Patrons and Clients, I

As I mentioned in Friday’s post, my students got their first report cards Friday afternoon.  We reported to the new advisory groups I’ve mentioned, and we took time to record our grades – and whether we’d met our personal goals – in the “data notebooks” we’re keeping.  For my seniors, it was a time of real celebration.  Some have “always” been good or excellent students, but many have struggled in the past.  They were delighted to see positive results from their efforts and goal-setting.  I’m not sure what things were like in other advisory groups, but ours was a joyful way to end the week.

And yet something bothered me.

As I handed out the report cards, distributed the notebooks, and collected them again, something kept bothering me.  I finally articulated it over the weekend:

Factory-model schools train students to depend on authority the same way Roman clients depended on their patrons.

The advisory system is an effort to change that dependency, to help our students rely on and celebrate their own efforts, not Mr. S’s or Ms. X’s benevolent largesse (“she gave me a 94!”) or cruel deprivation (“she gave me an 80!”).  But what if dependency is built into the system itself?

Clientēla is one of the big themes of the Tres Columnae Project stories.  Not only was it central to Roman life and thought, but it’s the kind of complex, multifaceted theme you can return to, over and over, finding new insights each time.  My Latin I students have just begun to explore the relationships between patrōnī and their clientēs through the stories in Lectiō V, while my Latin III’s are looking at the effects on clientēla – and everything else – of a disaster like the eruption of Vesuvius through the stories in Lectiō XXX and (this week) part of Pliny’s account of the eruption.

We’ve looked for modern-day comparisons, we’ve talked about the various forms of mutual obligation, and the Latin I classes have even started planning salūtātiō conversations they’ll present on Wednesday.  But no one has mentioned  this uncomfortable truth:

Factory-model schools teach students to depend on authority just like Roman clients depended on their patrons.

We got close to it in some wonderful Google+ conversations over the weekend.  I almost got there in this post for EdStartup 101, in the paragraphs about core problems of textbooks and schools.  But then it hit me, suddenly, with startling clarity.

Factory-model schools teach students to depend on authority just like Roman clients depended on their patrons.  And the authority is positional, not personal.

Is that why many teachers are angry and upset?  “Those kids” and “those parents” and “those administrators” don’t respect “us” –  the generous patrons dispensing knowledge to our clients the way wealthy Romans handed out sportulae.

Is that why many parents and community members are upset with educators?  “Those teachers” and “those administrators” must be “bad and lazy” since they clearly aren’t “doing their job” of forcing kids to respect authority, the way a Roman client “respected” his patron or a terrified factory worker “respects” the foreman or the boss.

Is that why political leaders and business leaders are angry at “those spoiled, entitled teachers?”  After all, “those teachers” sometimes don’t display “proper respect” for the political and business leaders, nor do “they” instill “proper respect” into “those bad, lazy kids.”

“Proper respect,” in both Rome and the factory, was respect for positional authority.  But factory society is gone, and post-industrial society doesn’t run on positional authority.  The more that factory-model schools (and their critics) cling to the past – the more we try to enforce respect for positional authority – the more irrelevant and irritating we become.  Imagine a toga-clad Roman aristocrat waiting, with increasing fury, for a line of clients who never show up.

But if positional authority no longer works – if the pain-punishment tools are slowly failing us – what are we to do?  When the clients don’t need you any more, what can a patron of information do?  How do you establish personal authority when the positional kind is all you’ve ever known?

What do you think of the patron-client metaphor, and what about positional authority?

Published in: on October 8, 2012 at 10:06 am  Comments (13)  

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  1. Justin, you are constructing Bill Glasser’s work in your posts to shift from command and control modes of bossing kids around to a choice theory model in which you create an ethos in which kids are in charge of and responsible for their own learning – here’s a synopsis of the book Choice Theory in the Classroom – a great road map from boss management to quality learning.

    The questions and concepts you are exploring are at the root of why boss management fails in biz and schools. The big question for me emerges from the work of Glasser, Tyack, Cuban, and Sarason – if we know that what we’re doing isn’t working – for us or the kids- why don’t we stop doing “it?” What motivates humans to persist in doing things that don’t work? Is it that we perceive because of a false sense of intermittent reinforcement that it is working? Because we are driven genetically to sustain status quo mostly? Because it takes generations for a new idea to spread and become norm? Because it takes a disruptive influence so great that the need for change can’t be ignored? All of the above? Some of the above?

