Thursday, December 10, 2009

Apparently Blame is Contagious

I think I just solved Michelle Rhee's PR problems.

OK, not me so much as two researchers from California whose study argues that blaming other people is contagious. This article gives details about the study, which found that when people were exposed to articles by people who blamed failure on others rather than accepting responsibility, the subjects were more likely to blame others for their own personal (and totally unrelated) failures. I'm not sure I'm doing the study justice, so read the article.

I think this explains all the vitriol that we see against Rhee (whether you like her or not, we can all agree that there are people who say downright nasty stuff about her -- usually on blogs*). People feel (justifiably, in a lot of cases) that Rhee and her administration blame all of the problems in DCPS on teachers. Applying the results of the study, this likely makes teachers less likely to acknowledge their professional shortcomings -- we all have them -- and more likely to lash out against administration.

I'm certainly guilty. In numerous staff meetings, my administration has told teachers that our students are failing because we're not using engaging instruction or making meaningful connections. My response, rather than acknowledging that there are times when my lessons aren't engaging, is to blame student failure on others by saying, "the kids don't come and the administrators don't support us on discipline issues." Of course, the latter comment is true -- attendance is terrible and administrators at my school often do nothing with discipline issues that have been referred tot hem. But sometimes the former is true, too.

No one will be focused on finding solutions while other people are playing the blame game -- we keep passing finger-pointing around like a virus. So, Chancellor Rhee, my suggestion is to accept responsibility for the fact that sometimes DCPS administration does stuff wrong. Sometimes principals do their jobs poorly and sometimes downtown makes silly decisions that inconvenience teachers and students. My guess -- based on this research -- is that more teachers will start to accept more responsibility for what goes on in their classrooms.

* My favorite part of the article is this:

[The] experiment may explain why Internet comments so rapidly disintegrate into vitriolic name-calling—because blaming keeps getting passed on in different contexts. "If you read one comment by someone who is really being a jerk, you might not reply. But then you read another comment, then blast someone else entirely."

Ha. Guilty.