Friday, July 16, 2010

Choice Theory and Capitalism versus Dictatorship

In my book Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism (p. 118, note 8), I speculate that the root of dictatorship may be the parent/child relationship, stemming from the millenniums old theory of teaching and parenting based on authoritarianism. “If it is okay to coerce children,” I write, “why should it not also be okay to coerce adults?”

I drew this conclusion not just from the work of Maria Montessori, but also from Thomas Gordon, Haim Ginott, and Alfie Kohn. All are advocates in varying degrees of so-called intrinsic motivation. Some have even suggested a connection between external control psychology and dictatorship, but none have linked internal control with the need for laissez-faire capitalism. Psychiatrist William Glasser goes furthest by commenting extensively on our “external control society” and the need for less of it. Glasser indeed provides an extremely simple and fundamental foundation of my statement in his discussions of choice theory versus external control.

Choice theory, according to Glasser, means that we choose most of our behavior, including the alleged mental illness of depression. Glasser prefers verbs to nouns, emphasizing what we choose to do rather than dwelling on what we think is done to us. So he says that we do not suffer depression. Rather, we depress, or choose to depress, when we experience a disappointment. The way out of depressing, he says, is to take internal control of our lives by making value judgments to choose other, happier behaviors and then acting on those judgments.

The broader implication is that we control only our own behaviors and not that of others. Even though we may try at length to change other people’s behaviors, the result on our part is usually frustration, or worse, and on the part of the person we are trying to change resistance, rebellion, resignation, or withdrawal. The relationship—whether it is between parent and child, husband and wife, teacher and student, or manager and employee—ultimately ends in unhappiness, and sometimes complete separation. The solution, says Glasser, is to stop trying to change other people’s behavior, acknowledging and acting on the fact that we can only control or change our own.

This means avoiding Glasser’s seven deadly habits that destroy personal relationships: criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and rewarding to control (bribing) (Unhappy Teenagers, p. 13). These are all tools of external control psychology and their aim is to coerce behavioral change by bypassing the other person’s consent or understanding. Criticizing and blaming, says Glasser, are the worst, though all of the habits erode closeness. When the aim of coercive behavioral change is taken to the extreme, direct physical force may result, such as spanking, hitting, or the use of weapons. Caring, trusting, listening, supporting, negotiating, befriending, and encouraging are the connecting habits that Glasser recommends as replacements for the deadly ones (p. 14).

External control psychology is the belief that we know what is best for others and that we have the right to impose our will on those others. It is the use of rewards and punishments as motivation. When elevated to the relationship of politician and citizen (Glasser does not quite go this far), external control psychology becomes the right to impose—by legislation or fiat—laws, regulations, and edicts to force citizens to do or not do what the politicians think is best. External control psychology assumes and attempts to invoke dependence. It is the real root of dictatorship.

Internal control psychology, on the other hand, is the foundation of independent judgment. It assumes that each of us controls our own destiny by choosing our values and behaviors. Interaction with others is conducted through reason and logic, that is, persuasion, rather than Glasser’s manipulative deadly habits. Motivating others requires appealing to the others’ self-interest, communicating in such a way that the others see the benefit to themselves of the requested action. Internal control psychology treats others with dignity. It derives from a high level of self-esteem and respect for others and acknowledges that the others have or are capable of a similar disposition.

At the political level, internal control psychology means each individual has the right to choose his or her own values and behaviors. To the politicians and government in general, it means: leave us alone. Internal control psychology is the root of capitalism.


John Kenny said...

What about our generation 55+ that
were raised with kind and lenient
parents ? Never hitting, insulting, berating...teaching "sharing" etc.
This was the generation that produced hippies who seem to be the most receptive to dictatorship. Remember hippies praisng Ho,Mao,Che... This could be from a lack of a conceptual approach to education,grade inflation, teaching altruism and socialism..These characters are now running the government.

Jerry Kirkpatrick said...

John, there's no direct connection between parenting style and one's politics. Free will and other factors do intervene. I defended my university chancellor when he expelled protesters who sat-in at the registrar's office. Others with the same parenting background as mine became rabid hippies and, later, leftist college professors. The key issue is that the abolition of the initiation of the use of physical force means no coercion. Period. No spanking or hitting of any kind. New styles of parenting must be discovered and practiced. That's what Glasser et al. are offering today's parents.

David said...

"....Schools should produce good people. That's as broad a platitude as - mother and apple pie. Obviously, we don't want schools to produce bad people.

How to produce good people? There's the rub. I dare say no one really knows the answer, at least from what I see around me. But at least we know something about the subject. We know, and have (once again) known from ancient times, the absolutely essential ingredient for moral action; the ingredient without which action is at best amoral, at worst, immoral.

The ingredient is personal responsibility.

All ethical behavior presupposes it. To be ethical you must be capable of choosing a path and accepting full responsibility for the choice, and for the consequences. You cannot claim to be a passive instrument of fate, of God, of other men, of force majeure; such a claim instantly renders all distinctions between good and evil pointless and empty. The clay that has been fashioned into the most beautiful pot in the world can lay no claim to virtue.

