Partnership for Whole School Change


Why These Terms  Are Used

The PWSC recognized the need for school members to communicate to themselves and others the many complex and multifaceted dynamics taking place in their schools and within each school member.  To accomplish this, school members need words, concepts, and definitions that are truthful, accurate, and humane. 

With the goal of creating such a communication system, we investigated education philosophies and psychologies to discover how this need might be fulfilled.  The PWSC also wanted a communication system that would overcome the tendency to see the world only though a Western European lens.  Failure to overcome this bias would establish the same mistrust our school transformation strategy was designed to overcome. 

The search for a language system ended with the selection of cultural anthropology.  It offers schools a conceptual scheme for the entire context of human experience (Marvin Harris)Unlike other social sciences, its assessment of humanity is not founded on the study of any single culture, race, class, or nation (Marvin Harris)This broad outlook is sorely needed if our multicultural schools are going to succeed.

Cultural anthropology is a study of how humankind learns to adapt to their ecological and social circumstances.  It is about understanding how humans establish their homes, families, and societies, and raise and teach the next generation.  Cultural anthropology and schools share the same overarching concern — learning and understanding the powers and limits of learned behavior 

Cultural anthropology was picked because it has semantic rules, definitions, strict criteria and procedural checks that help its practitioners avoid judging people and their way of life using the standards and values of their class or culture.  Its terms and definitions are expressly designed to help its practitioners maintain the kind of multicultural perspective our schools sorely need. The PWSC combined the language of cultural anthropology with the language of education theory and practice to develop its communication system. This gives us a way of communicating that enables school members to discuss their school culture, what is taking place in it, and the school members' conscious and unconscious experiences and perceptions.  We also can discuss if and how these experiences and perceptions undermine or enhance teaching and learning. Without this communication system, the ability to change school culture would be doubtful. Click below to go back to the list and access the system's key terms and definitions.

                                                                                       Copyright © 2012 Cooperative Artists Institute. All rights reserved.

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Three Psychological Needs

[the science supporting our strategy]

People in every known culture spend most of their time and energy satisfying three critical needs:

  • obtaining emotional responses from others
  • acquiring security of a long-term sort; and 
  • satisfying their need for novel experiences (Ralph Linton).  

When these needs are unmet, cultural anthropologists notice a sharp drop in people's mental and emotional health.  It is the same decline we would expect to experience in ourselves. This happens because these needs are universal and their absence tends to undermine people's well-being in every known social and cultural system.  We present these three psychological needs first, because they provide the main drive for people to interact with other people and institutions to get these three needs met (Ralph Linton). These three psychological needs give school members an accurate way of communicating what is driving each school member's behavior.  A school community that can do this has a huge advantage.

The need for emotional responses from others is powerful.  The drive that powers this response is in our genes and is expressed in people's social lives and their culture making abilities.  The struggle to satisfy this need triggers all sorts of positive and negative behaviors in our schools. The term emotional response is important, because receiving only a behavioral response does not fully satisfy this need. If a student or teacher interacts with other school members without receiving an emotional response, this need remains unsatisfied and feelings of loneliness, isolation, and vulnerability will arise. In some people, this experience can be more frustrating than genuine solitude. We all know what it is like to be alone in a crowd.  It is this need for an emotional response, and especially one that is favorable, which provides the individual with his or her main stimulus for behaving in a way that is socially acceptable (Ralph Linton). 

No human is born with responsibility.  Without schools and families rich in positive emotional responses, children will lack the cultural patterns to be responsible students. Those who are responsible received it from the good people and nurturing situations that gave them the ability to respond. If a student's family lacks the ability to satisfy this need, the school may be the last hope the student has to receive the positive emotional responses required to become a responsible citizen. 

A second and equally universal psychological drive is the need for long-term security. Thanks to the human ability to perceive time as a continuum extending beyond past and present and into the future, present satisfactions are not enough as long as future ones remain uncertain (Ralph Linton). Bullying highlights the importance of this psychological need. Students and teachers who are bullied can never know when the bullying will occur. They are tortured by their anticipation that it may happen at anytime or anyplace, and this situation results in a loss of basic security every human needs. All those who are not receiving this security will suffer varying degrees of psychological breakdown and academic decline. The lack of security among our students whose economic circumstances reflects that of the bottom 30% does much to perpetuate the student achievement gap.

