolutionary history has endowed us. But that is grist for a later discussion.

For more relating to these issues, see Trait vs. Behavior: the sometimes non-science of learning

Cordially, EGR

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Belief, Disbelief, Truth, Falsehood and Faith

I would never die for my beliefs, because I might be wrong. -- Bertrand Russell
It seems simple common sense that a person’s belief is no guarantee of its truth. Nor does that person’s disbelief by itself establish any falsehood.

However, we use the verb “believe” in an interesting variety of ways. It need not merely indicate some person’s state of mind relative to a possible fact or falsehood, but in many contexts morphs into an expression of confidence; or, even more strongly, a declaration of commitment -- often called “faith.”

In some parts of our multicultural USA, prefacing a statement with "I believe that..." serves as a warning that a somewhat "Sacred Value" is being expressed and is not to be challenged. (See Thumper's mother on this etiquette at Goodspin.)

Compare this first set of expressions, (call it group A):
a. John is out taking a walk
b. John will keep his promise to us.
c. The God of the Bible exists
Consider, now, the following group B
a. I believe that John is out taking a walk.
b. I believe that John will keep his promise to us.
c. I believe that the God of the Bible exists.
Why use these longer forms? Prefacing a sentence with “I believe that…” seems to be hedging our bets. We are already somewhat on the defensive, since merely asserting something from group A would normally be understood to be something we believe.

Now, the group B expressions vary substantially in their relation to the following disclaimer: “…but I might be wrong.” They range from expressing almost throw-away facts (So what if I’m mistaken. Big deal!) to possibilities of disappointment (I hope John doesn’t let us down!) They can go even further into the area of deeply held convictions, where it is difficult for many to imagine adding Russell’s complement, “… but I might be wrong.”

For example, take a statement held by some community of believers (whether theistic, philosophical or secular) to be fundamental. (See Sacred Values) Let FB symbolize some fundamental belief. Anyone who would say “I believe that FB, but I might be wrong,” would not likely be perceived by that community as a member, especially if community members expressed their belief as “I believe in FB." (Even such as Credo quia absurdum est.) Just as Hope tends to deprecate Experience, so Fidelity does Truth.

“Believe in” indicates a commitment to a presumed consensus, a trust. Such commitments are not evaluated in terms of their clarity, or their truth, but in terms of their fervor, and the strength of the bonds of allegiance they are believed to generate to a community of consensus.

That someone bothers to preface an assertion with “I believe that …” is likely prima facie evidence of the shaky grounds upon which that belief rests. Or perhaps a signal-call for kindred spirits.

For references and to examine these issues further, see The Indeterminacy of Consensus: masking ambiguity and vagueness in decision.

--- EGR