    What I know for sure is that most changes are so superficial that the work our children do just doesn’t change. We can change printed texts to screen print, paper worksheets and tests to online ones, desks in rows to round tables, writing on a chalkboard to writing on an IWB – now we have a 21st century classroom, right? Wrong – we have the same place we had for all of the last century. So, what do we change as teachers to change not just the surfaces, but the work kids do around and on the surfaces?

    As Dr. Bill Glasser said in his first iteration of Choice Theory – Reality Therapy- if a kid is “misbehaving” in class, the teacher must ask first, “what am I doing? What do I need to change?” He didn’t just believe that the only person’s behavior we really truly control is our own, he practiced it, researched it, and ultimately saw his life of research work applied in a tiny cohort of schools around the world, not just in mental health which was his original field of research. Kids leave Glasser Quality schools with a tool belt, to borrow from Ira Socol of life skills, that change the trajectory of whatever path they choose to follow.

    • @Pam, yes, I am (re)constructing Glasser, whom I’ve read and admired for years. Thanks for the reminder!

      You’re right, too, about the core issues of “boss management” and its failures. Why do we persist in doing what we’ve never actually seen work? I don’t know, either, and yet sometimes I find myself falling into the old, comfortable, useless patterns too. Stubbornness? Inertia? Not knowing what else to do? Tradition? All of the above? A complex mix that’s different each time?

      Thanks so much for keeping the conversation going!

  2. I absolutely agree with the comparisons you have made.

    It’s very interesting how respect was such an important virtue in Roman life-it was a different sort, but still much more integrated in that culture than I notice it today. I wonder if it is at all possible for some kind of “patron-client bond,” one of mutual obligation that you discuss here, to be truly incorporated into the lives of students in regards to their authority figures? Admittedly, it is strange for me to view myself on the same level as a teacher, differing in obligation but not necessarily importance. I have always been “taught” to place authority on a high level. I know other students who feel this way as well, and it would likely be very difficult for us to collectively switch from positional to personal authority. Do you have any ideas in regards to creating such relationships?

    • Great question, as always! I’m not sure how to instill mutual, but differentiated respect into a one-way respect system, but I do think the one-way nature of positional respect is a big part of the factory-model pain problem. Romans, for all their failings, at least do seem to have had more of a grasp of mutual respect, mutual obligation, than 20th- century factory-model society did.

  3. I don’t feel at all like a patronus at school, far from it; I feel more like the owner of a popina whose clientele demands that I provide the goods they want. Or maybe like the hired hand of a farmer whose job it is to fatten up the swine for market! And the swine themselves demand that I fatten them faster and more efficiently! I have “authority” but it is, as it were, imposed on me from above; I haven’t earned it or asked for it. Will mull over this.

    • Ann, if anything, I think the teacher in a factory-school setting is more like the ianitor or praeco than the patronus. Maybe that’s what makes angry teachers so angry??

      Thanks for the great insight! More in tomorrow’s post….

  4. Hard to add to Pam Moran’s thoughts, but as I often write on my blog, and just did yesterday, “the hidden curriculum is the curriculum.” So, when we “deliver content” we are teaching passivity and positional authority no matter what we think we are dropping off at the doorstep of the student brain. And when we structure a classroom in a way which teaches hierarchy, we are teaching hierarchy no matter what we might debate in that room today.

    Of course you are right, positional authority has much less value than it has had over the past 500 years. Just as the Gutenberg Era is over, the Reformation Authority Era is over as well, and schools have been left so far behind at this point that many are actually destructive to the futures of children – rather than just meaningless.

    – Ira Socol

    • @Ira, oh, goodness, yes! The hidden curriculum IS the curriculum. And the more schools rely on positional
      Authority, the more damage they do to themselves, their own credibility, as well as to their students. It’s a lose-lose game, but so many people don’t seem to know how to stop playing!