Novel experiences is the third and last psychological need.  When it is not satisfied, it is expressed in the familiar phenomenon of boredom, and leads to all sorts of constructive or destructive experimental behavior (Ralph Linton).  The need for novel experiences is one of the reasons why the PWSC encourages teachers to use the phrase Learning Tribe and not learning community or classroom with their students. Community and classroom are adult words that are known to students and tend to promise nothing new or exciting, but tribe is mysterious and rich with the prospect of stories and adventures.  Since humans will risk their lives for new experiences and other forms of stimulation, schools have to focus on providing more excitement for teachers, students, and parents. 

Boredom in our schools is an under appreciated problem. It is a sign that the school culture needs to change. Boredom is a vacuum that is often filled with humanity’s best and worst impulses. It can cause behavioral problems, bullying, academic failure, student dropouts, drug use, and weapons in the school. Young, energetic students must have stimulating academic experiences that keep them engaged in the learning process.

The School sits between our children and the natural and social world, and it promises them that it will successfully prepare them for adulthood in the world. In this new global economy, no school can keep this promise if those in its community lack the language to communicate their students most deep-seated emotional and behavioral responses (Ralph Linton).

                                                         Copyright © 2012 Cooperative Artists Institute. All rights reserved.

[the science supporting our strategy]

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The word institution, usually brings to mind universities, banks, schools, and the family. Cultural anthropology broadens this definition by adding the way humans are socialized into an institutionThe socialization process enables an institution's members to share the same cultural patterns. Without its member having shared cultural patterns, an institution cannot exist. Each institution makes up a functioning part of a society, and what fuels an institution is the people who use it. 

For Ralph Linton an aspect of socialization is the need to institute thoughts and feelings within an institution's members to keep the institution functioning smoothly. Socialization, provided by the school and institutions like the global marketplace, plays a huge role in making us the persons we have become. 

The socialization process structures the way we see the world. It combines powerful ideologies, physical structures, economic forces, and rewards and punishments to influence our behavior and self-perception. School members need to understand these socializing forces and understand their role in maintaining or changing an institution or society we live in.

Most research credits humans with establishing institutions. To understand institutions, students and teachers have to appreciate a mortal human's need to establish a certain level of predictability in a chaotic world. By standardizing an institution's transactions, it usually meets people's expectations. This is especially important when the social and cultural transactions determine people's health, security, and socioeconomic wellbeing

This standardization gives institutions their mechanistic way of functioning. This machine like quality may cause schools and other institutions to appear to be the same, but in actuality, each institution is made up cultural patterns that are arranged differently. One reason for this is the uniqueness of the people who create and maintain these institutions.

Institutions can be seen as smaller versions of the society. Teachers and students need to understand that societies cannot exist without institutions. Institutions supply the psychic, emotional, and cognitive framework that enables society's to be large, complex, technologically advanced, and hierarchical. Take away all institutions and societies would cannot exist. Weaken and destroy key institutions and society will have to shrink in size and complexity and become far less technologically advanced.


Institution's Socializing Effect On Our Students 

The students our society picks to succeed in the world are surrounded by highly efficient institutions that enjoy society's social and economic support. They transmit cultural patterns to these students that socialize them to feel esteemed and capable. This is especially true when the lessons are seen to provide these students with social status and power. These are the students who will play the dominant economic and social roles in their societies.

The students our society do not pick to succeed in the world are surrounded by inefficient and socially and economically unsupported institutions. They transmit cultural patterns that cause these students to feel insignificant and inept, especially when the lessons are seen to provide them with social status and power. These are the students that tend to play the subordinate social and economic roles in their societies. 

Cultural anthropology tells us that this institutional behavior is universal in all hierarchical sociocultural systems like our own. Yet this is rarely mentioned in educators' professional development sessions. This taboo may indicate behavior that unconsciously or consciously upholds this ongoing social dynamic. Failure to appreciate and utilize this knowledge fosters the misunderstandings and actions that uphold and strengthen the student achievement gap.

Neurological findings hypothesize how cultural patterns, set aside for lower and higher status students, structure their brains. Researchers have been using Computer Aided Tomography (CAT), Positron Emission Tomography (PET), and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology to observe brain function and development during the socialization process.

