Theory X

I’m teaching a course on Leadership Development this semester, and I’m quite excited about it, as it is substantially different from my normal enterprises and because it is team taught, which I have never had the opportunity to do.

So, I’m pretty stoked about the class.

We were discussing Douglas McGregor’s Theory of Management (known as Theory X and Theory Y) the other day, shortly after I finished a class on Classroom Design.  And, lo and behold, the two conversations started merging in my little brain.

In short, Theory X is a relatively pessimistic view of humanity, and it assumes that management must be top-down and rigid, in order to ensure that people perform, because it also assumes that people don’t want to work, lack self-motivation, and are fairly stupid when left to their own devices.  Classroom design, you may have noticed, assumes pretty much the same things about students:  they lack motivation to pay attention, so we eliminate as many distractions as we can (color, windows, anything even remotely worth looking at) and they don’t want to work, so we have to keep their eyes trained on the sage on the stage, er, prof.

I realized that I really despise this view of students.  While already aware that pessimistic views about students tended to make me nuts, the confluence of the two conversations really hit home.

I know why we have a pessimistic view of students–or, at least, why we act as if we do, but what if we gave them a bit more credit?  Let them loose–let them fail?  I wonder how different those conversations could be and how differently our campus could be shaped….

I need to ponder.  In the meantime, you should read Fred Clark’s analysis of Good Fight Ministries and “Category 4 cynicism.”  It’s all related to what I’m wondering about students.  Do we, in our attempts to control education within four beige walls, engage in some of the same–perhaps unwittingly?


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