  5. This is a great metaphor, and my mind was already full of associations before I got to the comments. Where to begin?

    I’ll start with pamelamoran’s excellent comment, and jump to her reference to Bill Glasser. I thought his name sounded familiar, and sure enough, in addition to choice theory, he developed “reality therapy.” This leads me to a story about my interaction with a “reality therapist” when my stepdad, a newly-retired history professor with an interest in politics and power, didn’t know what else to do with me but send me to a therapist. He had reluctantly taken on a sort of patron/mentor role when I was 22, introducing me to the Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, and Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor text. He had graduated from Princeton under pressure from his father. I was questioning the value of college, partly due to his, and my dad’s, influence as disgruntled professors, and I was seeking to self-educate and figure out how to earn a living helping others to learn, including through such media as television or a web series, although YouTube had yet to be invented, as it was 2002. The whole situation was a good example of a “digital native,” or even “narrative native,” clashing with the “get a job or go to school” mindset of everyone I knew. My family had little concept of entrepreneurship, especially education entrepreneurship, and I didn’t know how to go about connecting with others who wanted to question school, innovate, and do something other than “get by.” My stepdad was the most proactive person I knew, but he looked at everything through the lens of politics, rather than entrepreneurship.

    So, in 2003, I was sent to a reality therapist — a guy with a PhD who charged $150/hour for conversation. It was good to have someone to talk to, but I didn’t know how to broach discussion of the many articles and papers I’d already collected on psychology, neuroscience, and the like. As with a number of people I’ve talked to since, it was very hard to discuss the past as meaningfully relevant to the present or future. This guy explained that he was a “reality therapist,” but I didn’t know the details of what that meant. He explained how he had pumped gas, and worked his way through school, and warned me not to “rest on my laurels” when I tried to explain my own efforts to learn, work, and figure things out.

    The past year, in digging back through the past, I looked up the term “reality therapy,” and found Wikipedia’s article about it — — and that gave me a much better understanding of what had played out, nearly a decade ago. Reality therapy neglects the past and avoids explanation, as explanations are treated as excuses. The good part about it *is* the promotion of personal responsibility and choice, but the question is, where to go, what to do, what to know? One of reality therapy’s principles gets at that point: “encourage people to judge all they are doing by the Choice Theory axiom: Is what I am doing getting me closer to the people I need?”

    My realization was that a “reality therapist” was not the person I needed to talk to, especially at $150/hour. I also realized that going to community college wasn’t doing me much good, although I got at least one good prompt out of it, in an introductory English class, where I picked a topic from a list about jobs moving overseas. I responded with an argument that “Americans need to innovate” and I quit going to class soon after that (somewhat like how I dropped out of Economics during my first year of college, soon after I learned about Opportunity Cost and Coupons, and I dedicated the time to learning how to program, which helped me get a job at a web customer service startup in 1999, which in turn led to my discovery of what I was capable of, and eventually sent me searching for next steps.) Jumping back to the 2002-3 timeframe, the next year, in 2004, I wrote about the importance of prompts. This is one of the key things a mentor, teacher, therapist, preacher, or game provides — prompts to respond to in some manner.

    This gets to the authority/initiative question: who provides what prompts and feedback? How do people learn how to interpret and respond to prompts and feedback? If one person is a patron/mentor/teacher, what is the power relationship with others who might learn enough to play the same game? What are the rules?

    This links up to @anarbitraryauthor’s comment about respect and authority, and question about relationships. In thinking about these things, I often think of the challenge of game-world designers and writers, who not only create the general narrative world that gamers interact with, but, in MOOG’s like World of Warcraft, tweak the rules on an ongoing bases, having to take into account the perspectives and experiences of many different kinds of players, including how changes can disrupt the position and status of various players.

    These are also some of the challenges of governance in any form. Especially in today’s world, even rulers with absolute power have to to into account a range of factors. Likewise, parenting (which has parallels with the notion of absolute power) gives rise to questions of governance. Even teaching does. And, even writing a film, television show, or play does. All of these impact what the audience, or client, experiences, which can, in turn, influence their sense of identity — or have no effect at all. This leads to a complex challenge: anyone who tries to rule, lead, or teach, may have zero influence, or provide such extreme influence as to change the life course of those one is prompting/teaching/ruling.

    And this comes back around to the question of money. In 2003, I was primarily sent to a therapist because I didn’t have money, and I didn’t have any meaningful relationships, even as I was trying to figure out how to find both. There’s the whole question of “what is the meaning of life?” but related, and arguably more practical question, is “what to do?”