Imaging technology reveals that the brain's genetic component takes its direction from the cultural patterns emanating from institutions and other human-made environments. This evidence strongly suggests that socialization is a dominant organizing principle governing the formation of the brain's organic structure (Jane Healy).  Our students’ interaction with their school and other human-made environments, determine the ability of our students' brains to master socially empowering academic and social skills (The Merral Report, NPR).

                                                         Copyright © 2012 Cooperative Artists Institute. All rights reserved.

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Cultural Pattern 

                                                       [Back to state and district mandates and Goals] 

The definition of cultural is broad enough to encapsulate the entire school community, while a cultural pattern is specific enough to focus on a school’s individual parts.  A school's culture is made up of the many cultural patterns (behaviors, thoughts, skills, values and attitudes, etc.) its members bring, learn, and create in their school.  It includes the school members’ knowledge, technologies, games, science, beliefs, art, morals, laws, customs, and any other capabilities and habits they may learn in school (Marvin Harris).  However, not every individual that is within the school community or a group may adhere to many of cultural patterns that make up an organization or a school, but even the way they deviate from the norm is still considered a subset of a community's overall culture (Marvin Harris)

Cultural patterns are also the means by which the members of an institution, community, or society reach a general agreement on the standards that assess both the validity and the quality of each member's culturally patterned behaviors. A student, for example, who can learn to act like a doctor and be a successful doctor when the time comes does so because his or her society and school agree on a standard that illustrates how a doctor behaves.  The school also rewards and corrects the student based on how closely the student adheres to the standard set by the cultural patterns reserved for doctors.  In this way society replicates itself (Ralph Linton). Without cultural patterns our nation, communities, and schools could not exist.

                                                         Copyright © 2012 Cooperative Artists Institute. All rights reserved.

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   [Back to Specific and Generalized Response]            [Back to state and district mandates]      

Marvin Harris' Culture, Man, and Nature provides a comprehensive definition of ideology as seen from a cultural anthropological perspective.  The definition seeks to encapsulate nearly a century of studying the way humans live and express their lives in every region of the globe.  If a school community wishes to meet the needs of all its members, having an understanding of this universal human attribute is critical.

"Ideology embraces the entire realm of socially patterned thought.  Ideology includes the explicit and implicit knowledge, opinions, values, plans, and goals that people have about their ecological circumstances: their understanding of nature, technology, production, and reproduction; their reasons for living, working, and reproducing.  Ideology also embraces all thoughts and patterned expression of thoughts that describe, explain, and justify the parts of social structure; that give meaning and purpose to domestic and political economy and to the maintenance of law and order in domestic and political relations; that describe, justify, and plan the delegation of authority, the division of labor, the exchange of products, the sharing or non sharing of resources.  And, finally ideology consists of the ideology of ideology, thoughts about thoughts, the explanation of itself as in formal systems of philosophy, science, art, and religion.” 

No person marries, goes to the bathroom, eats, works or faces any task, object, or situation without being affected by ideology's ceaseless stream of mental and emotional experiences placed within them by their society's human-made environments (Marvin Harris)The concept of ideology is broad enough to describe attributes all humans share and institutional forces and dynamics taking place in every school community, yet ideology can be specific enough to include each student and teacher.  Though all our students have a mental life, without language’s highest expression — ideology, it would remain trapped and unshared within the student’s mind.  When educators understand and can apply ideology in their teaching and curriculum planning, students will be better able to discuss their internal mental and emotional experiences as naturally as they talk about toys, cell phones, sports, or cloths.

                                                         Copyright © 2012 Cooperative Artists Institute. All rights reserved.

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Personality is defined as being "The organized aggregate of psychological processes and states pertaining to the individual (Ralph Linton). Though the human personality is complex, human beings, especially educators, have a compelling need to understand their own and other people's personalities.  The way personality is defined and presented here reduces this complexity and helps educators detect behavioral patterns in their students that sabotage learning. 

Teachers experience their students' "psychological processes and states" and label their students as being lazy, industrious, mean, or good-natured (Ralph Linton).  The error many teachers make is in concluding that their students are the attributes listed above.  Each student's capacity to reproduce her or his past experiences in the world says little about the student's innate abilities.  It does, however, tell us a lot about past environmental forces influencing the student's behavior. 