Ethics begins from the proposition that a human being is responsible for his or her acts. This is a given. Schools cannot change this, or diminish it. Schools can, however, either acknowledge it or deny it.

Unfortunately, virtually all schools today choose in fact to deny that students are personally responsible for their acts, even while the leaders of these schools pay lip service to the concept. The denial is threefold: schools do not permit students to choose their course of action fully; they do not permit students to embark on the course, once chosen; and they do not permit students to suffer the consequences of the course, once taken. Freedom of choice, freedom of action, freedom to bear the results of action -- these are the three great freedoms that constitute personal responsibility.

It is no news that schools restrict, as a matter of fundamental policy, the freedoms of choice and action. But does it surprise you that schools restrict freedom to bear the consequences of one's actions? It shouldn't. It has become a tenet of modern education that the psyche of a student suffers harm to the extent that it is buffeted by the twin evils of adversity and failure. "Success breeds success" is the password today; encouragement, letting a person down easy, avoiding disappointing setbacks, the list goes on.

Small wonder that our schools are not noted for their ethical training. They excuse their failure by saying that moral education belongs in the home. To be sure, it does. But does that exclude it from school?

Back to basics. At Sudbury Valley, the three freedoms flourish. The buck stops with each person. Responsibility is universal, ever present, real. If you have any doubts, come and look at the school. Watch the students in action. Study the judicial system. Attend a graduation, where a student must convince an assemblage of peers that s/he is ready to be responsible for himself or herself in the community at large, just as the person has been at school.

Does Sudbury Valley produce good people? I think it does. And bad people too. But the good and the bad have exercised personal responsibility for their actions at all times, and they realize that they are fully accountable for their deeds. That's what sets Sudbury Valley apart...."

[excerpt, Back to Basics - Moral basics, Daniel Greenberg, The Sudbury Valley School Experience.]

Jerry Kirkpatrick said...

Hey, David, I appreciate your interest in my blog and the posts to the comments section you've been making, but I have to say that the purpose of my blog is not to promote Sudbury Valley School. I definitely like everything I've read about the school and I agree with much of what Daniel Greenberg says. I just cannot continue to approve the lengthy excerpts that you have been posting. The length of the excerpts in particular has become worrisome to me--because of the fair use clause of the copyright law. If you would to talk about this or any other issue, please do not hesitate to email me directly at

David said...

Hi Jerry, are you comparing William Glasser Quality Schools with Sudbury Model Schools?

Jerry Kirkpatrick said...

No, I'm not comparing Glasser's Quality Schools with SVS. Glasser is arguing for more care and attention within the public school system and less coercion, which is good. He just doesn't go far enough to say the government should get completely out of education. Greenberg is similar in this respect. He thinks SVS should be the model of public schooling. The government, he seems to think, still has to run it all.

David said...

More care and attention within the public school system and less coercion, apparently is good. But, are Glasser's Quality Schools, institutions in which all persons possess, at the point of entry and from the moment they enter, all the individual rights adults have in the country?

It seems Glasser and Greenberg both acknowledge, the government is for the time being, running it all. All, besides Sudbury Valley School.

David said...

"While some psychologists still argue that people perform better when they do something because they want to – rather than for some kind of reward, such as money -- Steven Reiss suggests we shouldn't even make that distinction..."

I invite you to read:

Jerry Kirkpatrick said...

"Intrinsic Motivation Doesn't Exist"??

In grad school a professor offered an A for the course to anyone who scored 90 or higher on the first two exams. Such a student also did not have to take the final. I earned the exemption from the final and immediately stopped reading the text. Grades definitely are extrinsic motivation.

On the other hand, I spent how many years writing a book on a free market in education, something I'll never see in my lifetime? Did I do it for fame, glory, and riches? I don't think so. I did it because I thought it was worthwhile doing and it gave me a sense of accomplishment. It took a few years to get there, but I did. I'd call that intrinsic motivation.

David said...

Why we do things?

1. Because we want to do them. So, we are motivated to do them.
2. Because somebody pays us to do them. Still, we are motivated to do them, in order to earn the money.
3. Because somebody forces us into doing them. Still, we are doing them. So, we are motivated to do them.
4. Because somebody pushed you into doing them. Still you are doing them. So, you are motivated to do them.
5. Because somebody urged us into doing them. Still we are doing them. So, we are motivated to do them.
6. Because somebody cajoled us into doing them. Still we are doing them. So, we are motivated to do them.
7. Because somebody bribed us into doing them. Still we are doing them. So, we are motivated to do them.

And the motivation is ours. It is intrinsic.

There is NO such a thing as extrinsic motivation. People are always seeking a reward.

We don't have to motivate others. We just have to give them freedom -- Freedom of Choice, Freedom of Thought, Freedom of Learning.

Internal control psychology is the root of capitalism, but there hasn't been such capitalism, yet.

David said...

Let's say your warder tells you you'll be punished if you don't learn Chinese in two months, three months, a whole year. I'm sure you will be very "motivated" to do so.

In this case, you will perform the best you can, even when you could call that extrinsic motivation.

As far as performance concerns, there is no difference between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.

The issue is not performance. The issue is a moral issue: coercing people.