    My brother was in film school at the time, and had avoided discussion with me about making a documentary or other film about education, so I did some recording of my own, casting myself as a character in a film yet to be written. More recently, I found a relevant trope: “Enforced Method Acting”

    For example:

    Enforced Method Acting: “Context Collapse” (2004) [56s]

    Here, I reference a concept that anthropologist Michael Wesch defined much more recently, “context collapse” —

    Enforced Method Acting: “Wasted Days, Wasted Nights” (2004)

    The past few years, I’ve worked with another mentor/teacher, a producer and employer, and along with working on a student information system, I’ve wondered, how can all of this be turned into some kind of production? For example:

    Screenstorming: Looking for the Show in this Show (March 26, 2012) [2:53]

    “but there’s an editing question — a selectivity question — of what to edit together into an output.”

    In Treatment, Web Video, and Situational Complexity (March 26, 2012)

    With multiple people in my life telling me to get an existing job, I recorded this video:
    Screenstorming: “Why Not a Stock Job?” (March 28, 2012)

    I’ll wrap this comment up here, even though I can think of a lot more elements to incorporate. This actually brings up the question of the value of textbooks, as well as the value of lectures or other forms of video. In fact, there’s a big difference between the traditional notion of a lecture, and lectures recorded on video, as one has much more choice in surfing through lecture videos, than deciding whether to walk out of a traditional lecture or just stick with it. Likewise, one has many more choices of surfing different blogs, vs. the traditional notion of having a few assigned textbook sections from a limited number of teachers.

    To conclude, I’ll reference Ed Muzio of Group Harmonics, whose videos focus on traditional office interactions, but have much applicability to thinking about how education works. Here, he discuses org charts, which relate to the traditional notion of “positional authority.” Ed Muzio – Burn Your Org Chart

    To connect that to education: students, teachers, and administrators, and even television writers, producers, and actors, are all interacting with each other, and online content, in ways that aren’t envisioned by the traditional factory model of organization. Students can “look ahead in the textbook” even to the extent of reading about organizational politics, education theory, cognitive neuroscience, naturalistic epistemology, and grounded theory. The questions then add up to many more questions like, “who made these rules?” and “what game do I want to play?”

    So, I’ll leave it with one last thought: the concept of patronage implies a financial or other material benefit provided by an authority figure. In modern times, teachers, or other authority figures, including billionaire philanthropists, often all find their hands tied by some external authority or other financial limitations. The result is a level of confusion and uncertainty that would probably be unheard of in ancient times.

    Perhaps the best metaphor is one referenced by Ken Robinson, that of the stage.

    Sir Ken Robinson, Creativity, Learning & the Curriculum

    And, here’s a good cross-reference between careers, cycles, and the stage:

    And to keep it going, here’s yet another reference:
    The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance: Power vs. Truth

    I’m continuing to figure out how to link such streams of references into a more coherent and interesting story, but that’s what I have for now. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the original post. But, it’s part of a series, as is everything, so I’ll leave it at that. Thoughts?

    • Wow! So many great resources and stories to respond to! For the moment, let me just say that the complex financial issues you mention are, I think, central both to the “pain problem” of schools and to the problems of textbooks. The factory-model school and textbook are designed to build “respect” for distant positional authority (“The Boss”), but The Boss is very different from a Roman patron. It would be scandalous for a patron NOT to interact regularly with his clients, but it would be shocking for The Big Boss TO interact regularly with ordinary workers. Patrons give their own money and expect personal service in return; The Boss uses others’ money in a fundamentally impersonal, transactional relationship.

      Clientela was far from perfect, of course. But the personal, direct connections it fostered were important “glue” that kept Roman society together in times of rapid change. I think we can build a post-industrial system of relationships and institutions, and when we do, the direct, personal connections will be vital.


  6. […] seems yesterday’s post sparked a lot of conversation, both here and on Google+ . Factory-model schools train students […]

  7. […] I want to keep a promise from Tuesday’s post and address some comments from Ira and Brendan from Monday.  As Ira pointed out, “[T]he hidden curriculum is the curriculum.” So, when we “deliver […]

  8. […] a lengthy, eloquent comment on Monday, Brendan made this profound point: This is one of the key things a mentor, teacher, therapist, […]

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