If the students’ past cultural patterns and environments established dysfunctional behavioral responses, the solution is to create new cultural patterns and environments that create functional behavioral responses.  In most cases, school improvement lacks the power to create new school cultural patterns that are inclusive and intentional enough to address this challenge.  Only schools that transform their cultures can establish environments that inspire changes in the student's personality that lead to academic success.

                                                         Copyright © 2012 Cooperative Artists Institute. All rights reserved.

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                                                                                                           [Back to Taboo]            Habits are simply a person's organized psychological processes and states.  They are the foundational building blocks that make up the human personality (Ralph Linton). Habits can be seen as automatic (often unconscious), organized responses to stressful phenomena that have been tested by the individual and found to be effective at reducing stress and pain or obtaining rewards and pleasure (Ralph Linton). Habits are critical for the development, education, and survival of all people in every economic and social class.

"Show me your habits and I will show you your destiny" speaks to the power they have over us.  Since the socialization that gives birth to habits can take place before children attend school, teachers can assume that students and school staff will enter school with a repertoire of these organized psychological processes and states from their environment.

Some habits promote academic achievement and healthy growth and development, and other habits undermine these values.  Before each school member's habits are triggered, there must first be a registry within the unconscious mind that triggers the habitual response (Ralph Linton).  When a situation is new or unfamiliar its registry will tend to be at the conscious level, but once it has become familiar and is linked with an adequate habitual response, its registry will be quite unconscious (Ralph Linton).  For example, the trigger for a student's habitual response is often a substitute teacher.  This causes some students to disrupt the learning environment, while the same trigger causes other students to uphold the learning environment. 

Habitual behaviors are constantly at play within the school environment.  School members enter their school burdened or blessed with habits given to them by people, nature, and the rewards and burdens that emanate from their position in the social class hierarchy.  School members who revile or praise students and staff based on their habitual responses will be the problem not the solution.  To be part of the solution, school members must identify and understand the environments that trigger both destructive and constructive habits. If dysfunctional environ- ments are in the school, the school community must remove them and replace them with environments that help school members struggle and overcome these habitual responses.  Being part of the solution is understanding that human environments create habits that undermine teaching and learning, so it takes human environments to create habits that enhance teaching and learning.  To learn more about habits, visit The Science Supporting Habits and scroll down to habits' three developmental phases.

                                                         Copyright © 2012 Cooperative Artists Institute. All rights reserved.

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Values and Attitudes 
If we see human responses as a continuum from fully conscious to unconscious, specific responses would be at the fully conscious end.  This would be followed by generalized responses, then habits, and finally values and attitudes would be at the unconscious end of the continuum. This is inner regions of human consciousness where all types of taboos reside (Ralph Linton).
Ralph Linton defines a value as an element, common to or present in a series of situations that is capable of evoking a covert or unconscious response within a person. The element of skin color might elicit powerful emotions, especially if an Afro-American family moors a large yacht at an all white yacht club. The element of a 450-pound body, especially in certain settings, can trigger a flood of unconscious reactions and assumptions. The element of class might cause a similar effect if a working class family requests membership within an upper-class country club. A school community has people, things, and situations that continually evoke these unconscious responses within school members, and they tend to undermine teaching and learning.

An attitude is any unconscious response that is evoked by a value (Ralph Linton). The attitudinal response leaks the value outside the person sometimes giving others the ability to detect it. The content of these attitudinal responses are mostly emotional but may include other types of responses such as anticipations. These are often expressed by bodily gestures and facial expressions. Together, the value and attitude form what Linton refers to as the value-attitude stimulus-response configuration.

Once this configuration is established within a person or members of your school community, they operate automatically and, for the most part, below the level of consciousness (Ralph Linton). The functional importance of the value-attitude system derives primarily from their emotional content.  Behavior that is not in accord with the individual's value-attitude system elicits responses that range from homicidal anger or fear to, at the very least, disapproval. This emotional dynamic takes place whether it is the person's own behavior or the behavior of others (Ralph Linton). Within a hierarchical society, the form of social structure that dominates our planet today, the value-attitude system regulates how people treat others that society identifies as being better or lesser than they are.

The value-attitude system helps teachers understand their students and themselves in new and deeper ways.  It gives teachers and parents a greater ability to help students and staff members who have issues that need to be addressed. Students and staff gain insights about themselves and discover where they need help, and it enables students and teachers to work together to produce more positive and helpful behavioral responses. Without addressing these issues a school can never create the learning community their children need to humanely succeed in today's world.  

