Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Richard Elmore re: Beliefs vs. Practices

(From I Used to Think ... And Now I Think, by Richard Elmore.)

I used to think that people’s beliefs determined their practices. And now I think that people’s practices determine their beliefs. As a child of the 1960s, I believed in the power of ideas to shape people’s behavior. I believed, for example, as many in my generation did, that the problems of failing schools originated in the failure of educators to “believe” that all children were capable of learning or — to choose a more contemporary framing of the issue — that changing teachers’ attitudes about what children can learn would result in changing their practices in ways that would increase student learning.

The accumulated evidence, I regret to say, does not support this view. People’s espoused beliefs—about race, and about how children learn, for example—are not very influential in determining how most people actually behave. The largest determinant of how people practice is how they have practiced in the past, and people demonstrate an amazingly resilient capacity to relabel their existing practices with whatever ideas are currently in vogue.

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