Powerful emotional responses and taboos are triggered in our schools, so school staff need to make sure that students and their colleagues do not have to face these "demons" alone.  Teachers, parents, and students need to appreciate and face the depressing fact that our hierarchical society prepares its members to have the social status and perform the social roles it has set aside for them. The value-attitude system is one of many ways societies and school communities gets this job done. The role of teachers, parents, and students is to use this language system to provide a teaching and learning community that can disrupt this pattern if it is oppressive. This language enables school community members to build relationships that are authentic and caring relationships enough to attain superior teaching and learning.

                                                         Copyright © 2012 Cooperative Artists Institute. All rights reserved.

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Specific and generalized responses  

[Back to state and district mandates]

Comprehending and utilizing people's specific and generalized response patterns give school communities the capacity to understand and work with student and school staff behaviors that influence teaching and learning.  With this knowledge, school members have a unique opportunity to successfully understand and work together on their most deep and hidden cultural patterns.  This knowledge can also help school communities replace destructive cultural patterns with constructive ones and realize the full potential of social and emotional learning

School members who want to use specific and generalized responses to enhance teaching and learning need to practice attentive observation, and use an agreed upon set of standards to guide their observations.  These steps will give school members the capacity to discover, understand, and communicate the meaning of what they are observing.  To help them create sound, standard-based observation techniques to guide this work, the PWSC provides a decision-making manual and school coachesSchool members who use these services to understand and work with specific and generalized responses will attain the ability to see and work with school practices that were once invisible and inaccessible to them.



Specific responses are behaviors that are linked to specific situations and not linked or weakly linked to other situations (Ralph Linton).  For example, let us suppose that there is a situation (the presentation of numbers to be added) that evokes a specific response (adding the numbers).  This response is specific, because it has met all the conditions required to address the situation (Ralph Linton). Specific responses are the manifestation of human power in the world and student power in school, because these responses have the most potential for successfully realizing a concrete action, product, or resultSocieties that create the most situations that produce the most constructive, valuable specific responses will be winners in the global marketplace.

Unlike specific responses, generalized responses lack the potential to manifest a concrete result.  Generalized responses function as a part of a specific response configuration (Ralph Linton)They are usually the emotions that accompany a specific response. Generalized responses illustrate the fact that thoughts and actions are accompanied by feelings that can help or hinder the person having them.  This is the foundation of the PWSC's Cognitive Affective Coupling that helps teachers create curricula that connects the student's thinking to what the student is feeling. When students dismissively treat an academic lesson as being something the boys or girls do, white or black people do, Asians or Mexicans do, girlie boys do, suck ups do, and so on, they maybe coping with an undermining generalized response pattern.  



When the PWSC’s founder was teaching geography, he noticed that the intro- duction of map reading techniques never failed to increased the anxiety level of all his students.  After revisiting the lesson a number of times, about half of his students' emotional reactions to it either diminished significantly or disappeared. It is normal for people to elicit stronger feelings when confronting a new responseOnce the new response has become established there is a reduction in the generalized response's emotional intensity (Ralph Linton).  However, our founder noticed that among the other half of his students the emotional reactions to the lesson either took far longer to diminish or remained intact.  Most of these students in this group were from communities and social groups that were selected by our society to perform low status roles that offered low social status and economic power.  This emotional intensity was but one of many forms of socialization that rendered them unable to compete.

Cultural anthropologist and other social scientists have long observed that people socialized to perform their society’s low and high status roles tend to have differently configured generalized response patterns. Without schools, progressive laws, and other outside interventions, these patterns predictably determine and continue the low economic and status outcomes of society's lower class members. The same dynamic afflicts our students, and we will observe it by using what is considered the "normal" generalized response pattern our founder described above.  By using it as a standard, we will see how these generalized response configurations differ in our founder's students, and how this difference correlates with the social roles society has set aside for them (Ralph Linton)

As our founder reported, the response patterns of students socialized to perform society’s low status roles maintained their increased anxiety level after repeated exposure to the map lesson.  Even after a few of these students had thoroughly mastered their map reading skills, the increased anxiety level continued.  Learning addition, or any other specific academic response, can be an overwhelming task for students who have been given these dysfunctional generalized response patterns.  Whenever these students are confronted with learning that promotes their social status and power, these generalized responses kick in and function like mines or booby traps.  They blow up opportunities that threaten to elevate these students above the status and economic positions society has set aside for them. 

These dysfunctional generalized response patterns make it seem as if there is a force within these students taking away their power to focus on success prone academic and social responses. They may inappropriately act out, and have trouble focusing their minds, even if their minds are unusually sharp.  They will have difficulty listening and tend to talk over people or at people instead of with people.  They also may zone out, fool around, bully, and act in other ways that undermine their ability to learn the skills that lead to higher economic and social status. 

Without help from others, these generalized response-triggered behaviors make it too painful and psychologically confusing for these students to succeed.  They must expend an inordinate amount of time and energy overcoming free floating fears and crippling doubts they did not create and do not understand.  The stress created by these response patterns can cause math, test, other anxieties that predicatively produce academic failure.  For many of these students the entire school building can trigger a paralyzing anxiety response that can cause them to drop out of school.   

While this is happening to the founder's students with low status backgrounds, his students socialized to perform society’s higher status roles had different generalized responses. Their response patterns offered them assurances and feelings of adequacy that enhance there map reading and social development skills.  Their anxiety level, when faced with a new task, performed like it was suppose to.  It decreased after repeated exposure to the lesson. These students had less internalized distractions to contend with. If anything, they had generalized responses that affirmed that they could successfully overcome their academic challenges. So, these students could listen, focus on the lesson, and usually withhold their need to play and goof off until recess. 

When a lesson was thoroughly mastered, these students were able to relax and feel prepared for the next challenge.  They had a good taste of the academic success that they were routinely achieving, and that success was developing a positive feeling for school and learning.  Our founder confessed that he was tempted to like them more.  It was easier for a teacher and other adults to relate to them.  They were easier to teach, and their success enhanced his professional standing.  They were "the good students."



Cultural Anthropology tells us that the division of people into social classes of high and low status members called for a set of generalized responses that reinforced and celebrated this division. Cultural Anthropology also tells us that this development started about 14,000 years (Marvin Harris).  It is during this period that hierarchical city-state social systems were slowly displacing the more egalitarian, democratic, village-based neolithic societies. To survive, hierarchical social systems needed new forms of social stability based on a top down social structure. The previous system needed consensus, leadership based on authority, and tradition to function. The hierarchical system needed obedience to an elite class and leadership based on economic and physical power over others to function.

These new social stability challenges called for an accompanying set of gen- eralized response patterns or ways of feeling and thinking about the new world of the hierarchical system. For instance, there had to be differing generalized response patterns for those at the bottom, middle, and top of the system. Today, hierarchical sociocultural systems dominate the world. Democracy, freedom, rule of law, economic justice, and human rights are new arrivals to this 14,000 year scene.  Though they are new, they are the result of thousands of years of human struggle to be free from those who took what the majority produced, and con- trolled what the majority thought and felt. 

Evidence for the existence of these generalized response configurations is revealed when observing the behavior of students set up to be low status.  When they perform social roles that do not give them economic power and social status their social behaviors tend to become more competent. This dynamic is clearly seen when practicing their traditional culture, pop culture, street skills, social media, underground market skills, playing sports, or navigating gang culture. What happened? Cultural anthropology tells us that much of this changed behavior is caused by negative generalized responses being replaced by positive generalized responses. In other words, the previous sense of failure experienced in school is replaced with feelings of confidence, responsibility, and dedication when on, for example, the basketball court.  They do well when striving to be pop stars or work on anything where the achievement of social status and economic power is highly doubtful.  As long as these students are performing the roles their society has set aside for them the psychic threats posed by the student's generalized responses will remain silent. 

The young seed of democracy and public education, supported by the state and free to all children, was the result of painful struggles that cost those whose shoulders we stand upon more blood and tears than we will ever know. To insure that this young seed continues to flourish and we honor those who sprouted it, schools need to be a more effective engine of personnal and social empowerment. Sanctioning students whose generalized responses undermine them while overly praising students whose generalized responses support them will not close the student achievement gap.  Students need schools where all students who are different and are differently challenged can get help overcoming destructive generalized responses.

This goal cannot be reached if school staff lack the ability to effectively communicate the dynamics presented here.  It cannot be attained if teachers are unable to know the deeper cultural patterns taking place within their classroom, their students, and their school.  Without the perspective these definitions provide, school staffs cannot work together to overcome these destructive generalized responses.  Without these communication "tools," teachers are more likely to take it personally if students and other school members unfairly challenge their authority or act out in other provocative ways. Without these "tools" school members will be less able to form the constructive, authentic relationships with their students and colleagues they must have to overcome the generalized responses that undermine teaching and leaning.

See the lesson that uses specific and generalized responses to improve teaching and learning.

                                                         Copyright © 2012 Cooperative Artists Institute. All rights reserved.

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Social Component  

The social component is another important conceptual tool for understanding adult created environments.  It explains how the division of people into various communities and social classes exposes them to different human-made environments. These environments either empower or undermine people in various areas of their lives.  In the United States, as in every other hierarchical society, the social integration of the individual and the transmission of culture are performed primarily by families, local communities, and social classes.  Despite superficial similarities, these three groupings always manifest significant differences in values and attitudes (Ralph Linton). The social component helps educators identify the social factors that enhance or diminish a student or staff person’s ability to be a responsible person by either undermining or supporting the person's ability to respond.

Families, children, and students, for example, are categorized and labeled by the larger society, and they occupy a place or status within the social subsystems that give our nation its unique social and cultural structure.  All societies tend to arrange both their individual members and the units established by these various organization in higher or lower status (Marvin Harris). They give greater social importance and influence to certain higher units often at the expense of less regarded units (Margaret Mead). Let us examine some powerful social subsystems we are all familiar with:

  1. the sex subsystem (male and female);
  2. the class subsystem (lower, middle, upper);
  3. the age subsystem (childhood, adolescent, adult);
  4. the race subsystem (the social groupings based on a perceived phenotype);
  5. the system of specialized occupations (unskilled worker, skilled worker, professional worker, entrepreneur, investor);
  6. the family subsystem (grandparents, parents, children);
  7. the system of informal associations (facebook; barroom mates, friends); and, 
  8. the system of formal associations (gangs, clubs, fraternities).

Each subsystem acts as a mediator between the student and the larger society and has its own way of relating the student to the larger society. More than any other factor, these human-made environments account for the differences in the values and attitudes elicited by each student (Ralph Linton). These values and attitudes are the foundation upon which each student's ability to be a responsible person rests.

To illustrate how this mediating process influences student behavior, we will direct our attention to William (a name used to protect his privacy), a student who was a devoted member of a highly structured urban gang.  William's gang is categorized under the system of formal associations listed above.  Before William even attended public school, his life experiences had socialized him with the values and attitudes one needed to be a responsible gang member.  The gang not only played a role in ascertaining whether or not he achieved academically, it often determined the methods he used to achieve or fail academically.

To appreciate these social subsystems' power and how they work, substitute any one of them for the system of formal associations (William's gang) and the socialization process will be remarkably similar.  For example, replace the formal association system (gangs) with the sex system by shifting our focus from William to his classmate Donna (name used to protect her privacy).  Through Donna we can examine this social subsystem's impact on female students.

Observing Donna, we suspect that her life experiences before public school had socialized her with values and attitudes that personified the "ideal" for woman in a male dominated society.  In other words, she was socialized to be passive in the presence of males.  She was coy in class and refrained from playing an up front role in math, science, gym, and other classes males were "suppose" to dominate.  The sex social subsystems not only played a role in ascertaining whether or not Donna achieved academically, but it determined the methods she used to achieve or fail academically.  Also, the higher the position Donna and William occupied within the hierarchy of each of their social subsystems the more they were committed to the values their social subsystems upheld.

Students who adhered to the values and attitudes of the systems and associations they belong to are rewarded by receiving favorable responses from the people they want to please.  Conversely, the student who attains academic goals using methods that are counter to the ideology these social subsystems uphold reap unfavorable responses from the very people they want to please.  This diminishes the value of their academic achievement. Donna, for instance, had to consider her classmates' negative responses if she strived to achieve high scores in male dominated subjects, and William had to risk his gang status if his academic behavior was in conflict with gang ideology. All of us can recall incidents of social pressure we received that kept various emerging behavior within the limits set by the social subsystem you were in. This pressure insures that in each social subsystem our behavior will be somewhat predictable based on our commitment to the subsystem's values and attitudes.  These are some of the forces that fit us into the status and roles our society has set aside for us.

Because of the high status placed on individual responsibility, most of us fail to appreciate the power these social subsystems exert over our psychic development.  We overlook the fact that many of these systems survive far beyond the life span of any one individual.  This means that each of our students has been brought, by the accident of birth, into a social organization that is an ongoing concern. All through childhood, our students were extremely dependent on the way adults arranged the social subsystems that structured their consciousness. It is crazy for educators to treat our students as if they are responsible for these powerful psychic dynamics and should be expected to control them. 

Just like fish need water, humans cannot live without a social life.  But, our social life also requires all of us, at times, to cope with social divisions that can threaten our psychic well-being and limit our potential. This dialectic tension is the child and family's dilemma and our schools' challenge.  Too many school communities do not change in ways that take up this challenge, so their students are not given the cultural patterns they need to respond appropriately.  Schools that do not make this change end up requiring "responsible" behavior from students who lack the power to respond.  These are students already overwhelmed by previous environments created by adults, and now they are being saddles by additional adult demands they have not been prepared to fulfill.  

Acknowledging these facts does not mean that we believe that injured adults and children do not have to take responsibility for their lives.  They do, but not to uphold some group’s belief system or protect the people and institutions that compromised them.  They need to take responsibility to heal themselves and form the relationships that can help them realize their potential.  In some area of our lives, all of us have been made stronger or weaker by the social subsystems we live in.  If injured by them we often blame ourselves for defeats and failures that were not of our making. We shamefully hide the resultant dysfunction and live with the diminished potential the social subsystem gave us.  Though it is not fair, the innocent have to take responsibility for these and other injuries, simply because there is no other healing option open to them.

                                                         Copyright © 2012 Cooperative Artists Institute. All rights reserved.

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All communities have taboos.  Since schools are communities, they also have taboos.  Taboos can exist in classrooms, student and teacher peer groups, and state and local education oversight agencies. Taboos are cultural patterns that prevent the speaking, hearing, or seeing of things that people believe are too threatening or painful, to acknowledge.  A subset of taboos uphold oppressive institutions and unfair power relationships. This cultural pattern may be initiated by new discoveries, scientific processes, or community members adopting behaviors that contradict or undermine the "sacred" and often hidden aspects of a community's culture. When this happens there are community members who will strive to make these elements taboo.  If a taboo gains social consensus, it can effect and even control the entire community. 

A taboo is a specific form of a value/attitude stimulus-response system that can be positive, as in abusing students is taboo, or it can be problematic, as in it is a taboo to doubt the efficacy of having the property tax be the only way to finance public schools.  The problem with all taboos is that they are fear based and are usually oppressive.  When taboos are broken, they can trigger everything from homicidal rage to the compulsive need to silence and punish those who break the taboo. 

Like most cultural patterns, a taboo usually begins as a number of conscious responses to shut down what is considered too vile or revealing to speak or hear. If a taboo lasts many years, people may forget the reasons why the taboo was established.  They may even come to believe the myths invented to justify the oppressive strategies used to silence and punish taboo violators.  Upholding a taboo may come to be seen as being the price of membership in the community.  At this stage, parts of the taboo have become a belief system that is compulsively maintained.  Joined with the belief system is the habitual responses that are unconsciously triggered within the community's members whenever the taboo is broken.  Together, they provide the energy to suppresses those who break the taboo.  Understanding taboos help school members learn why so many school topics that need to be looked at are not considered or acknowledged. 

To change for the better, schools must uncover, examine, and understand the many taboos in their midst.  The PWSC can help with professional development that provides school members with the knowledge to understand the cultural patterns that sustain, disarm, and overcome the taboos.  Our school coaches help school members develop school teams that integrate their schools' disconnected systems and subgroups, so school members stop seeing their school through the narrow lens of a stultifying taboo.  Our team building manual and professional development opportunities give school members the strategies to share tabooed topics and overcome the hurt and fear that accompanies them.  They also help school members create authentic, caring relationships, the attribute that is most needed to have the trust and confidence to overcome school-based taboos.

                                                                                       Copyright © 2012 Cooperative Artists Institute. All rights reserved.

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